Marketing Strategies for Farmers and Ranchers - North Central SARE

Marketing Strategies for Farmers and Ranchers - North Central SARE

39199_P01_20 12/11/06 3:10 PM Page 1 Opportunities in Agriculture CONTENTS FARMERS MARKETS 2 COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE 4 ON-FARM SALES/TOUR...

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Opportunities in Agriculture


Marketing Strategies for Farmers and Ranchers






Published by the Sustainable

Creative marketing ideas range from extending farmers market sales through the winter (left) to diversifying

Agriculture Network (SAN),

from grain into pumpkins (right). The Bolsters of Deep Root Farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Walters

the national outreach arm

in Kansas have both realized new profits. – Market photo by Ted Coonfield; pumpkins by William Rebstock

of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education


their first milk bottle, the Burkharts premiered their

(SARE) program, with funding

80-cow dairy in central Iowa left the farm in a bulk

Picket Fence Creamery with an open house that drew

from the Cooperative State

truck for processing and sale in the commodity markets.

more than 900 people for farm tours, children’s activities

Research, Education and

These days, however, the farm’s milk takes a different

and special sales offers.

Extension Service, USDA.

route to customers. In 2002, the Burkharts decided to

Also available at: marketing.htm

build a bottling plant and start selling their milk directly

they divided their 80-acre grass farm into paddocks,

from the farm.

where they rotationally graze 80 Jersey cows moved

Today, the Burkharts’ 80-acre rotationally grazed farm


twice daily to ensure ideal field conditions. Once they

has become a regular destination for customers through-

started the creamery, they began making butter, cheese

out the Des Moines area, attracting 100 visitors a day

curds, and 25 flavors of ice cream. To include other

and up to 400 when they hold a special event. As the

farmers in their venture, they turned the creamery store

Burkharts had hoped, visitors leave the farm with gallons

into a local foods marketplace, featuring everything from

of fresh, pasteurized milk as well as other products.

eggs, beef, elk and bison, to maple syrup, baked goods,

“Business is booming,” says Jeff Burkhart, who


The Burkharts have been innovators before. In 1988,

popcorn and wine from 76 other central Iowa families.

received a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture

“We’re taking the raw product, which is the grass,

Research and Education (SARE) program in 2004

and then adding value to it by feeding it to the cows,

to test two marketing strategies: an open house event

then taking the milk and bottling it or processing it

and a Website launch. A year to the day after filling

into butter, ice cream and cheese,” Burkhart says.



3:10 PM

Page 2

“Our customers really seem to appreciate it – they can

and provides links to extra, more in-depth information.

see and smell and touch everything, they can watch the

(RESOURCES, p. 20.)

processing through the observation window, and they really think that’s neat.”

Direct marketing strategies are numerous and varied. Before beginning to sell direct, identify markets with

The Burkharts team up with two other farms nearby –

special needs that offer large enough volumes to provide

Prairieland Herbs and Northern Prairie Chevre – to share

profitable returns. Also consider researching and writing

advertising costs and prompt customers to make a day

a business plan, which will help you evaluate alternatives,

of their farm experience.

identify new market opportunities, then communicate

Shifting to on-farm sales has been a lot of work, the Burkharts say, but the rewards are many. For one, the couple now earns a good living. Just as important, the

them to potential business partners and commercial lenders. (See p. 18 and RESOURCES, p. 20.) Organic foods have held steady as one of the fastest-

new enterprise has fostered family togetherness. “We’re

growing niche markets for several years. More recently,

doing this as a family,” Burkhart says. “We get to work

demand for pasture-raised meat and dairy products has

together, our kids are here, and we don’t have to com-

risen considerably, with a small but significant subset

mute to work. That means a lot.”

interested in ethnic specialty meats, such as Halal and

Proactive marketing strategies have proven the key

kosher-slaughtered products. Buying trends also support

to success for many agricultural enterprises. Rather than

a rising interest in food grown and produced locally

accepting the relatively low prices typically offered by

or regionally, so savvy farmers and ranchers are distin-

wholesalers, direct marketers put the power to turn a

guishing their products by location and quality. Finally,

profit back in their own hands by capturing a greater

e-commerce has become an established mechanism

share of the consumer dollar. Direct marketing channels

for sales of all kinds.

offer direct connections to customers, providing them

Consider selling at farmers markets, opening a CSA

an opportunity to buy fresh products – grass-fed beef,

operation, developing value-added products, offering

just-picked vegetables, or decorative pumpkins – and

on-farm activities like educational tours, selling via the

knowledge about how they’ve been grown. In return,

Internet, or marketing to restaurants and schools. You

farmers and ranchers learn what their customers like,

can go it alone, or you can team up with others in a

then fill those needs with products, often at a premium.

cooperative. Most farmers use a combination of marketing

This bulletin from the Sustainable Agriculture Network

methods – both value-based strategies bringing higher

describes successful direct marketers, most of whom

returns and volume-based channels selling more products

researched their new enterprises with funding from the

– finding that diverse marketing strategies provide stable

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

profits and a better quality of life.

program. It includes tips about how to start or improve a number of alternative agricultural marketing channels


than doubled to about 4,000, reflecting an enormous demand for farm-fresh produce. Most farmers markets offer a reliable, flexible outlet where vendors can sell a wide range of fresh produce, plants, honey, value-added products like jams or breads and even (depending on local health regulations) meats, Jeff and Jill Burkhart

eggs and cheeses. For beginning direct marketers,

opened an on-site

farmers markets can be a great place to start. To locate

creamery to showcase

farmers markets in your area, go to

their Iowa dairy

farmersmarkets/ or call USDA’s Agricultural Marketing

products, which they

Service at (202) 720-8042.

promote through farm

Aaron and Kimberly Bolster have been marketing

days and a new Website

their fruits and vegetables in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

developed with help

since 1998, gradually expanding Deep Roots Farm

from SARE.

from three to more than 100 acres. Their diversified

–Photo by Jerry DeWitt

approach to marketing includes a community supported




3:10 PM

Page 3

agriculture program, sales to restaurants, local supermarket chains, and even cannery crops. Yet, farmers markets have consistently been among their best outlets. In 2006, Deep Roots’ employees were selling at 12 farmers markets a week during the height of the season. Several are in Portland, a city known for its vibrant and bustling markets that offer everything from heirloom vegetables to bouquets of freshly cut flowers, dry beans, specialty breads, fruit, nuts, beef, lamb and even rabbit. Asked what makes for a successful farmers market stand, Aaron Bolster emphasizes “the old cliché that you have to have a quality product at a good price. People need to have a reason to come back.” Customers develop loyalty to particular farms based on price, quality, the range of offerings, their desire to support local farmers, and the personal connection they feel with you and your farm. Farmers markets vary widely in size, setting and sales volume. If you’re not satisfied with farmers market options in your area, you may be able to improve them by forging alliances with other members of your community. Merchants’ associations, chambers of commerce and

A similar partnership in Santa Rosa County, Fla.,

other civic groups have come to recognize the power

spearheaded by a SARE community innovation grant,

extension specialist,

of farmers markets to draw customers into retail areas.

led to the establishment of Riverwalk Farmers Market

calls farmers markets

in downtown Milton and the creation of a “Santa

“America’s first grocery

specialist for community development, calls farmers

Rosa Fresh” marketing program to highlight produce

stores.” She opened

markets “America’s first grocery stores.” King was part

grown within the county. Cooking demonstrations

a new market in

of a group eager to emulate the success they saw in

with themes like “Cook it Like Your Grandma Did”

Versailles, Ky., and

the city of Lexington, which enjoys a thriving farmers

and “It’s Too Darn Hot to Cook” drew record crowds.

provided training for

market with as many as 60 vendors. In neighboring

Other special events featured antique car shows and

farmers interested

Woodford County, King and other community leaders

swing dancing demonstrations.

in diversifying their

Betty King, a University of Kentucky extension

were eager to encourage a new market in the town of Versailles. When Versailles’ downtown underwent renovation,

Betty King, a Kentucky

The county hopes to erect a permanent covered


structure for the market on the courthouse square.

– Photo by Ted Coonfield

Another plan is to let high school students earn

developers offered to create a covered space where

community service hours to gain eligibility for state

the market could operate year-round. The Woodford

college scholarships by working at the market. “It really

County Extension Service built a certified community

fits with our mission for the farmers market to have an

processing kitchen, and a SARE grant helped fund a

educational component,” says Chris Wilcox of the Santa

training program for farmers interested in developing

Rosa Economic Development Council.

value-added products to diversify their market offerings.

