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Is the farm-to-table movement over?

Unimpressive results with San Diego Grown 365 label

Of all the labels people look for when it comes to food, locally grown is number one, surveys find. But more than a decade after the county launched the San Diego Grown 365 label, few of its 6565 small farms are using it.

Not as many people as hoped for can say they recognize this label

Once again, farmers are being encouraged to use the logo that is expected to give them an edge anywhere the food is sold, from food trucks to hospitals. To assist the Farm Bureau, Community Health Improvement Partners, the nonprofit that enabled the county’s Farm to School Taskforce, is reaching out to growers. It began with questions about the label on last summer’s 2015-2016 crop availability survey, which helps large buyers like schools plan ahead.

“We conducted fairly extensive outreach to growers,” says Colin Cureton, the food-systems director and lead researcher for Community Health Improvement Partners.

Of those who responded last summer, only 18, about one-third, are using the label.

“We surveyed a pretty specific subset of growers already engaged in the local food movement, so that number is much higher than in the broader population of growers,” Cureton says. “I think there are only about 90 to 100 registered users of San Diego Grown 365.”

And so the bid to relaunch the languishing label continues.

Why participation has been so low is “an open question,” according to a report on the survey’s findings. What’s needed, Cureton says, “is an investment in actually marketing the brand.”

Promoting use of the label — in order to promote the purchase of local food — has been an ongoing revival campaign. The label was developed by Farm Bureau members in 2004, when local food sales were rising everywhere. Also that year, the National Farm to School Program was established under the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act and 22 states had already linked local farms to school cafeterias. Supporters envisioned thousands of farmers using it.

However, in 2010, a report on the San Diego County food system noted that “despite the introduction of the 365 label in 2004, the first and only local labeling initiative in the county, it was never fully adopted by producers and is currently not in use.”

The challenge for the Farm Bureau, Cureton says, is that they are a small nonprofit with limited staff. He said the recent outreach indicated that most growers who aren’t using the label would like to do so.

Has the cost deterred them? Although the Farm Bureau–owned trademark has always been free to growers who sign a simple agreement, it can be expensive to revise existing product labels. The initial estimate of the cost to participate was from $50 to $500, depending on the size of the operation. But one farm reportedly paid $5000 to add the logo on their labels. Another farm that was involved in the development of the 365 label years ago isn’t even using it.

“I just haven’t spent the money on changing my label,” says Noel Stehly, the co-owner of Stehly Farms Organics in Valley Center.

Cureton says that one grower did cite the cost, “but it was not a strong trend that came up in our research.” He notes how inexpensive it would be to use the logo on websites, product availability sheets, or at farmers’ market stands.

Products advertised with the Farm Bureau logo must be 85 percent grown or harvested in the county or its surface or coastal waters. To be certified under the program, growers, retailers or meal-serving institutions enter into a license agreement with the Farm Bureau. The license implies that the seal will only be used on food that is truly San Diego grown.

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Of all the labels people look for when it comes to food, locally grown is number one, surveys find. But more than a decade after the county launched the San Diego Grown 365 label, few of its 6565 small farms are using it.

Not as many people as hoped for can say they recognize this label

Once again, farmers are being encouraged to use the logo that is expected to give them an edge anywhere the food is sold, from food trucks to hospitals. To assist the Farm Bureau, Community Health Improvement Partners, the nonprofit that enabled the county’s Farm to School Taskforce, is reaching out to growers. It began with questions about the label on last summer’s 2015-2016 crop availability survey, which helps large buyers like schools plan ahead.

“We conducted fairly extensive outreach to growers,” says Colin Cureton, the food-systems director and lead researcher for Community Health Improvement Partners.

Of those who responded last summer, only 18, about one-third, are using the label.

“We surveyed a pretty specific subset of growers already engaged in the local food movement, so that number is much higher than in the broader population of growers,” Cureton says. “I think there are only about 90 to 100 registered users of San Diego Grown 365.”

And so the bid to relaunch the languishing label continues.

Why participation has been so low is “an open question,” according to a report on the survey’s findings. What’s needed, Cureton says, “is an investment in actually marketing the brand.”

Promoting use of the label — in order to promote the purchase of local food — has been an ongoing revival campaign. The label was developed by Farm Bureau members in 2004, when local food sales were rising everywhere. Also that year, the National Farm to School Program was established under the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act and 22 states had already linked local farms to school cafeterias. Supporters envisioned thousands of farmers using it.

However, in 2010, a report on the San Diego County food system noted that “despite the introduction of the 365 label in 2004, the first and only local labeling initiative in the county, it was never fully adopted by producers and is currently not in use.”

The challenge for the Farm Bureau, Cureton says, is that they are a small nonprofit with limited staff. He said the recent outreach indicated that most growers who aren’t using the label would like to do so.

Has the cost deterred them? Although the Farm Bureau–owned trademark has always been free to growers who sign a simple agreement, it can be expensive to revise existing product labels. The initial estimate of the cost to participate was from $50 to $500, depending on the size of the operation. But one farm reportedly paid $5000 to add the logo on their labels. Another farm that was involved in the development of the 365 label years ago isn’t even using it.

“I just haven’t spent the money on changing my label,” says Noel Stehly, the co-owner of Stehly Farms Organics in Valley Center.

Cureton says that one grower did cite the cost, “but it was not a strong trend that came up in our research.” He notes how inexpensive it would be to use the logo on websites, product availability sheets, or at farmers’ market stands.

Products advertised with the Farm Bureau logo must be 85 percent grown or harvested in the county or its surface or coastal waters. To be certified under the program, growers, retailers or meal-serving institutions enter into a license agreement with the Farm Bureau. The license implies that the seal will only be used on food that is truly San Diego grown.

