Driven by a desire to help small family farmers, Gail L. Hayden earned a Bachelor of Science in agricultural business and management from the University of California, Davis in 1978, and began her career in 1979 as part of the original team to develop certified farmers’ markets in the state of California. This was during a time where there were severe gas shortages, which prevented people from driving out to farms to get their food. Creating a system of farmers’ markets allowed small farmers to maintain control over selling their own products instead having to outsource to a middleman. It also helped to ensure there was a supply of local, homegrown food for communities, instead of having to rely on food that has been shipped from all over.
Cultivating her expertise in organizing farmers’ markets for cities, farmers and towns all over California, Ms. Hayden earned a Master of Business Administration in administration and management from California State University, Sacramento in 1984. This gave her a new set of tools to be able to help farmers with various aspects of branding, product management and merchandising to sell their products effectively. She served as the executive director for the Marin County Farmers Market Association from 1998 to 2004. She spent eight years working with the California Department of Food and Agriculture before assuming her current position as the director of the California Farmers’ Markets Association in 1994.
Alongside her primary duties, which revolve around understanding the food that people want and communicating those wants properly, Ms. Hayden has contributed her skills to a number of other professional and civic endeavors. She has worked to provide farm fresh food to various local feeding programs and spent time serving on the advisory board of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In addition, she has sat on numerous different local boards and was previously a board member for the local musical theater group.
Ms. Hayden attributes much of her success to her hard work, perseverance, education and her ability to understand the struggles of farmers alongside the logistics of city planning. She has made a name for herself as a long-standing professional in the field as well as by being a woman who began her career in agriculture in 1979, a time when there were very few women in the field. Over the years, she has been continually motivated by her desire to help small family farmers sell their products and stay in business, and the gratitude she receives for the work she does.
For her excellence, Ms. Hayden has been the recipient of a number of honors and accolades. Most notably, she was named Farmers Market Manager of the Year by the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association in 2005 and cited as the Godmother of the Farmers Market by a local California magazine, two recognitions she considers to be the absolute highlights of her career. She was also presented with the U.S. Congressional Honor for her years of achievements.
While she is looking toward retirement in the next five years, Ms. Hayden is proud and happy to have led such a long and fruitful career. She fondly recalls the moments of teaching she has had throughout the years, be it teaching children how to eat healthy or doing full-fledged cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets, such as the one where she showed how to make 10 different salad dressings in 10 minutes. Over three decades, she has traveled across 20 states, Canada and the U.K., doing seminars called “Selling the Whole Truckload” and assisting thousands of farmers to maximize their sales at their farmers’ markets. Another great joy of hers has been getting to experience and taste all sorts of different foods, such as grass-fed meat and fresh caught fish, and learning to understand and cook foods from different cultures.