May 16, 2014

Farm Beat: Stanislaus Grown campaign launches

The new Stanislaus Grown campaign promotes the county’s farm and ranch products at produce stands, stores, restaurants and other outlets.

Local food advocates have stamped the Stanislaus Grown label on some of the fruits, vegetables and other products from the county.

The campaign, which will launch May 27 with a new farmers market in east Modesto, aims to boost incomes for farmers and ranchers while making healthy food available to all residents. Shoppers will find the label at participating stores, restaurants, farm stands and other venues.

“We have a lot available here, and we really want to showcase our farmers who are providing it,” said Jamie Meek, administrative manager at the East Stanislaus Resource Conservation District, at a meeting this week.

The district received an $84,778 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012 to carry out the effort. Part of it involves starting farmers markets in “food deserts” – neighborhoods without easy access to healthy items.

The new market, on two Tuesdays a month through September, will be in the parking lot of Sciabica’s California Olive Oil on Yosemite Boulevard. The company will have its store open for people who would like to try its oil, a local product since 1936.

The market hours of 3 to 7 p.m. will be convenient to people who work in the many industrial businesses near Yosemite, said Trina Walley, resource conservation technician at the district. The site also is close to Modesto’s airport neighborhood, where the district had a farmers market last year, as well as other low-income areas.

The district provides technical advice and other services to Stanislaus County landowners east of the San Joaquin River.

Stanislaus Grown plans to debut print and online directories of local producers in July. The same month, it will operate the Farmers Market at the Fair, returning for a second year to the Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock.

Rogelio Martinez, who grows blueberries on 3 acres near Knights Ferry, is taking part in the campaign. “The consumer gets to know exactly where it comes from – the closer, the better,” he said.

The idea that blueberries can be Stanislaus Grown might surprise people who link the crop to Maine and other cool areas. Breeding of heat-tolerant varieties have made them a notable niche crop here.

The campaign includes educating farmers and ranchers on how to sell directly to consumers, but it also involves processors of dairy foods, nuts and other items that could bear the Stanislaus Grown name.

The label was designed by Sarah Potter of RAM Farms in Turlock, which does farm management and has seasonal attractions such as a produce stand, corn and hay mazes, and ice skating.

The campaign involves a tiny fraction of what the county produces, most of which goes to consumers in other counties, states and nations. But by drawing the boundary clearly at the county lines, it will provide truly local food to residents and visitors alike.

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