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Comments
11

This is the first I've ever heard or seen of the labeling program. But look at that logo. Is it distinctive, does it reach out and grab you, is it compelling and readily recognizable, can you even read it? Somebody with a degree in art got just too creative and "artsy" with it, thus rendering the meaning and significance hard to grasp.

So, my suggestion would be to get a new, simple and clear logo that tells at a glance that the product is local, such as big block letters. A label revamp would be a good place to start with rejuvenating the program.

Feb. 7, 2016

What does 365 have to do with it? (I know, that's the number of days in a year). Do they have a special logo for the leap years?

As a consumer, 365 has no meaning to me. What message is that number supposed to communicate?

Feb. 7, 2016

ponzi I remember reading something about this probably 10 years ago, in San Diego magazine I think, though I could be wrong about that. It's something that was cooked up by the San Diego County Farm Bureau. It is supposed to identify and certify local products and producers. I believe it applies to farmers and growers, retailers, fisherman and certain local restaurants. The 365 relates to the year round growing climate in San Diego. I also remember reading something I didn't know; San Diego county has more farms than any other county in the country. or at least it did when I read the article. It could be that is no longer true.

Feb. 7, 2016

Thank you. Now the "365" makes sense because of our growing climate.

Anyway, when I shop at the various farmers markets I usually ask where was it grown. Also, when you shop frequently you get to know the people that are selling the goods and really don't need an additional layer of marketing to know where it's coming from.

Feb. 7, 2016

The first thing they should to is question "Of all the labels people look for when it comes to food, locally grown is number one, surveys find."

Did they just survey 12 hipsters in North Park?

Of the people I know, the most important label is the price tag. They also know that labels such as "organic" and "locally grown" usually result in a higher price tag.

Another question: are local growers having such a hard time selling their product that they need a poorly-designed gimmick label to move it?

The farmers have shown they don't care about this pay-to-play label, so why should consumers?

Feb. 7, 2016

While I don't frequent farmers markets, even though we have the oldest one in the county here in Vista, I'm seeing that the prices aren't all that attractive, the quality is often low, and freshness just isn't there. So, I've come to suspect that a lot of those "growers" don't grow it locally much of the time, but just buy it for resale. Oh, I know they swear it is locally grown, but the enforcement is nearly nil.

There are some terms today that have interesting meanings. "Natural" was a term that came out of the 60's or earlier that meant whatever the product was, it received minimal or no processing before you bought it. But somewhere along the line, the sugar industry managed to get refined white sugar classified as "natural", because it wasn't created by a chemical process. But it is heavily processed and most highly refined, hardly the sort of thing you would think of as a natural product. Hence, sweetened products of any kind can claim to be "natural" even if they are heavily loaded with sugar. There's now a "natural" peanut butter that doesn't separate but has no hydrogenated fats (which have long been used to keep the stuff from separating) or sugars. How did they do that? Well, palm oil is added. But, but . . . wasn't "natural" supposed to mean pure while you were at it? Um, sort of, but it was implied rather than a requirement. Palm oil is another product that gets processed and refined, and is highly saturated. Does that make it a better choice than the artificial stuff? It's for the buyer to judge. If you want "natural" peanut butter that doesn't separate, it's your ticket. I'd rather stir it and then keep in the refrigerator. That term "natural" in food labeling today is meaningless.

As to "organic", that seems principally a way to charge more for generally indistinguishable produce. When some real nutrition research tells me that organic is really better, then I'll consider it. BTW, the fruits and vegetables we raise here in Vista are almost all organic, 'cause we don't want to spend the money on pesticides, and don't need no stinking chemical fertilizers.

Feb. 7, 2016

Wow, very impressive knowledge on this farmers market stuff. Great post, I always learn something.

Feb. 7, 2016

Yeah...especially for somebody who admittedly "doesn't frequent farmers markets." I wish I could insert a "rolleyes" emoji here.

I frequent the Vista farmers market every Saturday morning and purchase probably 90% of our fresh produce there. I find that the quality of the items I purchase there is generally much higher than available in any chain grocery store, and a lot fresher. I enjoy seeing what comes in and out of season and dealing with vendors that I have gotten to know over the years. You have to know what you're looking for (and at) and be willing to spend a few minutes comparing what's available from different growers.

The prices may (or may not) be a bit higher, but so is the quality. There's no comparison between a locally grown tomato picked when it's ripe, and a tomato that's picked green, trucked in and then ripened with ethylene gas before being displayed at the supermarket. But, to each their own I guess.

I find whatever the difference is to be worth it to support local agriculture and feed my family good food from people I know aren't spraying it.

Feb. 8, 2016

Good info, Visduh. I don't go to Farmers' Markets either, after learning many years ago that these events had little variety and ridiculously high prices. I did try one just recently, in search of two vegetables that my regular stores were lacking or overpricing. i found neither at the FM, but more importantly, I found ignorance (one grower) and indifference (all of them). I was shocked that a person who grows produce would know so little about the products I was scouting. Oh well. As for "organic," if something contains carbon, it's organic. That is a silly descriptor if what is meant is "pesticide free," etc. (most pesticides and fertilizers DO contain carbon atoms, so are also "organic").

Feb. 8, 2016

Yes! Agreed. But can we back up for the sake of clarity, at least for me? I'm new to SD, and I'd like to know first of all, are local farmers organic? (not sprayed - at all - is my definition) Secondly, can I go to them directly and purchase what I want? (I don't have my own garden yet.) Who can answer these please.

Feb. 11, 2016

That's a horrible logo, not much better than the City's new logo (which looks like it was designed in Illustrator and took about an hour).

Feb. 7, 2016

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