Sustainable Table: From Seed to Store

by Erin Maxson

Published May 15, 2013

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WIMER, Ore. — There are dozens of local farms and companies contributing to the supply of food grown and made in the Rogue Valley. While many of those producers have mastered their craft getting a product to the consumer can take a very different set of skills.

The tiny basil plants at The Farming Fish outside of Wimer are going to spend three weeks on the shelves before they spend 4 to 5 weeks in the aquaponic system. Then they are branded and sent to market.

“This is the first official co-branding partnership with a local farm,” Tom Marks says.

At the beginning of the year, The Farming Fish started looking for a distribution partner.

“It just so happened it turned out to be the local guy who happened to have the same morals and ethics as we do and it worked out beautifully,” Olivia Hittner, one of the partners in the company explains.

Hittner and her partner Michael Hasey partnered with Tom Marks who launched the Rogue Nation foods brand.

“It allows a consumer to immediately see, ‘Oh, this is a product that represents the Rogue Valley,’ that represents this high level of integrity and quality,” Tom says.

Produce from the aquaponic farm is not new to the Medford Food Co-Op, but the living basil and its packaging is new.

“You might just see this little local symbol but with a larger brand and notoriety. It brings a real pop to the product line, and we do see that things that are marketed well sell better.”

Both sides expect to benefit from the partnership.

“It really allows them to focus on their skill set and allows us to focus on our skill set,” Tom explains.

The farming fish can now reach a larger customer base.

“The way to do that was to work with someone who could give us the support in marketing and branding and who knew the distribution system and had the experience with that level of distribution,” Olivia comments.

It pumps dollars into the local economy.

“The more we can export, the more money we’ll be importing. So, the idea is that we want to retain dollars in the community and export anything that we can,” Tom adds.

The branding also promotes what’s going on in the Southern Oregon food scene.

“So, the more we can gain notoriety for Rogue Valley brands, sell those to other distributors and other areas, they learn about what we are doing in the Rogue Valley and how we are working toward sustainability,” he says.

Olivia says that’s already happened at The Farming Fish and that recently some visitors stopped by the organic farm, “who were very interested in aquaponics and wanted to learn more about it.”

“I think that is going to happen more and more. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted do the packaging and the branding to help educate as well.”

Yet this week, the biggest and best of these basil plants will be sent to market. The little ones will be turned into pesto and they will be co-branded under Rogue Nation Foods as well and they’ll end up on store shelves.