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Marketing tips from real farmers

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be a part of a direct marketing panel presentation at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Agriculturalists Conference and Annual Meeting.

I was joined by three other entrepreneurial farmers: Amber McComish from McComish Family Farms + Lucky Cow, Natasha Paris from ParKelm Farm, and Lindsay Baneck of Jelli’s Market. We shared how we got started in farm-to-table direct market business and our marketing strategies.

I love sharing what we do, but I love even more learning about what other farmers are doing in this space, marketing approaches, and lessons learned (we all have them!).

More about the other farmers:

• Amber makes and sells gelato at her own coffee shop in her community. She’s become super focused on serving her community and establishing her business as a destination spot as well.

• Natasha runs a grass-fed beef and pastured pork operation, selling her meat through farmers’ markets and home delivery.

• Lindsay and her family run an on-farm market offering a wide range of produce and meat.

Here are some great takeaways from what I learned from my co-presenters:

• Make it easy for your customers to buy from you

• Be flexible and know that direction for your farm and marketing approach make a change or shift for many reasons: life commitments (farm, off-farm jobs, family, etc). Examples: shared a shift from wholesale with the addition of storefront and onset of COVID; adding farm deliveries for customers as an option and as a way to still serve customers outside of the farmers market season

• You’re selling the experience of the farm whether that is how you tell your story as a farm in your marketing in brochures or online, or in-person in a retail space. Amber shared how a large photo of cows in her shop attracts lots of conversation, while Lindsay shared how the photo of their family in the store generated a lot of talk too.

• Social media can help build brand awareness and relationships with customers.

• Building a direct market farm business takes time. Take one step at a time. Try different approaches for marketing. Not everything is going to work. Just keep going and it will build with time.

Amber shared she had started with wholesale accounts and added a local storefront, Lucky Cow Coffee and Gelato. But with Covid, she saw her business shift from wholesale to her local community and she embraced that shift. Amber has gotten more involved in her chamber of commerce and Main Street Wisconsin to build valuable relationships within her local community. She’s also worked to gain media coverage for her business, which has helped with attracting customers.

Natasha had shared how she’s focused on specific markets and added a home delivery route. The delivery option is paired with her drive back to the farm during market season. She also continues to offer it when she’s not doing farmers’ markets as a way to continue her sales with her customers. She also shared the importance of understanding your customer base and adapting to those needs. She found that many of her customers aren’t on social media so she’s spent less time focusing on that as a marketing tactic.

Lindsay shared about having a farm store and their focus on bringing people to the farm. She said it is about selling the experience, not just selling products. Lindsay also mentioned the importance of having the right insurance and also recommended posting the Wisconsin Agritourism act at the entrance to the store as an added protection for your farm.

Give them a follow if you’re not already!

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