Farmers Market Marketing Series #1: What This Series is and Why I’m Doing It.

farmer's marketHow this Farmer’s Market Series came to be…

Over the coming days, I’ll be releasing a series of blog posts full of marketing ideas for farmers.

I was recently asked to put together a workshop on marketing for farmers at Farmer’s Markets.

A volley of emails went back and forth that sounded mostly like me saying, “Are you sure you want me? I don’t really work with farmers… Ok. Wait. Are you really sure? I have no idea what I’d even say… You think my stuff would be relevant? Ok. I guess let’s do it then. But wait… can you put me in the afternoon after the other two presenters so I can hear what they say first? That works? Perfect… Are you sure?

But somehow it all came together.

And, in getting ready for these presentations, I decided to reach out to my colleagues and do some research to see if I can get my thinking together and share it here so I can get your feedback as well before the big day comes.

One thing is clear, as Bright Spark Media points out, the number of Farmer’s Markets is on the rise.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 4.16.28 PM

And since local food is on a meteoric rise over the past few years, it feels important that we take the maximum advantage of it. The more successful farmers are, the more people will want to get into farming, the more local food we’ll have, the less development we’ll have as farmers no longer want or need to sell off their land and the more genuine food security we will have.

So the importance of this all is clear.

Farmers-Market-Old-Strathcona-1024x607What’s also clear is that farming is impossibly hard work.

Deb Vail shared, “… don’t ask me how to work in the fields 70 plus hours a week, get produce ready for a 150 person CSA delivered to three locations and go to market once a week, do all the bookkeeping, write a newsletter once a week and raise a family with 5 kids without hurting yourself. Organic veggies and flowers are so underpriced… Long live the farmer who’s reward is being in Nature all day long. Peace upon our souls is the true measure of success.”

Jason Guille who runs Sunset Labs in Victoria said, “I’ve spent some time in that conversation.. in my experience, typically speaking, the common state you’re speaking into is one of buried in work, disinterest in marketing and overwhelm in computers/technology.”

As my dear friend Corin Raymond says, “Mercy this hustle.”

Ester Balekjian commiserated that she wished everyone who attended the Farmer’s Markets would learn a bit more of what it’s like to be on the other side of the booth – the etiquette of being a customer. “I don’t think the farmers need to do more work at marketing. It is the customers that are hooked on supermarket fare that need to be targeted and made seen the importance of local food and supporting farming locally. It breaks my heart how farmers at stalls get treated by customers that compare them to the service they get at supermarkets. These people don’t bat an eye spending $200-$300 at the supermarket and yet are seen taking every single free sample and walking around with one pear, an apple and a small bag of baby carrots in their bags….. and spend all their money at the baked goods stalls.”

So, if you’re a farmer, this series is for you.

But I know a secret…

Despite everything that was said above, I know you got into farming because it’s easy money. Nothing but profit. You may not think we know about the billions of dollars your making but a farmer in England leaked your secrets in this video.

Still, one can always make even more billions of dollars… So the following posts in this series are my ideas to help you do that.

Please leave any thoughts, tips, resources or ideas that could help farmers grow their businesses in the comments section below. After a few weeks, I promise to read through them all and weave anything relevant and useful into the blog itself so that they can be of the most use to the most farmers.

About Tad

  • Where to start! is a great resource, for farmers to convince markets to utilize. It cuts down on a lot of the paper and such.
    Displays: utilizing vertical space to display; displaying information about products and your business (ie: where you farm, if you’re biodynamic, etc.), having recipes or information on more unusual products (sunchokes, for example), easy to read pricing (if you can hang a chalkboard up high, or have a sandwich board, plus labels next to products), have a brand to your display (ie red chequered tableclothes or something that makes your display unique and identifiable from afar), use social media, have a website, tell your story, try bundling things to speed up transactions and increase the spend per customer (ie a stir fry mixed bag of veggies), when you give out recipes make sure they are branded with your info, where at all possible, stand in front of your displays instead of behind and be super chatty, offer samples where you can.
    That mish-mash is just a handful of tips :-)

  • Jim_Bowes

    This sounds like a nice challenge.