Most growers enjoy interacting with other farmers, and

Downtown merchants show their support for the market

many say that cooperation is as important as competition.

by purchasing bedding plants and other items from the

Expect to have slow days when you do not sell all that

farmers for seasonal decorations.

you bring, and be prepared to encounter bargain hunters.

The Woodford County Farmers Market now has 10

You may want to investigate gleaning possibilities; many

to 12 vendors selling produce, honey, meat, cheese and

food banks and homeless shelters will pick up extras

freshwater shrimp. “You have to start small and grow the

directly from your stand or farm.

market,” King says. “Farmers should realize that they

If you’re interested in selling at farmers markets, keep

have to invest, too.” For example, paying higher stall

in mind:

fees to pay for advertising or a salaried market manager

 Successful markets are located in busy, central

can pay dividends later.

places and are well-publicized.




3:10 PM

Page 4

 Don’t deliberately or drastically undersell your fellow

deliver them to centrally located distribution sites. Families

farmers. The more farmers and farm products at the

run some CSA farms, while others involve groups of pro-

market, the more customers.

ducers to supply additional goods. Many CSA farms ask

 A good market manager promotes the market and

enforces its rules.  Selling at a farmers market may provide contacts

for other channels, such as special orders or subscriptions.  Get feedback from your customers. You can learn

members to commit time and labor to the operation, which not only lowers costs, but also allows members to learn more about what it really means to grow food. In and around Concord, N.H., eight organic vegetable growers decided to try a cooperative CSA. With a SARE grant, the group worked through the logistics, from the

a lot about what they find desirable – and what to

creation of a legal entity called Local Harvest CSA to

grow next season.

weekly food production and delivery. Being part of the

 For tips on displaying produce, pricing and other

cooperative makes it possible for the growers to combine

practical advice, consult The New Farmers’ Market.

what they produce best or substitute for others’ crop

(RESOURCES, p. 20)

losses. Co-op members also learn from each other, sharing information about production issues like seed varieties


and fencing options. Since forming in 2003, the group


has slowly expanded its roster of farmer-members and

community invest in a local farm operation by paying

doubled its number of shareholders to more than 200.

up-front for a share of the harvest, has been growing

Another model comes from northern California’s

steadily since it first appeared in the U.S. in the late 1980s.

Full Belly Farm. Run by a team of four farm partners,

The community idea carries over into the farm itself,

Full Belly hosts a year-round, 800-member CSA with

with members dividing the weekly harvest as well as the

drop-off sites throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

risk of crop failure. Moreover, most CSA farms invite

Full Belly Farm employs 40 workers and grows nearly

members to learn more about their operations through

80 different types of vegetables, herbs, fruits and nuts as

farm visits, volunteer opportunities and potluck suppers.

well as flowers, eggs and wool. They also sell at farmers

No two CSA farms are alike. Most supply produce.

markets and to restaurants.

They also might provide flowers, berries, nuts, eggs,

“I wanted to create a different model than what I grew

meat, grain or honey. Farmers may ask members to

up with,” says Paul Muller, who was raised near San Jose

come to the farm to pick up their shares, or they might

in a family of dairy farmers and now is one of the Full

Full Belly Farm in northern California has cultivated a loyal base of members for its community operation, which provides 80 different types of vegetables and even wool. Paul Muller is one of four farm partners. – Photo by Neil Michel/Axiom




3:10 PM

Page 5

Belly Farm partners. “On our farm, we have great relationships with our end users – they are the ones we grow for, and they have confidence in our integrity” about how Full Belly Farm produces their food. “They have no question about feeding it to their kids.” Full Belly Farm has been organic since the 1980s, and hosts an award-winning annual “Hoes Down” festival including kids’ activities, farm tours, food and music. Muller received SARE’s Patrick Madden Sustainable Farmer Award in 2006. Many CSA farmers produce weekly or biweekly newsletters describing the harvest and providing recipes. Others reach out electronically through listservs or Websites. Full Belly Farm’s Website describes their CSA program in detail -- including drop-off locations, prices and payment schedules, a harvest calendar and a newsletter specifying the contents of the

of blueberries, 1 acre of blackberries, 2,000 hardwood logs

Marlene Groves and

weekly CSA box, among other things.

for shiitake mushrooms and 120 apple trees. In addition

husband, David, provide

to the products, they provide amenities: clean restrooms,

tours of their 2,000-acre

a picnic table and shade trees – and tidy field edges.

Kiowa, Colo., buffalo

When evaluating CSA as an option for your farm, consider:  Your location. Can you find enough members?

“We create a place where people can enjoy them-

ranch to promote a

Can they drive to your farm; or do you need to

selves,” Earnie Bohner says. “People don’t come all the

better understanding

establish community drop-off sites?

way out here to get cheap food. They come because

of agriculture, ecology

it’s fun and the berries are absolutely fresh. As much

and nutrition.

volunteers to handle the extra jobs involved

as we can, we give them contact with ‘the farmers.’

– Photo courtesy Buffalo Groves

in CSA, such as packaging?

The more we can do that, the more people go away

 Labor. Do you have enough paid support or

 Your willingness to sponsor events on the farm,

publish a newsletter and provide other services that help customers feel connected to the farm.

with that memory.” An Indiana grower’s use of integrated pest management and shrewd marketing attracted a bevy of new customers to his crop farm. In 1992, Brian Churchill


began using integrated pest management on some of Countryside Farm’s 100 acres of sweet corn, melons,


tomatoes and other produce. In 1994, with a SARE


producer grant, Churchill began scouting for pests, with-

the Burkharts’ observation window (see p. 1), they seek

holding routine spraying and building better habitat for

opportunities to shop at farm stands and interact with

beneficial insects. He cut insecticide costs drastically,

farmers right where they live. In response, farmers are

then decided to use that as a marketing hook.

becoming more attuned to ways they might maximize

First, Churchill attracted the attention of local chefs

their offerings. Some pick-your-own operations, for

with an “expo” (see p. 13). He also opened a thriving

example, have expanded into wedding facilities, farm

roadside stand, where the corn is the big seller.

camps and gourmet specialty stores. Earnie and Martha Bohner, who started with a pick-

“We drive the point home about using less chemicals all the time,” he said. “I have been growing sweet corn

your-own operation with no buildings, electricity or run-

now for 16 years and the customers keep coming back

ning water in 1983, created a Missouri Ozarks destination

and bringing friends with them. It’s been great.”

that now attracts carload after carload of customers,

Once he perfected his system, he expanded into

especially in June, July and August, when nearby summer

watermelons, pumpkins and squash and began inviting

camps are in session.

school children to visit to learn more about farming,

They began with a long-term plan for Persimmon Hill

judicious agri-chemical use and pollination. In 2005,

Berry Farm based on family goals and values. Within 10

1,500 students visited the farm. “Our farm has grown a

years of purchasing 80 acres, they were cultivating 3 acres

lot since the grant,” he says.




3:10 PM

Page 6

breathe new profits into the 1,700-acre farm where Carroll had grown up. Bit by bit, the Walters expanded that original acre of pumpkins to 16 acres. They built a processing kitchen so they could create value-added products. Then they added a gift shop, a swinging bridge over their creek to appeal to kids, a corn maze and educational tours to draw customers to their farm, ideally located for a tourism venture just minutes off the Kansas Turnpike. Today, the Walters grow more than 100 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and winter squash -- from minis to giants -- along with tomatoes, peppers and onions. Planting many squash varieties also helps the Walters spread risk, since different types thrive in different weather conditions. Drawn by the variety and convenient location, as many as 15,000 visitors flock to Walters’ Pumpkin Patch in the six weeks leading up to Halloween. “People come just to see all the different kinds that In the Pacific Northwest, Larry Thompson grows 43

The Walters’ 100

we have,” says Becky Walters, who received a SARE

varieties of pumpkins

fruit and vegetable crops on 140 acres in Boring, Ore.

farmer/rancher grant to experiment with ways to add

and squash attract

Once he decided to convert his parents’ farm from

value to pumpkins by making salsa. The product,

15,000 visitors every

wholesale produce and flung open the farm gate to the

after experimentation with the recipe and the right

fall. The new enterprise

suburban Portland community, his neighbors began

jar for packing, dovetails with their tourism efforts,

has brought their

coming and haven’t stopped.

complements their other vegetables and provides new

Many call Thompson a pro at “relationship” marketing,

daughter’s family back

jobs in their community.

to the Burns, Kan., farm.

forming bonds with customers who see a value in local

The enterprise has been so successful that her

– Photo by William Rebstock

produce raised with few chemicals. Each year, thousands

daughter and son-in-law have moved back to the farm

of students – as well as other farmers and researchers –

to help out. With their two young grandsons beginning

visit his farm to learn about his holistic pest manage-

to get involved in the business, Becky says, “it feels like

ment strategies and view his bounty of colorful crops.

a real family farm again.”


the Walters will teach visitors about native frogs and fish


in their farm pond and incorporate information about

what’s unique about your farm and your skills, and use

the Walnut River, which surrounds them on three sides.

