What is the consignment program?
The consignment program is really for any backyard gardener or small farmer. We encourage people to bring anything from one small bunch of radishes to big coolers of produce. We’re always trying to find any extra produce in the area. We’re just trying to make a variety of local healthy food available in all areas of town. I’m never sure who is going to bring what.
Do the growers get paid for their produce?
Yes! The growers get paid for 90 percent of whatever sells and 10 percent goes to the food bank. Sometimes we’ll take produce that doesn’t sell to additional markets, if it’s something that’s going to last. Whatever is left over goes in emergency food boxes, unless the grower prefers to pick up their remaining produce.
How are prices set?
We update the price list every season and we have a basic guideline we’ve built up over the years. It’s such fine-tuning—we’re trying to help make fresh, healthy food available to everyone in the community while also supporting our local farmers. I check in with local farmers and see what they’re selling things for, and I also check prices at the [Food Conspiracy] Co-op. I allow the person bringing in the food to make a suggestion, too. They definitely have a voice in that, especially if it’s something unusual.
So how does a gardener get started?
First, you have to fill out an application, which you can download from the Food Bank’s web site. We require that they be growing themselves, without any pesticides or chemicals. We don’t require organic certification because that’s a costly process. We find that the folks who are gardening tend to be pretty educated about it and they’re aware of those risks. They tend to be growing for their families. The growers then sign their application saying they’ve read the guidelines and are willing to abide by them. We don’t allow for any reselling. It’s truly local food, grown here.
Where do the growers drop off their produce?
They can drop it off at any of the Community Food Bank-run markets. I’m at most of them [including] the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, and the Community Food Bank Farmers’ Market. We give them a receipt for what they submit and we label everything and keep track of prices.
But what if I’m a gardener, not a marketer? What can I do to make my produce sell?
Just from experience, presentation is huge. People like when the produce is the right size, when it’s clean and easy to pick up and grab. People aren’t going to buy a bunch of loose lettuce. I absolutely adore my job because I get to interact with all these great people and work with them on marketing and how to best prepare their produce to sell. I work one-on-one with gardeners on how to best harvest, clean, and present their produce for market—this translates into more money in their pockets to pay for seeds or to put toward their water bill. It feels really good because I have good working relationships all around and that’s really key.
What’s the history of this program?
It was started in 2005 by a former Food Bank employee, Amanda Morse. Our markets were pretty new back then, and we were trying to get local food out to the community. Some farmers were taxed in terms of how many markets they could visit and this program was a way to fill that gap and target areas where people have a need. The program has grown a lot. I started here in 2009 and there were 60 or 70 active members, and now we’re at 180. I’m excited at how much knowledge there is in the community.
What’s the future hold for this program?
I would like to see more one-on-one work to serve as a hub of information and building skills. There is definitely so much potential to tap into the incredible knowledge and skills of the consigners. We want to create opportunities for consigners to teach each other through workshops at the market, or for more experienced gardeners to share their skills with new gardeners through formal mentoring relationships.
Aside from connecting people to local, healthy food, what role does this program play in the community?
We’re really excited about the economic development part of this program. This program bridges access to nutritious food while fostering local farmers and businesses. A lot of consigners want to go into business and this program is a low-risk entry to the business world. ✜
You can drop off produce at the consignment table at any of the Food Bank’s farmers’ markets. Contact Audra Christophel at 520.882.3271 or visit CommunityFoodBank.com.
Tucson native Romi Carrell Wittman is a marketing and communications director by profession and a freelance writer for fun.