    It would be nice to know a bit more about the objectives. Is it getting people to come to the markets? Is it driving traffic to the individual booths? Or is it making the sale once they are standing at the booth?

    My guess is that you have some collective objectives (getting people to the farmers market) that benefit from collective budgets (does the market itself provide any marketing?) and individual objectives, driving people to your booth and getting them to buy the product.

    There are new forms of do-it-yourself Natural Media like reverse graffiti, sand printing, milk and chalk paint, grassvertising and moss that might be helpful. These are eco-friendly forms of outdoor media- ideal for creating public awareness and driving traffic.

    A do-it-yourself kit only costs a few hundred dollars and can be used for years making the price per message only pennies a piece. Natural media are aligned with the same values and principles as the farmers themselves as well as the audience.

    Advertising only goes so far. At it’s best it get’s people to try a new product or company but after that, it is up to the product or the company to get the consumer to buy it again. Advertising does not make people buy, it only get’s people to try.

    Sales is an art. Farmers markets are a very different buying experience than shopping at a super market. Each booth is manned by the people who grow the food. They may be great farmers but that does not mean they are great sales people. I can’t remember the last time I even saw a person standing by the vegetable section in my supermarket. That said, perhaps the art of face to face selling is really the area with the lowest hanging fruit. Once consumers are in front of the booth, how do farmers convert this into a sale? Farmers who grow the food and stand at a booth actually have a lot of advantages over a supermarket but if their body language isn’t right or they aren’t looking very welcoming, the best produce in the world is not going to help much. What’s the story behind the food? How is it grown (with TLC)? where is it grown?

    I think you are off to a great start. Learning about the types of consumer who shop at farmers markets and why they are there will be key to finding the triggers that will get them to buy. Picking which type of consumer farmers want to target will allow them to focus their marketing and spend their limited budgets on those most likely to buy from them.

    I imagine you have at least two or three types of consumers who make the effort to go to farmers markets; (in my experience, it takes more effort which can be used to farmers advantage) those who are looking for low prices (do you even want these consumers?), People who go to farmers markets because the quality of food is just much higher (these consumers will pay a bit more for great food- a more attractive consumer) and those who are their for health reasons or life style. They want to know what they are putting in their bodies and will also pay a premium – a more attractive consumer. And then of course there are those who are there who are looking for a nice way to spend the day. Each has different needs and each will respond to a different approach.
    My guess is that the actual products are only one factor and may not even be the driving factor. I know I go to the same booths when I go to markets because of the relationship I have with the people manning the booths. Truth is all of the farmers tomatoes are amazing. I am not really comparing taste, but obviously I do compare the buying experience and for some reason, I do business with booth C because I have a relationship with them. It’s pretty hard to get me to switch booths.
    To wrap it up, if I had to start somewhere it would be helping the farmers learn to sell their wares. How do they dress? How do they start the conversation? How do you turn eye contact with a passing consumers into a sale? And how do you get a consumer you converted today to make a b-line for your booth next time?

  • I’ve worked for two summers at a Farmer’s market and ran a Harvest Box program. I can definitely say that the farmers who talk most (telling stories about the farm, produce itself, recipes, etc) with the most enthusiasm definitely sell more product. Bring a guitar and play a tune between customers. Bring a dog or a cat in a box (only if they are willing!). Whatever attracts attention.

    Don’t just sell produce, sell plants so people can grow their own kale or tomatoes at home. Sell them the soil or compost needed. Tell them how to make compost. Whatever it takes to build up a relationship. Those people will be back all summer and fall and will tell you about their plants. Who knows? Maybe next year they will rent space on your farm or volunteer. Which brings me to the next point.

    You need farm volunteers! City people love the farm experience and some people are just plain broke and still want to eat fresh, organic and local food. 4-5 hours of fun in the sun gets the volunteer a big bag of produce. Do your best to have a team of volunteers as schedules change and you can’t count on them to always be there when you need them. If you’re not the type that likes to talk much but would rather just play in the dirt, have one of your enthusiastic volunteers work with you at the market. They will prod you into conversation. Enthusiasm is contagious!

