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Website links schools with local growers
Ag Link pic
Brown students pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables to take home to their families during an after-school program in October 2012. As part of Octobers National Farm to School Month, Ag Link visited the school to teach the students about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. - photo by Journal file photo

As part of a new age of agricultural business, Jana Nairn, CEO of the newest e-commerce web solution known as Ag Link, is trying to bridge the gap between farmers of older generations with a new and easy approach to serving those who need and buy a greater quantity of produce: schools.

“Our mission is to provide a trustworthy, ecommerce solution that helps facilitate the buying and selling of agricultural products between qualified participants,” said Nairn. “Ag Link is designed to cut out the middle men between growers and schools so that growers get the most out of their work, and the schools get fresh local food.”

Jana Nairn, along with husband Rob, have a strong background and education in agriculture. They own 200 acres of almonds, and understand the pressure that growers have in seeking buyers.

Ag Link first began in Stanislaus County back in August 2012. Scott Soiseth, director of Child Nutrition for the Turlock Unified School District, was among the first to order products through the website.

“It is an easy to use program,” Soiseth said. “You just click on the produce you want, and where you want it to come from. We are not dealing with a bunch of processing orders anymore. They do all the paperwork behind the scenes, and it makes this really easy for schools and growers.”

Soiseth loves the “fresh” quality of the food. He said that before using Ag Link, there were times when he did not know exactly where the children’s food came from.

He recalled receiving a large quantity of one year old apples, and hated the fact that local producers did not have a hand in the selection process. Through Ag Link, he feels confident that he will never have to experience this feeling of disappointment again.

“We buy such large quantities, and that helps growers get rid of their products quicker and easier. It is straight from the field to the school, and it is fresh. The quality is second to none and far exceeds anything we’ve ever had before,” said Soiseth.

“I believe that local farmers should take advantage of this program. Any local farmer that wants to sell their produce should go through Ag Link. We want to buy local produce because we want to keep the economic growth within the area.”

Though Stanislaus started the trend, Nairn has seen Ag Link's growth stretch from Kern County to Yuba City, and even into the Bay Area.

“Our growth model is to grow as supply and demand dictates,” said Nairn. “As we get new clients interested, then it opens areas for growers and schools that propagate relationships in that region. As of now, we have 100 participants; almost 50 schools and over 50 producers registered.”

Soiseth believes that it is important to share Ag Link with other schools and farmers, and has traveled throughout the state talking with over 120 food service directors to join the cause. Since Turlock Unified started utilized the website, over $200,000 has been reinvested into local farmers from the school, boosting the local economy.

“The schools are much easier to get a hold of compared to the growers,” said Nairn. “The demand is there, and that is great, but there is a technological gap between generations. The growers take a little bit of a learning curve, but they are coming along. We have buyers, now we just need to make the sellers aware.”