Responsible Farming, Community Outreach Helps Family Farm Grow Customer Base
August 7, 2012 | Danny Jensen
Located less then an hour from the spotlight of Hollywood, Underwood Family Farms (UFF) have been providing sustainable produce to Ventura and Los Angeles counties for more than four decades. And while the farm’s verdant fields have been utilized as bucolic filming locations, Underwood Family Farms has never relied on camera tricks to educate the public on the importance of sustainability and healthy eating.
Started by Craig Underwood and his father in 1968, Underwood Family Farms currently has locations in Moorpark and Somis, California. Craig’s relatives, however, have been farming Ventura County since 1867, making them a family intimately familiar with the region’s rich agricultural heritage. According to Craig, the farm opened their produce stand in Somis in 1980 in response to the challenging markets faced by the produce industry at the time, as well as the growing demand for fresh, local produce. “At the time, the markets were not doing a very good job of sourcing and displaying produce when they were located in the prime growing area of the country,” Craig recounts.
While Underwood Family Farms may be steeped in the agricultural history of a fertile region, they have continued to evolve their farming methods over the years seeking to find the best management practices possible. Drawing upon a variety of sustainable as well as conventional approaches, UFF has chosen not to certify their farm as organic, but instead incorporate many techniques that are integral to a healthy organic farm. Craig Underwood explains, “We incorporate some organic techniques, integrated pest management, crop rotation, cover cropping, and compost application. The ultimate goal is to produce healthy crops through maintaining healthy soils.” Additionally, UFF has planted native perennial and annual plants to attract beneficial insects to their 60-acres of crops grown for market. And while many of their crops never require spraying of any sort, when UFF does find a need, they utilize organically accepted and minimally toxic chemicals, and even then at “an early stage in the plant’s growth before it has developed edible parts and when it is most vulnerable to destruction by harmful pests,” according to the farm’s website.
Underwood Family Farms also recognizes that connecting consumers to fresh sustainably grown produce takes more than bountiful roadside farm stands; they aim to bring people back to the farm. Sidestepping the typical route taken by many farms that wholesale their products to retailers, Underwood minimizes the need for a middleman by encouraging farm visits through a variety of community programs. “We want to educate the public about farming and food production and generate new customers by introducing children to the farm and fresh produce,” Craig says. In 1997 Underwood Family Farms launched an annual Fall Harvest Festival, replete with live folk music, tractor rides, and plenty of pumpkins and other farm fresh produce. The farm also offers educational farm tours for schools and the general public, as well as a CSA program, an animal center, and a Pick-Your-Own program.
“Students who have the opportunity to participate in the farm ﬁeld trip beneﬁt greatly from a farm experience that is not available in many places. It is so valuable for students to learn and see where the food they eat comes from,” according to Claudia Stepan, a teacher from Juanamaria Elementary School in Ventura, who has been taking her students to Underwood Family Farm for years. Stepan goes on to explain, “Underwood farms provides a link to the community at large by creating an enriching and fun experience for people to reconnect to the roots of agriculture.”
To expand their reach to even more people, Underwood Family Farms also utilizes a wide variety of media to directly connect with customers beyond the farm and market. UFF reaches across Southern California and even throughout the country through traditional advertising on television, radio and print markets, while also developing a steady and growing following through Facebook, Twitter and e-newsletters and promotions, according to Suzannah Underwood, Marketing Manager at Underwood Family Farms. Additionally, Underwood Family Farms maintains a strong presence at an extensive array of farmers markets around Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The extensive offering of programs at Underwood Family Farms provides consumers, young and old, the vital opportunity to become more familiar with sustainable food production, while also introducing new customers to the farm and fresh produce. So, while Underwood Family Farms may not be concerned with the glitz of Tinseltown, they’ve clearly found a variety of successful ways to place sustainable agriculture in the spotlight.