To expand their educational efforts for school groups,

those things to create an enjoyable, educational experi-

“I think having an idea of doing something and jump-

ence that will appeal to your customers. The key to

ing off the cliff to do it is the hardest part,” Walters says.

agritourism is authenticity and creativity.

“Sometimes it takes what I call ‘thinking outside the barn.’

Becky Walters planted her first acre of pumpkins on her central Kansas farm in 1988 after her boss at a local greenhouse gave her seed for a new miniature pumpkin that was popular at nurseries and farm markets. “My husband caught a big razzing at the co-op,” she

When you put a pencil to it, it just doesn’t make sense for us to grow the conventional crops any more.” The Walters and others who offer educational programs for school groups recognize that teaching children usually requires special skills and always a good set of ideas.

recalls, “but I made $583 selling them, twice what we

To engage children, consider getting them involved in

would have made on the 5 acres of milo we usually

projects -- whether it’s digging potatoes, planting corn,

had in that field.”

or decorating pumpkins. Keeping groups small helps.

Like most of their neighbors, Becky and her hus-

Of course, ensuring safety is paramount, especially on

band, Carroll, had been growing milo and soybeans

farms with heavy equipment and other hazards. If you

and grazing cattle for the commodity market. With

don’t have the resources to develop educational programs

grain and beef prices hovering at or below the cost of

on your own, consider working with local schoolteachers,

production, the couple was eager to find a way to

FFA groups, or others in the community.




7:01 PM

Page 7

Marlene Groves of Buffalo Groves, Inc., in Kiowa,

to promote rural economic development through farm-

Colo., developed youth education programs – including

based tourism activities. In many parts of the United

an “American Buffalo” Girl Scout patch program and an

States -- not just traditional vacation destinations like

educational youth buffalo project for 4-H – to teach about

Hawaii or New England -- tourism can make a significant

buffalo history. The ranch’s “Bison Reader,” a youth activity

contribution to local economies, and attractive, well-

sheet, is a favorite at many schools and nature centers.

managed farm operations can do a lot to draw rural

Efforts like these, Groves says, foster a better understand-

tourists. Explore local government, quasi-government

ing of ecology, agriculture and nutrition. Mainly, she wants

and business connections to participate in local festivals,

kids to know where their food comes from.

get listed in state tourism brochures or be featured in

The Groves teach people, young and old, about their ranch and their niche product during ranch tours. They

regional public outreach campaigns. In Minnesota, the nonprofit Renewing the Countryside

charge $25 per person, refundable in the form of store

organization used a SARE grant to promote local foods-

credit, and also offer customized tours for private events.

based tourism. Working with groups like the Minnesota

“It takes work to run tours” on a 2,000-acre ranch,

Bed & Breakfast Association and the University of Min-

Groves acknowledges, “but we want to showcase what

nesota Tourism Center, RTC developed a promotional

we’re doing.” They lead visitors on walks, talk about

campaign called Green Routes. Printed maps and an

grazing management and point out native grasses and

online directory ( guide visitors

wildflowers. “Of course, the highlight is going out to

to farmstands, craft shops and other rural destinations.

see the buffalo herd,” she says.

“There’s a lot of interest in and support for ‘green’

Offering tours is a way of taking advantage of consumers’ and the media’s interest in farm life, Groves says. As part of that, “tell a good story – tell your own

travel, and farmers are a big piece of that,” says RTC’s Jan Joannides. Similar efforts are underway in Rhode Island, where

story,” she advises. In addition to selling meat on the

the Rhode Island Center for Agricultural Promotion

ranch, they also market and deliver directly to customers

and Education launched “Rhode Island FarmWays,”

Hidden Meadows Farm

in Denver and Colorado Springs and from their Website.

a campaign to highlight farms as tourist destinations.

in West Greenwich, R.I.,

The goal, says Center Executive Director Stuart Nunnery,

a member of the state

activities, offering hunting, fishing, bird-watching, horse-

is “to help showcase Rhode Island’s farms as places of

FarmWays agritourism

back riding or hiking. In Colorado, co-owners of the

significant beauty, culture, ecology and history. Those

campaign, hosted the

87,000-acre Chico Basin Ranch began offering working

farms are crucial to maintaining Rhode Island’s quality

public during a Thanksgiving

ranch vacation packages in 2000. While it’s taking time

of life.”

weekend of on-farm

Other ranchers have expanded into diverse on-site

to make that side of the business fully profitable, they

With help from a 2004 SARE grant, Nunnery and

feel they’re moving in the right direction, says ranch

colleagues have held professional development work-

Christmas trees and value-

manager Duke Phillips.

shops for farmers, provided grants to help producers

added products.

While some people visit just for birding, which brings

activities. The farm sells

initiate farm-based tourism activities and created a

– Photo by Jo-Anne Pacheco

lower returns, “we have packages where people stay for a week and we get paid well for that,” says Phillips. “We have to balance what we do with our values, the reason we’re here as ranchers.” Chico Basin was among a group of ranches in Colorado, Wyoming and other western states that benefited from a SARE grant exploring various types of communitybased direct marketing models for ranch owners seeking to diversify. The key is to put a value on the natural resource amenities provided by ranchlands and to find ways for urban- and suburban-based consumers to enjoy those amenities.


literally, might team up with state or regional agencies




3:10 PM

Page 8

Nutritional tests on

Website listing farm-based attractions statewide. The

meat from Buffalo

Rhode Island Center also negotiated a $250,000 loan

Groves in Colorado

package with the state Economic Development Corp.

found the cuts were

to provide small loans to farmers to develop or expand

significantly lower in

agritourism and direct marketing activities. Finally,

calories and cholesterol

the team is focusing on streamlining the regulatory

than grain-fed bison

process by which farmers can set up farm stay or bed

meat, providing a

& breakfast operations. “Our farms have a variety of untapped assets that

marketing angle for David and Marlene

can create products and experiences for visitors,”


says Nunnery. “They could be walking trails, historical

– Photo courtesy of Buffalo Groves

features, wildlife, heritage livestock, horticultural diversity or just a spectacular landscape. We have farms with beautiful grasslands preserved by conservation easements. One of the farms we’re working with has ancient settlements and artifacts being excavated by university archaeologists.” If you’re interested in on-farm sales and agritourism, consider the following.  Check your local extension office for information

about how to construct sales stands, small market buildings and produce displays. From building materials to permits, establishing a stand can prove expensive.  Social skills and a scenic, clean, attractive farm

animals a year at a premium price. Over the past several years they’ve explored a variety of direct market-

are crucial for success in agritourism and can

ing strategies. A SARE grant enabled them to partner

overcome a location that is less than ideal.

with a local nonprofit group to test a subscription

 Farm visitors may interfere with main farm

service for meat, in which up to 100 members would

activities and pose a liability risk. Consult your

purchase annual shares of pork chops, sausages,

insurance adviser to ensure adequate liability

bacon and ham.

coverage.  In the tourist business, you are never really off-duty.

Expect late-night calls and working holidays.  State departments of agriculture often offer

What they found was that customers were more comfortable with monthly meat subscriptions than with annual meat shares. “We tried to pattern it after how people are used to buying from vegetable farmers:

assistance in setting up farm festivals and similar

paying upfront,” Denise Brownlee says. “For whatever

activities. State tourism bureaus also can offer

reason, they were hesitant to commit.” Their experience

a wealth of ideas and information.

shows that translating marketing strategies from one type of product to another can require some tweaking.


Decades ago, most meat and animal products were


sold directly to customers, but all that changed with

prices fall and wondering how they could stay prof-

the advent of the modern feedlot-to-wholesale system.

itable, Denise and Bill Brownlee of Wil-Den Family

Recently, consumer concerns about nutritional health,

Farms in Pennsylvania decided in 2002 to exploit

food safety and animal welfare have spurred renewed

what they saw as a market advantage – their outdoor

interest in buying animal products directly from the

production system where hogs farrow and finish on

source. Producers, meanwhile, see the value of

pasture without growth stimulants and with minimal

re-connecting to consumers.

antibiotic use. Given the time commitment involved in direct

Making the most of your direct marketing efforts requires being able to explain to customers why your

marketing, the Brownlees started by scaling back

product is better than what they can find in their local

from 170 sows to 60, aiming to sell 900 to 1,000

supermarket. To make specific nutritional claims for




3:10 PM

Page 9

your product, consider getting samples tested by an

able to tell them how the animals are raised.”

