At February 8th’s Field School, we explored markets and marketing methods.
A farmer panel of Adam Borden of Sunset View Farm, Jamie Dove of River Creek Farm and Main Street Pizza, and Rodney Webb of Salamander Springs Gardens discussed their personal experiences with marketing and marketing channels. How you choose to sell your farm products is largely based on your personal preferences, abilities, and goals, and asking yourself a few questions can help clarify your direction. If you’re not sure where to start, the Five Ps of Marketing can help you think about your business strategically.
Product: what you are offering as a whole, including value added features, packaging, and services (for example, CSA delivery)
-What do you enjoy growing?
-How can you add value and longevity to your products?
-What can your market support?
-What do people in your area eat?
-What could you produce that others do not?
Price: how you set prices based on your costs, your market’s location, and your competitors’ prices
-How much did it cost you to produce your goods, including your labor? How much will you pay yourself? How much do your inputs cost?
-How much do comparable products sell for at markets around you?
-Do you grow your products organically? Do you want to be Certified Organic or Certified Naturally Grown? These foods may fetch a higher price at market, but you should also take into consideration the cost of maintaining these certifications.
-What do grocery stores charge for similar products?
-Will you have any loss leaders–products sold at a loss in order to attract customers to other products?
Promotion: what you do to promote your business and products, including sales, public relations, direct marketing, and advertising
-Will you use a website and social media? Do you want to have an online presence and enjoy connecting with customers over the internet?
-Will you rely on your presence at market, your booth’s setup and signage, and be involved in the community?
-How much time do you want to commit to promotion, and how will you note returns on investments (including time) in promotion?
Place: how you deliver your product to customers depends on where you are located in relation to market channels
-How close are you to farmers markets, food hubs, restaurants, and retail groceries?
-Are you close to an urban center, and can you get into those markets?
-How much driving are you willing to do?
-Can people purchase your products online? Particularly with value added or shelf-stable items, could you sell them online and ship?
People: yourself, your staff, your customers, and your community
-Who is going to do the work? (Probably mostly you)
-Who is going to help you?
-Will your family or partner be involved? How much time do you each have to commit to
-Will you have paid staff or interns? How will you pay them?
-Are you willing to mentor beginning farmers (which can be a lot of work!) in exchange
-Do you have neighbors nearby whom you can call on?
-Who are your target customers? What kind of relationship do you want with them?
A final, farm-specific question you should ask yourself is whether or not your farm venture can financially support itself and you. As with any new business, it may be that you spend more money than you make in the first few years. Many farmers also work “in town” or have side hustles that support them financially while their farms grow. At this field school meeting, Melissa Rebholz of River House Farm shared her experience of the farmer side hustle: along with selling produce, Melissa is a chef and uses her culinary training to bring in additional income. She also participates in Airbnb by renting out a small cabin on her farm to guests. As you take a hard look at your finances, consider all of your assets, including property, education, experience, and what you enjoy doing that can help support your farm.
It’s a lot to consider, but I recommend spending some time writing down the answers to these questions so that you have a clear picture of your farm’s direction. Below is a list of markets available in our region:
Farmers Markets come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are your best source for direct marketing.
-Market size varies, usually depending on location. Larger markets get more customers, but they also have more vendors with whom you’ll be in competition. Johnson City, Kingsport, and Abingdon all have large, established markets.
-Some markets limit vendors to selling only their own products, while others allow reselling.
Boone Street Market is a retail grocery store in Jonesborough that uses a consignment model and sources all of its produce, meats, cheese, baked goods, and value added products from within a 100 mile radius. It is a great place to start for beginning farmers and market gardeners. Contact Ashley Cavender (email@example.com) for more information.
Three Rivers Market is an established grocery co-op located in Knoxville but is actively working to expand to Johnson City. They are looking for high quality produce and meats from Certified Organic or Certified Naturally Grown farms. Three Rivers pays less for products than Boone Street Market but buys in larger quantities. Contact Produce Manager Chris Bottorff (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Appalachian Harvest is a food hub in Duffield, VA run by Appalachian Sustainable Development that purchases and distributes local products from Baltimore to Atlanta. Appalachian Harvest buys in quantities that need at least a half acre of production and pays wholesale prices: volume is the name of the game here. They pay higher prices for Certified Organic, and have trainings and cost shares to help farmers with GAP certification and Organic Certification.Contact Adam Watson (email@example.com) for more information.
Other Options include selling through CSAs (farm subscriptions) and restaurants. Many farmers who sell at farmer’s markets or to food hubs also have CSAs and sell to local restaurants. Just like planting a diverse array of crops protects farmers from big losses, so does having multiple market outlets for those crops.
Dana York also shared with us a resource available on Farm Commons–an article entitled “Choosing the Best Market Channel for Your Farm’s Success and Your Happiness: Legal and Practical Considerations.” The article is free to view if you create a Farm Commons account. It lays out the benefits, challenges, and considerations associated with with the different kinds of markets listed above and will help you understand what you’re in for.
Selecting the best means of selling your products takes time, thought, and flexibility–just like farming! Do your research and don’t forget to consider what you enjoy doing.