Local Farms are not owed anything in the market.
Get ready for some tough love.
I can almost see the negative comments now. The above statement, coming from a small farmer is incendiary. The fact is this; it’s the truth all local farms need to digest.
Complaining to another farmer that “nobody from the buying public supports small farms, the farmer’s markets are dried up, and people only want cheap produce” is pointless unless the discussion is turned to, “well what are we going to do about it?”
I’ll tell you what we are going to do about it, we (local farms) are going to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, stop blaming the public, and take responsibility for our marketing and deliver it with the same tactics as the conglomerates who can afford million dollar media buys.
We will take responsibility to provide people what they want, not what we think is fun to grow. We will solve the pains and miseducation associated with food production, preparation, and consumption. We, as an industry, will help each other rather than have industry infighting pissing contests about how each other farms. Disagree, but discuss. Have beliefs, respect others. We can either right this ship together or get swallowed up by corporate ag. It’s time to get to working smarter. Chalkboard signs, sunflower tablecloths, and wooden crates are great at the farmer’s market, but unless your digital presence can bring people to you or allow access to the people; nobody cares.
Local farms, non-profits, and eco-farmers need to let go of entitlement.
Is sustainable, regenerative, and eco-farming important issues? You better believe it. I support it wholeheartedly. But, caring about doing the right thing because of your conscious does not earn you the right to expect sympathy buys at a market.
Are non-profits doing amazing, necessary, and important work? Absolutely. But in the buying public’s mind is it worth hearing the sermons, or going out of their way to get to you? What is important to you, and all-consuming meaningful life work, and I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, may not be relevant to the people with cash in their wallet.
Birds of a feather flock together. All birds are beautiful, but you don’t see pigeons, crows, hawks, and eagles eating at the same park bench or flying in the same circles. People tend to stay in their lanes, and like-minded people tend to attract each other. Again, the truth is there is more soccer moms, McMansion dwellers, and content with status quo consumers than there are people who are devoutly passionate about sustainable lifestyles, heirloom seeds, or symbiotic growing systems.
Despite what you may think, they are not terrible people. These are consumers who have been trained to follow the leader, shop where their parents bought, and for many people, they are just trying to make it to the next payday. Consumers have been browbeaten into shopping price points rather than value. And they know price points because every piece of media is directed at savings, larger quantities, and convenience.
Beyond savings, luxury and status items are presented in smooth tones, sleek visuals, and panders to higher reasoning.
Where do your local farm’s offerings fall? Value, Luxury or social necessity? Have you made your story compelling enough to be a socially relevant product to go out of the way to support? And can you keep up the engagement, production, quality to “sustain” your sustainable operation?
Being socially right doesn’t equate to being worthy of continuous support without a compelling reason backed up by a superior product. If being socially correct was enough charities and non-profits would have a steady infusion of capital. But there are fundraisers, bellringers, and passing of the collection plates. You better believe the Red Cross and Salvation Army has figured out a marketing strategy to remain socially relevant week after week, year after year.
Starting ethical local farms, to you and me, are vital. However, the ball is in out court to get and stay relevant. We must educate and entertain our way into the minds and news feeds of the right people to aggregate into a relationship that generates regular, correctly priced sales.
It is easy to like the new neat thing in town, and local farms are a go to on a slow news day or may have some initial press. That news piece and attention will fade by the next news cycle. So stay newsworthy. Stay hungry to remain in business to help the earth, the needy, and the people who benefit from working on a farm. You may be a reluctant business person, but no mistake- you are in business now, for profit or not. Competition is everywhere.
My local farm
My farm is important to me and to the people working there who rely on the farm to make their living wages. We grow the best greens in town 365 days a year in a safe and ethical practice. We are the only hydroponic and protected culture farm in the area who services our community year round. Our farm survives on only .44 % of our counties population giving a damn enough to support us.
Encouraging? Not really a home run number. So how do we make it? That .44% care about what we provide them week after week.