Recently, consumer

independent lab. With a SARE producer grant, David

When he takes a 1,500-pound steer to the packing

and Marlene Groves tested their 100-percent grass-fed

plant, he receives about $1,000. That same animal brings

bison meat, which they sell directly from their Colorado

$2,500 minus about $450 in processing costs, when he

ranch. They learned that the meat was slightly lower in

sells it directly.

fat and significantly lower in calories and cholesterol than the standard published values for bison meat. “It’s very hard to confidently market your product

concerns about nutritional health,

“People are willing to pay more for direct-marketed organic beef,” he says. “Once you get regular customers,

food safety and

you develop a friendship with them. Then people start

if you don’t completely understand it,” Groves says.

talking about buying meat from ‘my farmer.’ It really is

“Most buffalo for sale in the supermarket is grain-fed,

the way marketing should be done, the farmer delivers a

and it’s much fattier.” Once customers understand the

quality product, and the consumer is happy to pay them

difference, they often are more inclined to buy Buffalo

a fair price, everyone wins.”

Groves meat. Another expanding market opportunity for sustain-

animal welfare have spurred

Cooperatives provide another route for direct market-

renewed interest

ing meat. In 2001, a group of Iowa livestock producers

able livestock producers centers on health. Health care

launched Wholesome Harvest, a cooperative featuring

practitioners and individuals seeking to improve their

organic meat sales in five Midwest states. Co-op founder

diets in response to concerns about chronic disease,

Wende Elliott, who raises lamb and poultry, got a grant

pain syndromes and various disorders are fueling

from SARE to research the potential -- since realized

demand for better quality meat. The University of North

with steady sales. “Only by working together can farmers

Carolina Program on Integrative Medicine used a SARE

protect the added value of organic meat and capture

grant to compile a directory of locally raised, grass-fed

premium prices,” Elliott says. (See p. 15 for more infor-

livestock products after receiving repeated requests for

mation on co-ops.)

in buying animal products directly from the source.

such information from holistic health care providers in the area. Part of their research included sources of meat with desired levels of omega-3 fatty acids.


For livestock producers facing an increasingly concentrated market with a few large processors controlling prices, direct marketing offers the opportunity to retain a greater share of product value. Marketing meat and animal products, however, means making food safety issues paramount. (See box at right.) Provide cooking instructions, especially for grassfed meats, which require lower cooking temperatures than conventionally produced meat – “low and slow,” as Texas rancher Peggy Sechrist likes to describe it. If possible, provide samples. With a quality product, sampling can be the most effective form of marketing. Jim Goodman of Wonewoc, Wis., began direct-marketing organic beef not only to increase profits, but also to talk with and educate his customers about sustainable beef production. After 16 years of selling to packing companies, Goodman now delivers beef to restaurants, a farmers market and directly to friends and neighbors. Customers are getting used to ordering by e-mail in the winter, so direct marketing continues during the winter through scheduled deliveries. “Traditionally, farmers never see their customers,” says Goodman, who regularly drives 75 miles to Madison to deliver beef. “It’s nice to be able to hand your customers a package of burgers with tips on how to cook it and be

Meat producers address consumer safety concerns through regulatory avenues as well as processing and inspection. Before launching a direct meat-selling venture, decide where and how you want to market. The type of processing and inspection you choose limits where the meat can be sold, dictating whether you can sell across state lines and whether direct to consumers or wholesale. For more information about meat inspection and overall marketing regulations, see the Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing, developed in part with a SARE grant. To learn more about direct-marketing beef, from slaughtering to promoting and advertising, consult How to Direct Market Your Beef, published by SARE’s Sustainable Agriculture Network. (RESOURCES, p. 20.) You may want to develop labels describing how you produce your meat, specifying your feeding, medication and other practices and/or where you farm or ranch. Check with USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) at, (202) 205-0623 and the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Livestock and Seed Program,, to create accurate, legal claims. For organic labels, see USDA’s National Organic Program Website – – or call (202) 690-0725 with questions. For regulations and information related to food safety in livestock products other than meat and eggs, such as milk pasteurization, visit the Food & Drug Agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at To better address the needs of the small business community, including farmers and ranchers, FDA assigned its small business representatives (SBRs) to respond to questions such as how to find the FDA regulation(s) pertinent to your product. To find the SBR nearest you, visit




3:10 PM

Page 10

PROMOTING MEAT TO ETHNIC MARKETS In 2005, they sold more than 500 live goats and lambs during the holidays at an average of $100 each. Moses and Jacoby learned a lot over the two years of their grant project about how to reach new customers, many of whom speak limited English, come to the farm at all hours, and want to slaughter their animals according to religious customs. Moses’ co-worker at her offfarm job, a Somali native, sparked the project by suggesting that local Somalis, many of whom work at a Barron, Wis., turkey processing plant, craved fresh goat meat. While Moses and Jacoby tried ads in ethnic magazines, established a multi-lingual Website and posted information on bulletin boards and tourist information centers, word-of-mouth brought the most customers. A friend who worked at the processing plant encouraged some of her Somali co-workers to visit Moses’ and Jacoby’s

Shane Opatz

To expand sales of their lamb and goat meat, Larry Jacoby and Judy Moses built new connections with the growing populations of Mexican and Somali immigrants in western Wisconsin. Their efforts – advertising in multiple languages, promoting visits to their 140-acre farm in Downing, Wis., and attending customer weddings, among them – have resulted in a substantial increase in annual sales. “We like working with a variety of people, it fits our interests intellectually,” said Judy Moses, who, with husband Jacoby, received a SARE farmer/rancher grant to explore new ways to promote to culturally diverse customers. “Once you get into their network, you’re in. When we have goats for sale, the word spreads quickly and customers come.” Now, they sell almost all of their goats and about 40 percent of their lambs to ethnic customers at premium prices. In busy periods during the Muslim month of Ramadan, Christmas and New Year’s holidays, monthly sales of adult goats, kids, and 80-pound lambs surge.

Shepherd Song Farm, where they raise about 400 goats and 300 lambs annually on pasture. In keeping with tradition, the Somalis wanted Halal slaughtering practices involving a Muslim imam. Moses found a state-inspected processor 14 miles away willing to slaughter goats in the preferred manner with the local imam present to supervise. Moses and Jacoby adapted in other ways, too, growing accustomed to unannounced visits from families, some of whom liked to pick up

animals in the midst of the winter holidays. Many of those visitors bought 10 to 20 goats at one time. They even bartered occasionally, with Jacoby swapping lamb for a new pair of leather boots imported from Mexico, among other items. Customer relations soared. “Mexican and Somali families have sought us out,” Moses said. “These families purchase something more than food – a memory of their heritage while strengthening family bonds.”


months. Customers got acquainted with the wide array of


local products available year-round, while farmers gauged

a CSA or on your farm, lengthening your marketing

off-season demand. Deep Roots used hoop houses to

season can be critical to spreading your workload and

grow late-season greens and other cold-hardy crops; other

evening out your cash flow. It can also help maintain

farmers, like the Boutards, offered value-added products

relationships with customers and allow you to offer

based on their summer berries and other specialties.

year-round employment to key employees. While some

“This is an area where there used to be a lot more

farmers enjoy having off-season “down time” to make

emphasis on winter production, but with more shipping

repairs or plan for the coming year, others find that

and competition from the South, it kind of fell away,” Bol-

practicing seasonal diversification makes for a more

ster says. “Now, with the demand for local produce, there’s

well-rounded farm enterprise.

a real opportunity for farmers who are willing to take it.”

Season extension involves using greenhouses,

A key goal for Bolster and the Boutards was to keep

unheated hoop houses, row covers or alternate varieties

people employed year-round to foster good workers.

to push fruit and vegetable crops earlier into the spring

They also found the winter market was a catalyst for them

or later into the fall.

to grow more vegetables year-round, then try shopping

In Oregon, farmers Aaron Bolster of Deep Roots Farm

any extra product to local stores and restaurants. “In

and Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm

winter there’s certainly more risk, but it’s worth it,”

teamed up with the Oregon Farmers’ Market Association

Bolster says.

on a SARE-funded project to test the idea of extending

Sometimes, the key to capturing a valuable market is

a popular Portland farmers market through the winter

timing. Having the earliest local sweet corn or tomatoes




3:10 PM

Page 11

at the farmers market will command a price premium;

add value to shiitake mushrooms. After market research,

the trick is to keep customers coming to your stand

including detailed cost comparisons, showed that freeze-

through tomato season and beyond. Thinking creatively

drying on site would be prohibitively expensive, the

about how to maximize the overlap between peak

Bohners decided to dry their fresh shiitakes off-site, then

demand and peak production is an important part of

convert the high-value product into a top-shelf shiitake

direct marketing. Becky Walters of Burns, Kan., devel-

soup mix.

oped her distinctive pumpkin salsa after selecting an

“The development of new products is something we

early-maturing pumpkin variety to coincide with tomato

work at all of the time,” says Earnie Bohner. “New farm

and pepper season.

products and enterprises help keep us interesting to

Another part of season extension has to do with under-

our return guests and give our first-time guests more

standing the seasonal preferences of your target market.

motivation to come and see us.” Today, their sales of

Meat producers often find that customers buy ground

value-added products accounts for 50 percent of the

beef in the summer and roasts in the winter, for example.

farm’s gross income.

