On February 4, over 30 local farmers came out to the 1078 Gallery. They had been invited to the Chico Natural Food Cooperative’s first annual Farmer’s Meeting. There was an inspiring mix of old friends and new faces in attendance. After enjoying a lovely assortment of finger foods prepared by the Co-op Kitchen, everyone settled in for the main event. Cameron Scott, the Co-op’s Produce manager, began the conversation by laying out the four main topics to be discussed:
- Preplanning: Working with farmers to prepare a schedule for the upcoming year. Preplanning allows the Co-op to offer a wider variety of locally grown produce by providing farmers with a “shopping list” of items that the Co-op wants to purchase.
- Growing Standards: Detailing to new growers what the Co-op considers to be “sustainably grown”. Explaining that the Co-op’s high standards are how we honor the trust that our shoppers place in us.
- Buying Process: Describing the nuts-and-bolts of how the Produce Department orders, invoices, and pays for product.
- Merchandising: Highlighting how the Co-op helps to promote local producers, and how we can help new or established farms grow their business.
Cameron and the Produce Buyers, Tyler and Kevin, took turns elaborating on these four main points. The overarching theme of the evening was that the Co-op succeeds when we sell local produce, and that the procedures discussed in the meeting will help us to do that.
The meeting was the result of several months of hard work by the Co-op Produce department. After consulting with other Northern California cooperatives, our team realized what needed to be done to improve our already excellent local produce program: we needed to bring together as many organic and sustainable area farmers as possible under one roof and plan the agricultural year together. What followed were months of analyzing sales data, reaching out to growers, and writing (and rewriting) policy. All that behind-the-scenes work paid off in the incredibly productive planning meeting.
The night wrapped up with an extensive question and answer session. Throughout the discussion, people expressed amazement and inspiration at the fact that so many local farmers were gathered together in one place. As one attendee beautifully put it, “Agriculture is the culture of growing things, and I appreciate you engendering that culture”.