Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM), a 501(c)3 non-profit, formerly known as Marin Farmers Markets, has been incubating the businesses of small family farms for 27 years. By operating vibrant farmers’ markets, providing organizational support, and spearheading public outreach and education, AIM enables about 200 regional farmers and ranchers to successfully market their products directly to the public.
On June 21st, the Marin Independent Journal ran a front-page story featuring the Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. and Rossotti Ranch, two new farm businesses launched by the LaFranchi brothers, Rick & Randy, and Julie & Anthony Rossotti, respectively. Given their previous on-farm experience running dairies and raising livestock in Marin County, and encouraged by the growing demand for niche food products, the entrepreneurs set out to market their fresh artisanal cheeses and goat meat directly to their local community, starting at the Marin Farmers Markets. Both the LaFranchis and Rossottis have named AIM’s farmers’ markets as instrumental in launching their businesses.
AIM’s mission, to bring farmers and communities together, supports local family farms by sending home the full retail dollar and providing farmers an opportunity to build relationships with consumers. The direct relationships help foster loyalty and provide an immediate feedback loop, two integral elements in building a business from the ground up.
While there are many factors that contribute to the success of the farm or ranch, AIM is proud to support 19 Marin producers by providing a direct marketing opportunity through its nine Bay Area farmers’ markets. Participating Marin County farms, ranches, and cheese makers include: Sartori Farms, County Line Harvest, Marin Sun Farms, Allstar Organic, Cowgirl Creamery, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Woodside Farms, Little Organic, Drake’s Bay Oysters, Paradise Valley Produce, McEvoy Ranch and McClelland Dairy, to name a few. Just this June, Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden joined AIM’s Novato Farmers Market, offering its students the valuable opportunity to learn how to market the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.
The diversification of Marin’s farms and ranches brings Marin hot on the heels of its neighbor to the north, Sonoma County, which has more than 32 producers in AIM’s farmers’ markets who offer items like apples and pears, and produce that thrives in a warmer climate. The diversity of AIM’s farmers markets illustrates the fact that Marin is part of a food community that is not defined by county boundaries – at least not naturally. “Food-shed” neighbors in the greater Bay Area play a critical and complementary role in AIM’s farmers’ markets by providing products that don’t grow in Marin County. Although Marin’s row crop production has increased, the number of acres in fruit and vegetable production still numbers about 384 acres, according to the 2009 Marin County Livestock and Agricultural Crop Report, and we are naturally limited by climate and water. With 250,000 eaters in Marin, we depend on the seasonal diversity of our regional farms to maintain strong and vibrant farmers’ markets that can feed our loyal customer base year-round, which in turn benefits our Marin farmers when they are ready for market. -- Leah Smith, Agricultural Institute of Marin