By Gary Jones
Retailing by product, pricing and place
By Gary Jones
August 2017, Simcoe, Ont. – At the end of May, I visited several urban agriculture ventures in Pomona, California, with Robert Puro of Seedstock, a Los Angeles-based social venture fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in sustainable agriculture.
The trip was to visit “a series of innovative urban farming ventures in inland southern California that have emerged to grow the local food marketplace, increase food access, educate local communities, advocate for food equity, and improve health and nutrition.”1
First stop was a one-acre production enterprise working out of three sites, including one that has recently planted on nearby church land with 63 types of fruit trees and another that was essentially a large residential backyard using permaculture principles for vegetable production, chickens, bees and dedicated compost production.
Host Rishi Kumar explained that Sarvodaya Farms is the “educational, community-based urban farming initiative of The Growing Club” and “seeks to demonstrate how urban farms can be centres of social, economic, and ecological regeneration and healing in (sub)-urban centres.”1
City zoning bylaws mean that urban agriculture produce cannot officially be sold. Does that really make any sense if we want to encourage local, healthy food production? Rishi says that his Growing Club members simply provide donations to Sarvodaya, and happen to get fresh produce as and when it’s available.
The second stop was a four-acre community garden in a low-income area of the city of Ontario (yes, but Ontario, Calif.). About 1.5 acres are pure community garden space with 62 family plots. But the main venture was 1.5 acres of high intensity production for CSA members and retail sales. Project manager Arthur Levine explained that Huerta del Valle’s “mission is to create healthy food access for low-income community members, create community empowerment through food, create job opportunities and educate community members about sustainable agriculture. Huerta’s overarching goal is to provide all 160,000 people in the city of Ontario with accessible organic food.”1 All produce retails for one price ($1 US per pound). Clearly, a somewhat novel approach to pricing that makes managing sales easy!
The final stop was Amy’s Farm, run by Randy Bekendam. Until 10 years ago, Randy was managing a 1,000-head intensive beef fattening lot on this property. Randy is a self-confessed “gross offender” (towards climate change), and at the point he realized that this form of agriculture was “unsustainable,” it went broke! Forced to “re-invent himself,” Randy ventured into SPIN farming, and “at 56 years old I became a farmer.” (I’m not sure what he thought he was doing prior to this, if not being a farmer!)
Amy’s is a working polyculture farm focusing on sustainable, organic methods. Vegetables are produced on 1.5 acres, with several more acres dedicated to compost production (using free, local inputs such as beef-lot animal waste and bedding), with additional area for a café, a shop, a petting zoo, some pigs and a few dairy cows. Amy’s aims to provide fresh produce to the local community and offers educational hands-on, guided tours through its non-profit organization. Amy’s Farm was founded to provide residents of San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles Counties the opportunity to visit and experience a true operating urban farm.
Amy’s receives no grant money and Randy says gross income is around $100,000. However, “we cannot sell everything we produce, and we give away about 10,000 pounds of produce [to local food banks] each year. Does anyone have any ideas for selling great, fresh, local food to the people of this West Coast area?”
What can we learn from these very different enterprises? When it comes to their approaches to retail, we see diverse responses to the basics of “product, pricing and place.” Each is being successful in its own way. I once heard a sommelier say “there is no such thing as a bad wine – if you like it, then it’s great.” Maybe we all have to find our own way of doing retail.
Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.