Crop Talk: Farm Marketing
Hello again, and happy April. Marketing, for small scale farmers, used to mean simply showing up at the farmers market every Saturday morning. If you were really on top of your game, you even had signs that matched the produce you had harvested. You standing behind the table selling your produce was the marketing strategy.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that times have changed. But the good news is: people haven’t changed. People still like buying from their friend the local farmer. And although the vehicles with which you share your story may continue to evolve, it will always be important to your customers to know your farm’s story. Read on for some tips about how to tell your story in today’s marketplace.
Just because you don’t have a “marketing budget” doesn’t mean you don’t have a marketing plan.
You might think you don’t have a marketing plan, but you do – whether intentional or not. For instance, I’m guessing the shirt you wear on market days might be different than the shirt you wear when you’re basket-weeding. That’s marketing. When you look your best to your customers, you’re marketing yourself and your farm. Maybe you bring your kids or your dog with you to CSA pick-ups, and your customers know them just as well as they know you. That’s marketing. When your customers feel like they are buying from a family and supporting people who are trying to build a healthy life for themselves, you’re marketing yourself and your farm. These types of decisions, whether for practical reasons or marketing reasons, are part of what makes you and your farm stand out in the marketplace. Your image is important to your customers, so own it. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, this blog post by High Mowing’s own Paul Betz gives some great pointers on how to go about marketing yourself at the farmers market.
A genuine story will draw in new customers, and retain returning customers.
Farmer-entrepreneur Simon Huntley of Small Farm Central described farm marketing like this on the Farmer-to-Farmer podcast: “It has to be about more than just a box of food . . . the food has to be infused with your story.” If your farm’s produce is one of several options for buyers in your area, you know you need to do something to stand out. One of the great things about this growing movement of organic and local food sourcing is that people want to know who is behind the food they buy. If you’re able to let your passion and honesty shine through in your business transactions, your customers will respond by continuing to support your work and buy your produce.
Tell your story in person and online.
Let your farm’s story be heard on multiple platforms. Many farmers are finding a wide-reaching support system these days through social media platforms like Instagram. These social sites don’t have to be intimidating for the busy farmer – they only require as much energy as you have to give. Whether that means posting every day, or once every other month, if the stories you tell in your online presence reflect the true personality of the farm, your followers will love you for it. Farmer-author Kate McLean of Longest Acres Farm gave us a “farm-stagram” primer to help growers get started with this marketing platform. Read her article on our blog.
Seek out advice and refresh your marketing plans each season.
Every year when I attend conferences on behalf of High Mowing, there is without fail a series of workshops dedicated to small scale farm marketing. Because marketing channels and techniques are constantly evolving, it can be helpful to attend these workshops (or use free online resources like these from Cornell University) to get a refresher each season and make sure you’re taking full advantage of what the marketplace has to offer. You may discover that a membership to a farmer organization, like the Organic Farmers Association or the National Farmers Union, could be of benefit to your farm for the marketing muscle it offers.