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Marketing challenges and opportunities for Central Valley Southeast Asian refugee growers

The Issue

Many Southeast Asian refugee farmers in the Central Valley continue to struggle with linguistic and cultural obstacles in achieving viable agricultural livelihoods. Mien and Hmong farmers grow unique varieties of Southeast Asian vegetables and strawberries.

Key challenges confronting these growers in marketing their produce are:
- Language barriers
- High cost of transportation
- Competition with organic produce (for niche and boutique markets)
- Centralized purchasing of many wholesalers, chain grocery stores and restaurants
- Sophisticated food safety documentation and labeling requirements by larger customers

What Has ANR Done?

Researchers interviewed growers and farmers' market managers throughout Sacramento County to learn the barriers and opportunities of marketing at local farmers' markets. Other direct market opportunities were investigated, such as local schools, hospitals, restaurants, wholesalers, and the Grower’s Collaborative. Research findings and logistical support were provided to over 100 Southeast Asian growers at two workshops. In order to raise visibility of locally available fresh produce, the research team created an online map that locates all certified farmers' markets and urban farm stands in Sacramento County. Directions, addresses, hours and season of operation, and market manager information are included. See http://tinyurl.com/sacfarmersmarkets.

The Payoff

New understanding of market potentials leads to market expansion

As a result of this project, two growers began selling at Soil Born Farms’ certified farmers market and WIC farm stand, two growers began selling to Galt Flea Market, and two growers were linked with Monterey Market in Berkeley. The researchers also helped the Sacramento Farm Bureau locate strawberry growers on a Sacramento County map that was distributed at the county fair.

A large USDA National Research Initiative grant was awarded to UC to continue this work and expand the market potential of limited resource growers in Sacramento and Fresno counties. The team will pilot several innovative direct marketing strategies, support the establishment of a growers' association, and evaluate new strawberry varieties and non-chemical practices to enhance product marketability and profits.

Clientele Testimonial

“Those are some of the best berries I’ve ever tasted. Where can I get more of them!”
Bill Fujimoto, owner of Monterey Market

“I’m so busy working on my farm. I have no time to find new land or new markets. UCCE has helped me a lot”.
Farmer Ou Saechao


Supporting Unit:

Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley, and UC Cooperative Extension, Sacramento County
Jennifer Sowerwine, (510) 528-8843, jsowerin@nature.berkeley.edu

Chuck Ingels, (916) 875-6913, caingels@ucdavis.edu

Christy Getz, (510) 642-8681