Field School Session #6: Marketing & Branding Your Farm
Camille Cody, Jonesborough, writes this post about April’s session of the Field School. Camille is Farm Manager at Serenity Knoll Farm. She is responsible for a 5-acre hilltop diverse vegetable operation that sources the farmers market, restaurants, and a weekly 20-member CSA. Here is Camille on WJHL introducing CSA’s on the farm:
“Every marketing resource will tell you that when trying to identify your customer base, ‘everyone’ is not an acceptable answer. But as farmers – especially in this time of the growing local food movement – the list of potential customers we can identify include chefs, farmers’ market shoppers, different ethnic groups, the health and environmentally conscious, and tourists…” ~ Camille Cody
How ambidextrous is your brain? When it comes to farming successfully, it takes both right brainwork and left brainwork to make all the pieces fit together, from planning a seeding and harvest schedule, to fixing equipment and irrigation, to problem solving on the fly, to creativity in marketing and promoting your products. This understanding formed the basis of our subject matter at this April’s Field School.
Running a farm is running a business, and having a succinct business plan and the ability to implement it (and improvise when needed) is crucial to running the business successfully. The business portion of running a farm can be a challenge for many farmers: “How do I price my product?” “How do I identify my potential customers?” “What variety of sales outlets are available – and appealing – to me?” are all questions we’ve been faced with as folks trying to make a living off the land.
Our speaker for the night, Audrey Depelteau, Executive Director of the Innovation Lab at ETSU, delivered her presentation on marketing, certainly an applicable subject for those of us in the room with land-based business aspirations. When writing our business plan we were encouraged to make our vision statements lofty, describing the quality of life as well as quality of product we wish to obtain, and to use our mission statements to describe the steps we would use to manifest those visions. It was helpful to identify certain values we place on our lives and livelihoods: sustainable, conscientious, authentic, dependable, consistent, etc. Every marketing resource will tell you that when trying to identify your customer base, “everyone” is not an acceptable answer. As farmers – especially in this time of the growing local food movement – the list of potential customers we can identify include chefs, farmers’ market shoppers, different ethnic groups, the health and environmentally conscious, and tourists or visitors looking to experience the “terroir” of a place, just to name a few.
The second part of the session we heard first-hand from a panel of local farmers with different types of operations. (1) Aubrey & Linda Raper of Rogue Harbor Farm, Marshall NC, started their operation in the holler in the 1970s and were instrumental in starting Carolina Organics Coop and local farmers markets in NC. They now sell in Jonesborough because they enjoy the customer base. (2) Adam & Abby Borden of Sunset View Farm, Jonesborough, a newer operation continuing the farm family tradition, selling a variety of produce on wholesale quantities off the farm; they also have a large on-farm produce stand. (3) Chris Wilson of Clover Creek Sheep, Jonesborough, an Animal Welfare Approved farm that sells lamb and mutton at the farmers markets and direct to customers; since 1989 her markets and approach has evolved with the times.
They spoke about what it was like for them to get started, their market outlets, attempts and successes at scaling up, realizations when certain crop or livestock enterprises were failing and needed to be removed from the farm plan, and how they achieved their desired quality of life while dealing with the sometimes harsh and unpredictable conditions of farming.
“The successful farmer possesses both creativity and organization, will know and love her product, will understand and connect with her customers, and will have the planning and problem-solving skills to weather goods years and bad, bumper crops and failures, to know when to scale up and when to cull.”
Overall, all we farmers do it because we love it, not because we’re expecting to see huge net returns on our labor and investments. But the successful farmer possesses both creativity and organization, will know and love her product, will understand and connect with her customers, and will have the planning and problem-solving skills to weather goods years and bad, bumper crops and failures, to know when to scale up and when to cull. Though quality of life and the size of one’s bank account do not always exist proportionally, there is a certain savvy to tap into when growing and marketing local farm-fresh food (and other farm products) that can absolutely make farming a viable career option.
And let’s face it, if nothing else the adage will still hold true: Farmers work like slaves, live like peasants, but eat like kings.