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Ag ‘speed dating’ the start of a beautiful relationship

‘Date night’ will bring together growers, buyers in one-on-one sessions
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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PlacerGrown is putting an agricultural spin on “speed dating.” It’s a way to initiate a dialog between farmers and food buyers as the growing season approaches. “The time is now when growers are planning for planting summer crops,” PlacerGrown Program Manager Jocelyn Maddux said. “Date night” will include one-to-one sessions between growers and buyers as well as roundtable discussions. “It is facilitating the sales process and bringing these people together,” Maddux explained. “It’s an easy way to get down to the nitty-gritty of ‘what do you need and what can I provide’ and talking about long-term planning. It’s making connections and starting relationships. Probably there will be some deals struck there, but it is mainly to connect these people and get the relationships started.” The roundtable discussions will focus on PlacerGrown’s cooperative marketing program and the opportunities and challenges of working with large buyers. Participants will also discuss how buying local pays off on the business side. “Not only is it something customers want, a lot of times local produce lasts longer,” said Karen Killebrew, PlacerGrown board president. “It might have a higher cost up front, but it is fresher, better quality and you get more out of it.” The idea for the event came from a similar program held in Chico recently, according to Killebrew. “We modeled it after that and they were really helpful,” she said. It’s also in response to inquiries she’s received from schools and Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, as well as two new markets opening in Roseville this year. “They’re interested in this and we see the need to connect growers with these institutional-type buyers,” Killebrew said. “We sent invitations to restaurants, chefs and caterers, too.” The event is open to anyone looking to buy local food or learn about local food on a retail or wholesale level, Maddux said. It’s one of the ways PlacerGrown fulfills its role to help farmers be sustainable businesses. “We have pretty small-scale farmers here. Some of them have enough land to grow more, but they don’t have time to go out and search out these relationships,” Killebrew said. “Even it if doesn’t happen this year, they’ll have some ideas for the future.” A relationship PlacerGrown has already fostered is with Placer Food Bank, which is seeking sources for local fruits. “(The food bank) is interested in taking seconds and thirds and picking them up. That’s providing a secondary market for a number of growers,” Killebrew said. There’s been a very quick and positive response to the “Speed Dating” program, with 10 growers and seven buyers already signed on. Registration is free. Sponsorships are available at $100 for business and other groups that want to have an information table. There will also be a networking reception. Paul Martin’s American Bistro is hosting the event. “They’re really interested in having these discussions and they offered to host it right away,” Maddux said about owner Brian Bennett and operating partner Ben Magana. “They are instrumental in implementing local food where they can with local growers. They’re trying to be a model of working with local growers.” For more information and registration, e-mail placergrown @gmail.com or call (530) 889-7398 Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com. ------------------------------ PlacerGrown’s speed dating connecting growers and food buyers When: 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23 Where: Paul Martin’s American Bistro, 1455 Eureka Road in Roseville Cost: Admission is free. Sponsorships are $100 for a display table To register: E-mail placergrown@gmail.com or call (530) 889-7398