In Colorado, the Groves have learned that they have to

Processing fruits and shiitake mushrooms allows

ship on Thursdays because many people like to receive

the Bohners to use “seconds,” extend their marketing

their meat on Friday for special weekend meals. Moreover,

season and diversify their marketing outlets.

the Groves say that bison sales are strong around the win-

Dan and Jeanne Carver diversified their central

ter holidays and into January, apparently because people

Oregon ranch by developing a variety of value-added

resolve to eat healthier meats around the first of year.

products from their sheep flock. With a SARE farmer/

Finally, raising heritage turkeys for the Thanksgiving mar-

rancher grant, Jeanne Carver tested the market, then

ket has proven a yearly boon for many poultry producers.

targeted lamb and wool sales toward high-end consumers and commercial buyers. Now, they sell Imperial Stock


Ranch lamb to upscale restaurants in Bend, Ore., wool


in yarn-and-pattern kits for hand knitters, and ready-to-

rented facilities near their farm in southern Missouri.

wear woolen and lambskin fashions.

Since then, Persimmon Hill Berry Farm has built a pro-

“Our customers love the quality of our product, the

cessing kitchen to make value-added products, from jams

flavor profile of the meat, the feel of the wool, and the

to sauces. To create specialty items that would appeal to

message of the land and sense of place,” Carver says.

customers, the Bohners did their homework. First, they

Direct-marketing their lamb led to selling some of

worked with a chef to perfect recipes for jams and barbe-

their main product – beef -- directly as well. “The market-

cue sauce. Later, with a SARE grant, they sought ways to

ing project has increased awareness and visibility of

Greenhouses and high tunnels – unheated, pipe-framed structures – offer options for producing before and after the traditional season. Easyto-construct tunnels have been especially popular for off-season fruits and vegetables that fetch premium prices. – Tunnel photo by Mark Davis; greenhouse photo by MB Miller.




3:10 PM

Page 12

left to right

To add value to local fare, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont developed pizza on-the-go featuring a portable oven and diverse products, from wheat to vegetables to meat. Lisa Harris of NOFA-VT demonstrates. – Photo by Lindsey Ketchel

Sheep rancher Jeanne

products. The oven also cooks bread, pies and even

Carver developed a line

roasted vegetables. Value-added opportunities are everywhere. Examine

of woolen garments such as fleece vests featuring

what we grow, how we grow it and, most importantly,

your product and brainstorm about how processing

their Oregon-raised wool,

how we manage the land,” says Dan Carver. “Once the

might increase its value. Fruit growers can dry their

adding value to a

chefs [buying Imperial Stock Ranch lamb] tour the

product or make wines, juices, vinegars, spreads, sauces,

typically low-priced

ranch and see the roots of their product, they ask “How

syrups and preserves. Grain growers might create cereals


do we get your beef?’The demand is there,” he notes,

and baking mixes. Dairy operators can bottle milk or

– Photo courtesy Imperial Stock Ranch

“but it will grow only as fast as our processing and

make cheese, while livestock producers might sell

distribution will allow.”

dried meat or specialty cuts.

In the Northeast, where festivals proliferate, the

When you add variety to your product line, you

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont

increase the choices presented to your customers and

(NOFA-VT) used a SARE grant to research a variety of

your chances for expanding your sales volume.

prepared foods for sale at fairs, festivals and farmers

Some things to keep in mind when contemplating

markets. Their goal was to develop a healthy value-

value-added products:

added product that featured diverse local ingredients

 Consider projected costs and returns carefully

purchased directly from farmers and appealed to

before investing in specialized equipment for

festival-goers. The answer turned out to be pizza.

value-added products. Often it makes sense

To make it work, NOFA-VT needed a portable oven. They contracted with a Maine company that specializes in wood heating to build them a wood-fired French clay, copper-clad oven, with help from a USDA Rural

to work with a co-processor to test your market.  Some of the best value-added items make use

of by-products or seconds.  Seek the experts. Consult with your state Extension

Business Enterprise Grant. They then set it on a trailer

Service, Department of Agriculture or small business

so it could be pulled from event to event by truck.

groups about packaging, processing and recipe

In 2006, “Vermont Farmers’ Fare” began selling 12-inch


pizzas made from Vermont-grown wheat, vegetables, cheese and meat. The pizzas “are a big hit!” says Enid Wonnacott,


NOFA-VT’s executive director. “No one can believe the

lucrative markets. Chefs and restaurant patrons pay

crust is made, partially, from local wheat. One of our

premium prices for top-quality, distinctive, locally grown

goals was to get local food on the radar screen of

products -- if they are available in quantities that warrant

people who may not even think about the farms in their

inclusion on the menu. Some states and regions have

community and what is available from those farms.”

created marketing programs to encourage restaurants

Wonnacott and others planned the portable pizza

to feature local farm products, and an increasing num-

project to offer farmers a direct market benefit, and

ber of restaurants identify farms in their menu item

also to encourage them to sell their own value-added

descriptions and in other promotions.




3:10 PM

Page 13

The challenge often lies in getting farmer-chef relationships established. In some areas, organized sampling events have brought farmers and chefs

the fruits, which include loquat, pomegranate, mysore berry, tropical apricot, figs and more. “Everyone wins and benefits from this project,” Love

together to talk about seasonal availability, preferred

says. “Researchers have a sustainable certified organic

crops and varieties, volume, post-harvest handling and

field for tropical fruit production tests, and chefs and

delivery logistics.

student chefs are exposed to a wide variety of fruit that

In the mid-90s, after receiving a SARE farmer grant, Brian Churchill held an “expo” for 50 chefs from top

they continue to purchase from local growers.” The 12 Trees site, located near the culinary school,

restaurants in nearby Louisville, Ky. “We showed we can

was designed for visitors. Self-guided tours with field signs

produce the volumes they need in as good or better

highlight information for growers and consumers. Two

a quality as they can get anywhere,” Churchill says.

natural amphitheaters provide space for local groups

The SARE grant started Churchill down a path he

to hold on-site workshops on such subjects as pruning and

continues to tread more than a decade later. He

grafting. It also draws visitors to the 101-year-old historic

expanded his “IPM sweet corn” to 60 acres and sells

Kona coffee co-op.

that and other produce to two chefs, who pick up their requests at the farm twice a month. Another SARE-funded project in northwestern Arkansas organized 11 “All-Ozark Meals” at restaurants,

Other farmers report success from approaching local chefs directly.

top to bottom

“It seems that every type of restaurant has its own

Rare Hawaiian striped

particular needs,” writes Jan Holder in her book,

bananas are among the

delis, farmers markets and other locations in 2003.

local fruits with a “wow”

Enthusiasm from the event translated to more local

factor grown at the 12 Trees

purchasing by restaurants and groceries and a new

demonstration site in Kona

commitment from a regional environmental group

and are a potentially hot

to support farmland preservation issues. Several chefs

crop for area chefs.

who cooked for the All-Ozark Meals now participate

– Photo by Ken Love

in a popular competition at the Fayetteville Farmers

Market, in which chefs have two hours to shop at the market and then prepare a three-course meal using

Upscale restaurants like

all-local ingredients. Strong media response has

Restaurant Nora in

confirmed the value of farmers’ stories when it

Washington, D.C., feature

comes to selling food.

ingredients procured from

In Hawaii, a SARE-funded effort known as the “12

local farmers as a hook

Trees” project is combining new crop development

to draw customers.

with culinary expertise, organic growing techniques

– Photo by Edwin Remsberg

and agritourism. Farmer and organizer Ken Love solicited input from chefs to identify 12 tropical tree fruits with commercial potential. Then, project leaders and volunteers planted trees on a demonstration site where farmers and researchers could learn about production methods -- and tourists and local residents could come to see, taste and buy unusual fruits. Over the course of the project, it evolved from a research plot to a tourist destination. “This came about solely because of community involvement,” Love says. “So instead of a university test plot, we have an attractive public park complete with educational displays on sustainable agriculture.” As the trees come into full production, the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative will market the fruit to area restaurants. Students at the West Hawaii Culinary Arts program have been involved in developing recipes for




