In January of 1973 a group of Sonoma County farmers, Farm Advisors and ag advocates gathered to form a direct marketing collective and take control of their destiny. Life following the end of World War II had brought a lot of change for American agriculture. The rise of supermarkets, the popularity of processed foods, and the flood of cheaper imports from overseas had undercut small farms, making it
difficult for them to compete for space in the kitchens of an increasingly urbanized population. They had no farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture and no “shop local” campaigns to help the public readily source fresh, locally grown products. It was up to the farmers to find their own way to preserve small-scale agriculture in their region. They called it Sonoma County Farm Trails.
By March of that year, the assembled farmers had incorporated as a nonprofit organization. By May they had produced their first Map & Guide, and by August the inaugural Gravenstein Apple Fair. The Map & Guide plotted farm stands across Sonoma County and laid down a series of Farm Trails along which people could meet their farmers and reconnect with the sources of their food, and the Apple Fair honored the iconic local apple that symbolized so many of Sonoma County’s rural traditions. Since that momentous first year, the membership of Farm Trails has grown and changed, but the guiding vision of the organization has remained the same: to keep farms forever in Sonoma County.
Over the last five decades, Sonoma County Farm Trails has served more than 1,100 member farms and ag-related operations by promoting their businesses and educating the public about the importance of supporting local agriculture. Farm Trails still publishes the annual Map & Guide, now in its 50th edition, including a dynamic online version of this catalog of nearly 200 active members. They organize
seasonal farm tours and marketing campaigns that bring thousands of people from the Bay Area (and beyond) out into rural communities each year, fostering both in-person and digital connections to local agriculture. Farm Trails also collaborates with a large network of organizations and individuals who care deeply about family farms and the future of our food system, and their sister 501(c)3 nonprofit, The Farm Trails Foundation, funds scholarships for aspiring and young farmers.
Farm Trails still produces the popular Gravenstein Apple Fair as its primary annual fundraiser, held the second weekend of August just as the beloved Gravenstein apples reach their peak ripeness. Recently named “Best Festival” (again) by the Bohemian, the Fair features live music, local food and drink, farming demonstrations, livestock, ag games, kids’ activities, farmstead goods and artisanal crafts, and of course all things made from the Gravenstein apple. An average of 14,000 people come to the Fair each year, and thanks to a commitment to zero waste event production, the Fair has been formally recognized by the County of Sonoma as a model of community conservation in action.
Farm Trails’ mission is to “ensure the continuing economic viability of Sonoma County agriculture by instilling an appreciation of ag as a vital part of our community & lifestyle.”
Visit farmtrails.org to learn more!