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Novato grocer connects with local farmers


Jeff O Neal (right), vice president of Harvest Market in Novato, tours the Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael with its outreach director, Leah Smith, and Harvest produce manager Will Vincent. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)

Nancy Isles Nation
Marin IJ – 1/29/08

The Marin Farmers Market will sell fresh produce directly to Harvest Market in Novato as part of a new venture organizers want to spread throughout the county.

Managers of the nonprofit organization that operates four Marin farmers markets hope the agreement with the private grocery store will be the first of a series of partnerships with local retailers, institutions and schools to encourage consumers to buy locally.

Harvest Market, formerly Apple market, was purchased by Jeff O'Neal and his father, Pete, in 2003, then remodeled and rechristened with its new name at 155 San Marin Drive. The two operate three other Harvest Markets in Oregon and Washington.

O'Neal said the move toward local, organic and higher-quality goods came from listening to customers.


The 28,000-square-foot store has a meat and seafood counter staffed by butchers, who cut steaks and grind pork in view of customers, many of whom know the staff by name.

The O'Neals put an emphasis on their produce department, with attractive displays of fruits and vegetables and an area reserved for organics.

There are local beers from Moylan's Brewery and Restaurant in Novato and Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma.

The partnership with the Marin Farmers Market gives Harvest the opportunity to showcase more local produce, seafood and artisan goods. It also saves consumers in North Marin from having to drive to the Marin Civic Center on Thursdays and Sundays. 

"We will be one of the first grocery stores to embrace this and really perpetuate buying local," O'Neal said. "There are a lot of larger format entities that really put on a good talk that they are about local, but when you really dig into it, it's not as much as they'd like you to think."

The farmers market put the program together with about $65,000 in grants from the Marin Community Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Resource and Education program.
The foundation provided the money to buy a refrigerated truck that will make deliveries to Harvest, several schools and other outlets as they sign on.

Brigitte Moran, executive director of the farmers market, said about 60 farmers are participating in the program, most of whom drive 150 miles or less to markets in San Rafael, Novato, Fairfax, Oakland, Newark and Hayward.

Farmers and other purveyors will e-mail lists of what they are planning to bring to the market in advance. Stores and retailers will select their orders, and the items will be loaded onto trucks along with the goods for booths.

"We are helping farmers get their product directly to consumers," Moran said, adding that O'Neal's participation is a huge step forward.

She said the program is likely to become a national model for farmers markets once it is up and running, and it will be integrated with software that is being developed. 

The program is seen as an energy-saver.

"If you as an individual eat one locally sourced meal a day, you will be doing the equivalent of switching from an SUV to a Prius," Moran said. "If every American ate one meal a day locally, it would save 1.1 million gallons of gas."

Marin grocery owners say they have been placing an emphasis on local and organic produce and expressed interest in the program.

Bill Daniels of United Markets in San Rafael said he recently aligned the store with a dry farmer in Humboldt County and uses distributors that provide produce from Marin and Sonoma counties.

"We also have a fruit supplier that comes to us five times a week during the peak season," Daniels said.

Al Baylacq, a partner at Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, said he has dealt directly with some of the Marin Farmers Market purveyors and gets deliveries from Full Belly Farm, northwest of Sacramento.

"I like the idea of that," Baylacq said. "It's encouraging that they are doing that with the farmers."

O'Neal says the local and organic product mix will be just what his customers ordered.

"Harvest Market provides a bountiful harvest of fresh products by partnering with and promoting purveyors of quality goods and the best of the best in the area," O'Neal said. "Our goal at Harvest Market is to exceed the expectations of the customer."