8:50 AM

Page 14

How to Direct Market Your Beef (RESOURCES, p. 20), adding that locally owned restaurants are a much better bet

Other farmers and nonprofit organizers are exploring

than franchises. “Restaurateurs usually want fresh, not

the potential of direct farm sales to institutions like

frozen beef. They also want a uniform product. The

schools, hospitals, and senior-care facilities. Philadel-

last thing a restaurant manager wants is a customer

phia’s nonprofit Food Trust received a SARE grant in

complaining that last time he ordered this steak it was

2003 to strengthen farmer access to markets in the

a lot bigger, or leaner, or more tender, or whatever.”

inner city. Working with farmer groups, extension

Restaurants already working with seasonal, locally

services and institutional buyers, the group brokered

produced foods might be most willing to work with you,

marketing relationships, matching farmers with buyers,

Holder says. Providing weekly availability lists can help

bargaining for better prices and coordinating deliveries.

educate chefs and other food service personnel about their options. Prospective restaurant suppliers should consider: left to right

on meeting the changing needs of your buyers.

 Upscale restaurants and specialty stores pay top

Among the project’s successes was the creation of a “Farm Fresh” fruits and vegetable option for people participating in a “share food” program run by a state nonprofit organization. That program offers discounted

Philadelphia’s nonprofit

dollar for quality produce and hard-to-get items.

monthly food packages with a labor commitment.

Food Trust created

According to Eric Gibson’s Sell What You Sow!,

About one-quarter of participants now choose fresh

linkages between

growers can expect a minimum of 10 percent over

produce that was not previously available.

Pennsylvania farmers

wholesale terminal prices for standard items at

and city schools,

mainstream restaurants.

Sales from farms to Philadelphia schools is set to top $200,000 in the first two years of the group’s farm-

such as farm visits. A

 Most restaurants buy in limited quantities, and sales

kindergarten student

may not justify the necessary frequent deliveries.

Gorman. A special kindergarten initiative is supplying

visits Solly Brothers

Growers should line up buyers a year in advance

Pennsylvania farm produce for morning snacks at 11

farm in Bucks County,

and develop secondary outlets.

schools, three days a week. The project has nutritional

Pa., with his class. 

 Call buyers for appointments and bring samples.

and educational benefits for the children as well as

 Meat producers can offer a variety of cuts, and

economic benefits for the farmers.

even bones for soup stock, but most restaurants will want fresh products.

Among the sales of locally produced food

 Major selling points include daily deliveries, special

brokered by The Food Trust: a special morning snack for

to-school project, according to Food Trust staffer Patrick

Selling to schools can be challenging -- budgets are limited, many decision-makers are involved, and many schools no longer manage their own kitchens. But as

varieties, freshness, personal attention and a

public concern over childhood obesity grows, new

brochure describing your farm and products.

opportunities for school food programs are opening

 When planning your crop mix, talk with chefs and

in many parts of the country. Privately run schools and


specialty buyers, who are constantly looking for

institutions often have more flexibility than public

– Photos by Bonnie Hallam

something new. Successful restaurant sales depend





3:10 PM

Page 15


fresh, sustainably grown vegetables. “We went to every list of people involved in direct

teaming up with others shares skills and abilities,

marketing,” Burns recalls. They surveyed 150 people

moderates the workload and minimizes hassles.

within the Boise/Twin Falls area, which shares a

After Terry and LaRhea Pepper’s single buyer reneged

similar climate and crops, about their interest and

on a contract to buy their entire crop of organic cotton

capabilities. Then, they identified markets, such as

near O’Donnell, Texas, they found themselves with bales

restaurants, natural food stores, a cafeteria, a hospital

of raw cotton and no buyer. Scrambling for an alterna-

and a school.

tive, the Peppers decided to try converting the raw prod-

In Tennessee, farmers who

The Boise-area farmers agreed to form their own

uct into denim. LaRhea Pepper, who had majored in

co-op under the name Idaho Organics Cooperative, Inc.

fashion merchandising in college, contacted companies

Now, the group has it down to a science. Every Sunday,

interested in finished fabrics and secured a new buyer.

co-op growers send lists of what they will have for deliv-

“We realized, then and there, that security and

wanted to convert

ery that week, including quantity, description and price,

profitability depended on our assuming responsibility

via fax, to their customers. Based on responses, the

for processing and marketing our cotton,” La Rhea Pepper

farmers harvest, then pool produce at a central location

says. “We don’t rely on anyone else.”

for boxing and delivery.

The Peppers joined forces with other organic and

In Tennessee, in a similar venture with a value-adding

transitional cotton growers to form the Texas Organic

twist, farmers who wanted to convert their harvest into

Cotton Marketing Cooperative. Through the co-op, they

high-value products formed a marketing cooperative

shared marketing expenses and risks, then dealt with

called Appalachian Spring. With a SARE grant, Steve

buyers as a team.

Hodges and the Jubilee Project investigated the feasibil-

“We were realistic,” LaRhea Pepper says. “We realized

Treadway, then co-marketing their products -- a variety of salsas, fruit spreads and personal care goods. Once they they began selling the items through the co-op’s Website

organic and transitional cotton. The cotton co-op sells

as well as through retail locations such as a regional

raw, baled cotton or an array of processed products

airport gift shop.

As more members of the co-op were drawn into

they opened

The group also sells seasonal gift baskets to area church groups, a terrific way to highlight local products.

a community

“We tried wholesaling at first,” Hodges says, “but we found that small processors just can’t compete against

new products, expand markets and promote themselves.

big companies, even with a co-op.” In addition to joint

They diversified the product line to include chambray,

marketing, co-op membership offers other benefits, like

flannel, twill and knits. Lower grade, shorter staple cot-

sharing equipment and bulk ordering supplies.

throws. Most recently, an “Organic Essentials” division

Cooperative marketing can be a great opportunity – work for you:

and tampons. The co-op board continues to look for

 The USDA Rural Development Business & Coopera-

other opportunities to add value to their cotton, and

tive program offers information and assistance in

for partners in the industry who are willing to share

setting up and managing a cooperative marketing

the cost and risk.

effort. It’s a great place to start (RESOURCES, p. 20).  Consider a marketing club, an informal cooperative

others also appealed to Janie Burns of Nampa, Idaho,

that relies on using member marketing skills. Many

who raises sheep, chickens and assorted vegetables on

extension offices offer training programs and assis-

10 acres. A relatively small farmer, she is a large-scale

tance in setting up marketing clubs.

promoter of local food systems. With a SARE grant, Burns investigated whether a growers’ cooperative


or a headache. Here are some tips on how to make it

was created to manufacture facial pads, cotton balls

The benefits of marketing agricultural products with


SARE grant,

marketing decisions, they also saw the need to create

ton, not suited to clothing, is used to make blankets and

cooperative called

Spring. With a

crunched the numbers and saw a positive prognosis,

together 40 farm families who sought to market their

through their Website.

products formed

ity of using a community kitchen in the nearby town of


such as personal hygiene aids and a diversity of fabrics

into high-value

a marketing

we couldn’t deliver a consistent supply as the only When the cooperative was formed in 1991, it brought

their harvest

 Join a nonprofit farmer network group to share

ideas and inspiration.

would help area farmers become more efficient and

 Adequate market research and business planning

profitable, while offering their community access to

are keys to successful cooperative marketing.




3:10 PM

Page 16

left to right

The Mountain Tailgate Market Association unites a number of small farmers markets representing 150 small farms in western North Carolina, funding a multi-media promotional campaign, among other ventures. – Photo by Charlie Jackson 

Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaigns sponsored by Food Routes ( boost sales of local products across the United States.


offers low-cost and customized publicity materials to


help you or your group start a “buy local” campaign.

purchases from farmers and ranchers. In 2003, Califor-

In remote rural areas, farmers banding together have

nia vegetable grower MaryAnn Vasconcellos approached

strengthened market development. Ten farmers markets

the Central Coast Resource Conservation & Develop-

representing 150 small farms in western North Carolina

ment Council (RC&D) with the idea of launching a

joined forces to form the Mountain Tailgate Market

campaign informing consumers why and where to buy

Association (MTMA), bringing the power of a group

local. Vasconcellos, who had spoken with many area

behind promotion and performance. The term tailgate

growers while conducting workshops for the nonprofit

market, in fact, may be unique to the rural South,

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF),

referring to lots and school yards where farmers drop

reported that many were asking how they might better

their tailgates to reveal fresh-picked bounty. Since tailgate

market their products.

markets lean toward a show-up and set-up style, the

To Vasconcellos, the time seemed right to approach

small venues can be challenging to promote for farmers,

California consumers with messages about how they

many of whom have limited resources, as well as their

could convert a growing interest in food to supporting

small rural communities.

local farmers. If consumers were willing to pay for open

A SARE grant provided the resources to develop a

spaces by supporting local producers, why not help

logo for the association, conduct a multi-media promo-

connect growers and consumers by branding their

tional campaign, survey shoppers and vendors at all

food, fiber and flowers as local?

