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This story originally appeared on Petaluma360.com.

A Petaluma branding agency is helping a Petaluma food producer who works with Petaluma farmers to get healthy, sustainable products onto Petaluma grocery store shelves for Petaluma consumers.

And all this local synergy started with a strawberry patch.

Merrilee Olson, who had a long career in corporate food management, was eating what she said were the best strawberries from Middleton Farm in Healdsburg. It was near closing time of a local farmers market, and the grower was preparing to toss the unsold fruit into a compost pile.

That’s when Olson piped up.

“I said, ‘Please can I make you jam instead?’” she recalled. “That’s what started it. I found out how much farmers lose on food waste and thought if we could do something to bridge that divide, it would be a good thing.”

Olson launched Preserve Farm Kitchen in 2012, first in Marin and later relocating to Petaluma in 2017. The company’s mission is to help small farmers survive by giving them a market for produce they can’t sell, the imperfect fruits and veggies known as “seconds.”

Preserve Farm Kitchen buys this excess produce, and also makes wholesale purchases. It turns the produce into organic marinara sauce, strawberry jam, kale pesto sauce, spicy jalapeño sauce and other products from food grown around Northern California, including Live Oak Farm in Petaluma.

While Preserve Farm Kitchen products are in 66 stores, including Petaluma Market, Penngrove Market and Northern California Whole Foods, Olson wanted to find a way to really get the company’s message across to consumers.

“With our label, you put it on a shelf and it just dies,” she said.

Enter Sloat Design Group, a Petaluma brand strategy firm started by Carrie Dufour. The award-winning agency has well-known corporate clients, like Hidden Valley Ranch, Alexia frozen potatoes and Traditional Medicinals. But Dufour wanted to give back to the local agricultural community, so she started the Farm to Shelf service grant.

Local farmers and food makers can apply for the grant that includes a year’s worth of branding and package design.

“You have to be committed to sustainable farming practices,” Dufour said. “We want to help companies that put people, the planet and animals first.”

Preserve Farm Kitchen won the 2018 grant, and Sloat Design is finishing up a year-long campaign, worth about $50,000, Dufour said. The pro bono work included brand strategy, comparing Preserve Farm Kitchen to competitors already on the market and a complete overhaul of the brand’s packaging.

The new logo includes Sonoma County, and the label clearly states in bold print that the product “supports local farms and reduces food waste.”

“Carrie was incredible to work with,” Olson said. “She really got that our mission is what makes us stand apart. She put that on the label and that’s made all the difference.”

This was the sixth year of the Farm to Shelf grant program, and Sloat Design is accepting applications for next year at farmtoshelf.org. Applications are due Jan. 15.

Dufour said the grant recipients still get the full treatment, just like a regular corporate client. The nonprofit work tends to be even more fun, she said.

“They get the benefit of our depth of knowledge,” she said. “We get more immersed in our community. As a side benefit, we get to work on these fun projects.”

This story originally appeared on Petaluma360.com.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)