I know who cares enough to support us. I know how old they are, what their gender is, where they work, what their lives look like, what motivates them. The motivation isn’t what everyone throws around and thinks sells. People like to SAY they support local, seasonal, organic, green all of the other happy rainbows & unicorns dancing in wildflower adjectives we all associate with local farms.
But saying and doing are two different things. And I was just like everyone else. The “If I build it they will come” mentality is why you can buy used farm, restaurant, and golf clubs for half off. It’s harder than people think.
We need to start understanding people in general. Look at it like this; people default to easy. That is why people flock to big box stores. It’s easier to buy mediocre everything under one roof than great anything separately. But there are specialty stores that attract specific audiences, so how does that work?
I asked. I asked everybody and anybody that I could pin down. I gave them permission to give it to me harsh and honest. “Why are you not buying my produce?” When the answers came in, I asked them follow-up questions. What if’s, and would you type questions. Then I asked them to go deeper.
I asked people I knew, strangers, people in produce departments, mild acquaintances-anybody, and everybody. I went to farmers markets in other towns. I got on chefs, cooking enthusiasts, and soccer mom Facebook groups and read problems people had.
I didn’t blame the market; I blamed me for not doing market research BEFORE following my passion. Just because my farm was important to me doing great things wasn’t enough for people to interrupt their busy, self-serving, and obligation filled lives.
I studied, I read books on marketing, psychology, and business. I then sought out specialized business coaching from outside of farming to teach me how to apply sales, product development and product launching, marketing, and business structure. I invested in myself to help my farm. I didn’t waste time hamming it up with people on free Q&A sights and Facebook groups. I paid for expedited precision answers. Most importantly, I took action. I trusted the process of the people I paid and became a better business owner.
I took all of the reasons people had placed barriers between themselves and handing me money for the best produce in town and removed the barriers. Instead of being complicated, I made it easy to buy and pay me. It is all automatically done. I can keep my farm running and finally accomplished my goal of feeding my community. I just had to find the right products to deliver to the right people who it made a difference to.
We test and survey our efforts. We have beta testers, community influencers, and a core audience that sustains our local farm. We evolve with them, we get leaner and grow better every day. We also still mess up and fail. As we push the envelope of our farm, you will have hits and misses. But the relationship we have built means something to people, and they are on your side.
People do not hate local farms; they just have lives that are distracted and complicated. Only a small percentage of people who want to come to market can on any given Saturday. You have to be something that solves a real problem in their lives. Some people may not consider trucked in produce a problem. Is your message about how terrible somebody else is? Or are you telling people what you are doing in a way they want to listen? If everybody is calling for anti-GMO, and locally sourced and shouting. And one person is a light of positivity, isn’t that a welcome distraction. And is your products compelling enough to become a necessity?
I’m on your side; local farms, sustainable operators, and non-profits,
but I have to ask you questions like this. You have to ask these questions of yourself and your future clients. You have to do better at the big picture.
Agriculture is complex, science-based, and hard work. Then you have to become a marketer and salesman. Prepare for both. The people not complaining about slow markets and sales are doing something about it. Let’s change the conversation.
http://www.victorylunchclub.com My local farm’s product. Find your people, then grow what they ask for. Quit shoving turnips down the throats of people who don’t know how to turn on a stove. Solve your client’s problems and become a necessary part of their routine. It is not about you; it’s about what you can do for them.
I hope this becomes a conversation starter. I imagine I’ll hear some strong opinions, even that I’m wrong. I’m happy with that as long as the conversation changes from poor me to what are we going do about it, or where do we start?
I know this might have sounded insulting at first, but I had these problems too. I found a way out. But it continues to be a daily activity to maintain clients, just like we have to water, weed, and supply nutrients to our crops. As you develop your harvest, develop yourself as well. If you disagree with my message, I’m ok with that, and I still hope you have the best success. If you want to continue on a path where we can all help each other, I compel you to come along with me.
If you want to continue on a path where we can all help each other, I would be honored to have you come along with me at State of the Soil Media as we build a resource for farm marketing, design, and client psychology to help more people. It may seem hard out there, but people are looking for us. We can help them find their way.