10 markets, and conduct a workshop for the vendors.

With a farmer/rancher grant from SARE, Vasconcellos

According to project leader Charlie Jackson, a farmer

and the Central Coast RC&D designed and launched

who is also on staff of the Appalachian Sustainable

a Website, designed a “buy local” label and created a

Agriculture Project, the SARE activities resulted in

marketing structure that farmers could see working.

heightened visibility of the markets, brought many

The “Buy Fresh Buy Local” campaign was designed to

new customers, provided a strong base of information

reflect the wide array of products and the diversity

on customer and vendor perceptions of the markets

of their operations, which included u-pick, farm stands

and strengthened the cohesiveness of the group.

and markets and such varied goods as alpaca fleeces, grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as fruit and vegetables. “Buy local” campaigns are underway in many parts of the country. Nationally, the FoodRoutes Network


Surveys were particularly valuable, considering that about 1,600 customers and 60 vendors responded. The rapid feedback guided future promotional decisions. For example, the surveys indicated that most new



3:10 PM

Page 17

customers found the markets through word of mouth,

relative with a knack for photography – or a local art

so the vendors capitalized on that by asking customers

student or newspaper photographer -- capture images

to bring a friend on a particular market day designated

of you, your family, key employees, your products, and

as Summer Celebration. That day was the season’s high

a scenic view of your farm or ranch. Include a short

point for traffic and sales.

“about us” section describing your farm’s history, goals

“It’s inspiring to see a group of farmers sitting down

and values. Remember that reporters and researchers

and planning together,” Jackson says. “Group promotion

rely on the Internet too! Having an accessible, easy-to-

is a major benefit of the association.” That cooperation

navigate Website can multiply your promotional oppor-

has led to plans for a 100-vendor market in Asheville, N.C.

tunities later.


Website as part of a multifaceted “branding” campaign


for their diversified, pasture-based livestock operation,

are jumping on board. The convenience of Web shopping

Rumbleway Farm. Along with the Website, Robin Way

appeals to today’s busy consumers looking for unique

made business cards, brochures, T-shirts, and an atten-

products. The good news: You don’t need to be a

tion-getting farm sign, all featuring the farm’s signature

copywriter or a computer expert to tap into millions

yellow chicken outlined in green. Way even created her

of potential buyers, although maintaining a successful

own farm “blog,” a software tool that lets you post regular

Website can be challenging and time-consuming.

entries in a journal-type format to share news, recipes, or

Website design services have gotten more affordable in

other ideas. Way asserts the Website and other measures

recent years, so contracting this out may make sense.

have had a huge impact on business.

Maryland farmers Robin and Mark Way developed a

Even if you don’t plan to sell your products over the

Marketing cooperatives can offer a broader range of

Internet or via mail order, hosting a Website describing

retail products on a single Website, increasing traffic while

your farm, your location, hours, seasonal availability

saving on the cost of Website design and maintenance.

and other information makes good business sense.

Appalachian Spring Cooperative (see p. 15) tried other

More and more people use the Internet as an all-pur-

marketing avenues, but found the Internet among their

pose research tool in place of phone directories, maps

most effective channels.

and guidebooks. A Website is also a terrific place to tell your story, a tried-and-true marketing strategy. Have a friend or

Participating in online information gateways can result in extra business. Nationally, lists close to 10,000 venues where farmers and ranchers sell their products. The Maryland Extension Service, with help from a SARE grant, expanded an Internet-based sheep and goat marketing project begun in the Northeast to include the mid-Atlantic states. The new Website,, includes producer and processor directories as well as other resources such as a calendar of relevant religious holidays.


Appalachian Spring Coop, Buffalo Groves, Inc., Chico Basin Ranch, Full Belly Farm, Persimmon Hill Farm, Rumbleway Farm, Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative, Walters’ Pumpkin Patch, Wholesome Harvest,




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Page 18

The Website “helps me put buyers and sellers in


hopes to add nationwide listings. “All of the producers

markets if interest in bio-based fuels continues to grow.

I come into contact with credit the site with helping

Ethanol and biodiesel processing plants are increasingly

them to sell breeding stock and meat animals.”

common in the Midwest, while smaller-scale projects

Many state departments of agriculture now maintain online directories of organic farms, pick-your-own farms

A SARE-supported


contact,” says project leader Susan Schoenian, who

are being tested in the Northeast and other areas. A SARE-supported project in Maine and Vermont

and farm stands. Make sure your farm is included on

found that farmers could grow and crush canola for

these, and if possible, feature your Web address in your

$293 per ton, yielding 1,180 pounds of meal and

listing. Having links to your Website appear on other

92 gallons of oil. Including the income from sale of the

sites will improve your ranking among results returned

meal, the break-even price of the biodiesel processed

England found

by Internet search engines.

from the canola oil came out at $3.09/gallon -- a

that farmers

gathering customers’ e-mail addresses and then

project in New

You can also drive traffic to your Website by

could grow and

and biodiesel,

value is tied to the price of fuel,” says project leader

to advertise new products, special events or seasonal

Peter Sexton. “There’s also a great deal of personal


satisfaction to be gained from producing your own fuel.”

Now that Internet marketing has proliferated, online

market will develop in coming years, with processing

buyers can be difficult when hundreds of other farmers

technologies improving and demand on the rise, fuel-

offer similar products in catalogs or Websites. To stay in

crop production offers an array of opportunities for

the game, you need to maintain a good Website. If it’s

creating value-added products.

the mouse. If you’re interested in investigating the potential

competitive price.

While it’s hard to say exactly how the renewable fuels

competition for consumers’ attention is fierce. Attracting

not current, a customer will zip away with a click of

which brought a

“Farmers are interested in producing a crop whose

sending weekly or monthly e-mail announcements

crush canola for both meal

competitive price for a renewable fuel.

Installing photovoltaic panels or wind turbines, can reduce energy expenses over the long term and provide additional interest for farm visitors. See

of mail or Internet marketing, keep in mind: for more information

 When it comes to effective design, less can be

about farm-based renewable energy.

more. Resist the temptation to overload your Website with flashing banners and fancy fonts.  Once you have a great Website, you still have to


attract users. Strive to get a good ranking on search

retooling an existing one, analyzing all of your possibili-

engines like Google by driving people to your site

ties is crucial to the success of your venture. Consider

from online links and e-mail alerts. Good Web

writing a business plan, a road map that specifies your

designers know how to improve your ranking by

priorities, goals and objectives. Moreover, business

using keywords. Having a distinctive farm name

plans provide a framework for reviewing your progress

can also be a plus.

and pointing out the need for mid-course corrections.

 List your Web address and other information

in online directories that strive to connect

If you want to undertake business planning, consider using Building a Sustainable Business: A Planning Guide

farmers and consumers, such as,

for Farmers and Rural Business Owners (RESOURCES, p. 20), and Most of

a 280-page guide to planning, implementation and

these sites are eager for new listings and will

evaluation. The book, co-published by SARE’s Sustainable

allow to you to create a customized entry free

Agriculture Network, includes dozens of worksheets

of charge.

to help you navigate the process.

 Update your Website often with your latest

product information and news about the farm.  Make sure the site is secure for credit-card users,

With an existing farm operation, you should be able to do a basic enterprise analysis using the records you have to keep for tax purposes, says Seth Wilner, a county

and provide regular and toll-free numbers for

extension agent with the University of New Hampshire.

customers who prefer to use the phone.

“Look at your profitability, then look for anomalies.

 Find reliable and cost-effective shippers who

will deliver products on time in good condition.



Maybe you thought blueberries were a profit center, say, but they’re not. So maybe you should shift things around.”