    If you have samples of food you make with your produce, like pesto or salsa or sauerkraut, let people taste that so they will buy your produce and make it at home. These items sell really well too so if you have the possibility to use a Food-Safe kitchen, take advantage. Processed foods made locally can create more profit and keep customers coming back when they become addicted to your pickles or kale chips! Build a solar oven to dry the chips in. Or berries. Show people how they can make their own. People need creative ideas.

    Offer a delivery service for those who love your stuff but can’t always make it on Sunday or whatever day your market is. Or have pre-arranged and paid for bags ready for people in a hurry to pick up or have a friend pick up. This can be on a monthly basis or a seasonal one. This is a lot of work so really do the math first if you go big.

    Be sure to trade your end of the day produce with the local bakeries so they can make carrot cake, pumpkin pie, zucchini muffins or whatever is in season. Locals helping locals.

    Grow unique items. Quinoa or amaranth for example. Explain why buying local is crucial. Grow unique or little-known fruits or berries and veggies. The weirder it looks the more interest you will get. Heritage veggies and fruits are in!

    Have the Farmer’s Market print up re-usable bags. Something awesome, not a boring black bag. Something people want to carry around and get compliments on. Each booth gets a certain amount to either sell or giveaway (for example buy $25 worth of produce and get a free bag).

    Sell wild stuff from the farm. Purslane (highest plant source of Omega 3). Pussy willow branches. Reeds. Whatever you have that can be eaten or used for decoration. If you’re creative, make some centerpieces while you hang out at the market.

    Use chalkboards. They are more effective than other signs. Make sure you have a good spot at the market. If your market is not organic, make sure people know that YOUR produce is. Most people assume but don’t realize that there is often non-organic produce there :(

    I still travel a ridiculous distance to get the cherries and peaches that are hand-picked in a ripe state. Knowing the farmer loses a good percentage of produce makes the price seem okay (I buy for a whole year so it’s always cheaper) for better tasting fruit. I will likely never buy a peach or bag of cherries in a grocery store (or much else for that matter).

    Hope this helps! I’m horribly busy at the moment but will try and get some photos over to you before your series is finished if I can.

  • Anayalea
  • Mark_Silver

    I’m really curious about this discussion. Having recently moved to the country, and being more closely involved in a variety of farm/livestock than previously, what’s become clear to me is what capitalism does to so many things.

    There are things totally worth doing for yourself, are by bartering or gifting within a community, that would never make sense commercially. Wool socks. My sister-in-law raises sheep (in addition to her full time job) and has a hobby with the wool, spinning it into yarn and making socks, hats, etc.

    The thing is, the hand-made socks she knits are amazing, and would need cost $50-$100, for a pair of socks, to even come close to being “worth it” financially. Probably more than that, when you really count in all the hours.

    But for her, she can make several pairs of socks while sitting around with her husband. But she could never product enough to make a living.

    I’ve been musing about this dynamic, and wondering where the answer lies. Because food is both too expensive for laboring people to buy healthy food, and too underpriced to really support the farmer…

  • Marcia Yudkin

    From the above post, it’s clear that farmers have little mindspace for marketing, especially during the growing season. Therefore the biggest payoff might be achieved by asking what steps a farmer can take off season to product the biggest impact. One of these, I think, is optimizing their CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture – i.e. farmshare) program by 1)Asking the previous year’s members for suggestions and honest feedback; 2)Providing a small discount to previous members who get a friend to sign up; and 3)Offering a bonus to previous members who sign up again.

    I also suggest thinking about marketing tasks that can be done once in the off-season and then enjoy the results the rest of the year. For instance, do a program in the schools introducing kids to local vegetables; or create colorful, durable signs for each type of produce along with cooking suggestions; or cooking lessons with the less familiar types of produce. I suggested these ideas because in my experience, farmer’s markets sell unfamiliar-looking vegetables that some people can’t pronounce and others don’t know what to do with them. Greater familiarity in the community means more sales during the season.

    Marcia Yudkin