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Page 19

TRYING A NEW VENTURE? FIRST, MAKE A SOLID PLAN ... lucrative end product. When he ran the costs – raw product, packaging, bags, labels, packing and shipping – he found that the freeze-drying was considerably more expensive than air-drying, a distinction that might be lost on customers. Earnie ran the numbers on further processing the mushrooms into soup mix, adding still more value. Drying the mushrooms off site brought down their costs, and they could charge enough for a premium soup mix to more than offset them. The Bohners debuted the soup mix in 2006 to an enthusiastic response. What’s next? More planning as the couple attempts to move into wholesale marketing of shiitakes. “After evaluation in three to four test markets, we will be better able to make an economically sound decision as to whether we can justify building our own freeze-drying facility,” Earnie says.

You might consider seeking outside help with a

raspberries, used the consultant’s advice to improve

specific element of your plan, like marketing. For a

signage, raise prices on some items and adjust the layout

medium-sized direct marketing farm business, working

of their farm stand to improve product visibility. They

with a marketing consultant will typically cost between

planted blueberries to diversify their crop mix and

$1,000 and $3,000. Hiring a consultant is a good idea if

began selling meat, apples, cheeses and milk from

you’re not sure how to get started or if you lack the time

other local farms in addition to their own products.

to go through the process on your own. “It’s definitely a

Martha Bohner

Before Earnie and Martha Bohner, farmers since 1982, launch value-added products, they analyze all the costs and benefits. After starting their farm with two acres of blueberries, they added other small fruits, then began processing them. Today, they cultivate 7 acres in Lampe, Mo., and enjoy a comfortable income. Yet, they adopted each new enterprise only after asking a series of soul-searching questions, such as:  Will the product fit in with the farm operation?  Is the product consistent with the farm’s mission and purpose?  Will the product be economically sustainable? In 2004, they explored freeze-drying shiitake mushrooms as a new way to add value. Armed with a SARE farmer grant, Earnie plunged into research. He found an inexpensive dryer, but it required a prohibitive amount of energy to operate, a cost he needed to justify with a

“People want more one-stop shopping. The customers

worthwhile investment if you’re in the retail market,”

haven’t batted an eye on the price hikes,” Wilner says.

Wilner says. “It’s a lifetime investment.”

“The farm’s gone from breaking even or maybe losing a

Failure to judge the true demand for a product is a common cause of failure in many business ventures.

little money to having two good seasons.” Marketing activities are guided by a variety of regula-

To improve your odds, be thorough about your market

tions at federal, state, county and municipal levels. Some

research. Good research entails finding out as much

vary by type of enterprise and location, while others are

as possible about your planned products or services.

more general. Legal considerations include the type of

Investigate as many marketing options as possible and

business ownership (sole proprietorship, partnership,

identify several that look promising. The more ways

etc.), zoning ordinances, small business licenses, build-

and places you have to sell your product, the better

ing codes and permits, weights and measures, federal

your chances of success.

and state business tax issues, sanitation permits and

Promotion and customer relations should be part

inspections, food processors’ permits and more. For

of your marketing plan. A common rule of thumb for

more information, consult the Legal Guide for Direct

promotional expenses is 3 percent of projected sales.

Farm Marketing (RESOURCES, p. 20).

In New Hampshire, Wilner helped three farms

Adequate insurance coverage is essential. Every

improve their bottom line by working with a marketing

operator should have liability insurance for products and

consultant, partly with a SARE grant aimed at building

premises, employer’s liability, and damage insurance to

marketing skills for both farmers and county Extension.

protect against loss to buildings, merchandise and other

For example, Beaver Pond Farm, a well-established farm near Newport, N.H., specializing in pick-your-own

property. Ask your insurance agent about liability and loss insurance specifically designed for direct-market farmers.




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Resources GENERAL INFORMATION Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. SARE studies and spreads information about sustainable agriculture via a nationwide grants program and practical publications. (301) 504-5230; [email protected]; See the Direct Marketing Resource Guide at dmrg.htm.

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC). Provides on-line information resources, referrals and searching on alternative marketing topics. (301) 504-6559; [email protected]; See comprehensive directory, Organic Agricultural Products: Marketing and Trade Resources, afsic/AFSIC_pubs/OAP/srb0301.htm, or request free CD.

Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Information resources for value-added agriculture.

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA. Information on direct markets, funding sources and publications about sales to schools/restaurants.

ATTRA. National information service offers 200+ free publications. Call (800) 346-9140; Spanish: (800) 411-3222; or go to for: – Direct Marketing Business Management Series – Adding Value to Farm Products: An Overview – Fresh to Processed: Adding Value for Specialty Markets – Bringing Local Food to Local Institutions. Growing for Market. National monthly newsletter for direct market farmers. $30/yr. [email protected]; (800) 307-8949; North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association, Southampton, MA (413) 529-0386 or (888) 884-9270;


FARMERS MARKETS/ AGRITOURISM Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California by University of California, Davis. files/filelibrary/5327/3866.pdf.

Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. Lists publications on running farmstands, promoting “agri-tainment,” etc.

Direct Farm Marketing and Tourism Handbook by the University of Arizona. pubs/dmkt/dmkt.html.

Farmers Market Promotion Program. Grants program from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service for farmers markets, roadside stands, CSA. FMPP/FMPPInfo.htm. Also see Farmers Market Consortium Resource Guide, Consortium/ResourceGuide.htm.

Managing the Liability and Risks of Farm Direct Marketing and Agritourism by USDA's Risk Management Agency. Resources for understanding and analyzing potential liability risks. Risk_Liability/Risk_Introduction.htm.

Tourism & Community Development Resources & Applied Research Clearinghouse, University of Wisconsin, Madison. house/Tourism%20Resources.htm.

DIRECT MARKETING MEAT AND ANIMAL PRODUCTS CSU Chico Grass-Fed Beef Website. Includes research articles reviewing the documented health benefits of grass-fed beef, information on how to create a label for your meat that complies with federal regulations, recipes and more.

Farm Fresh: Direct Marketing Meats and Milk by Allan Nation. Answers to how, how much, when, or where to sell grass-fed meat or milk for the highest profits. 251 pp; $35.60. cgi-bin/page.cgi?id=361.html.

How to Direct Market Your Beef by the Sustainable Agriculture Network. Practical tips for selling grass-raised beef to direct markets. 96 pp; $14.95.; (301) 374-9696.


Market Decision Making Toolbox for Farmers Markets. Michigan Food

Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies

& Farming System. www.miffsmarket

by the Center for Sustainable Agriculture. 48-minute video, $15. marketvideo.htm; (802) 656-5459.

Resources for Farmers Markets by the Northeast/Midwest Institute. Includes market locators and funding sources. The New Farmers’ Market: Farm-Fresh Ideas For Producers, Managers & Communities by Eric Gibson. Tips for farmers and market managers and city planners. $24.95 + $3.95. newfarmer.htm; (301) 374-9696.

Sharing the Harvest: A Guide to Community-Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson with Robyn Van En. Lays out the basic tenets of CSA for farmers and consumers. 270 pp; $24.95. (800) 639-4099;

Food Marketing & Processing Food Map. A comprehensive clearinghouse of marketing and processing information on identifying new markets, locating processing equipment, etc.

Safe Sell Dairy: Creative Ways to Sell Dairy Products at Farmer’s Markets by Courtney Haase. Product presentation, sampling and good market etiquette. 76 pp.; $8.

Selling Directly to Restaurants and Retailers by UC-SAREP. Tips for a successful, entrepreneurial relationship with local restaurants, retailers. cdpp/selldirect.pdf.

BUSINESS PLANNING & MANAGEMENT Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses, by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture and the Sustainable Agriculture Network. A guide for agricultural entrepreneurs. 272 pp; $17 + s/h. cations/ business.htm; (301) 374-9696.

Farming Alternatives: A Guide to Evaluating the Feasibility of New Farm-Based Enterprises (NRAES-32). $8 + $3.75 s/h to Natural Resource, Ag & Engineering Service. http://extensionpubs.umext.maine. edu/ePOS/form=robots/item.html& item_number=1036&store=413& design=413; (607) 255-7654.

The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing by Neil Hamilton. Tips about legal issues when directmarketing farm products. $20 + $3 s/h to Agricultural Law Center, Drake University.; (515) 271-2947.

New Farm Options University of Wisconsin Extension. New niche markets and business start-up issues.

NxLeveL This agricultural entrepreneurs program module offers in-depth training and materials for farmers seeking marketing opportunities.; [email protected]; (800) 873-9378. USDA Rural Business and Cooperative Programs. Supports cooperatives in areas such as marketing.; (202) 720-7558.

SARE works in partnership with Extension and Experiment Stations at land grant universities to deliver practical information to the agricultural community. Contact your local Extension office for more information. This bulletin was written by Laura Sayre, a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Pa., for the Sustainable Agriculture Network and was funded by USDA-CSREES under Cooperative Agreement 2004-47001-01829.