CFSA’s 2014 Sustainable Ag Conference
by #SAC14 blogger, Maya Jackson of UDI Urban Farm
Like many of the folks here at the Sustainable Ag Conference, I am in this business because I love the land and good food. But, to make it in sustainable farming, marketing our businesses and the products we produce is crucial. At City Roots Farm, based in Columbia, South Carolina, they understand the power of marketing and how it affects their farm’s bottom line. Marketing should not be feared by farmers and should not be overlooked in your farm’s budget either. Marketing is a tool to create several sources of income for your business. Here’s what I learned from City Roots’ co-owner and farm manager, Eric McClam, in his Conference workshop on Marketing, Branding and Agritourism:
Branding is not about what your logo looks like. It’s conveying your message and creating value for everyone to see in your farm’s business. Your farm’s message should clearly convey how your mission, vision, and philosophies benefit the community you support. Consistent branding creates a loyal following and customer base.
When meeting with retailers and wholesalers for the first time, you should make sure that you bring some essential items. Never underestimate the value of the collateral: business cards, brochures and flyers about your farm, one-sheets and sales sheets about your product with information along with the UPC code, and, most important, samples of your product to taste.
How your product is packaged will determine if a retailer or wholesaler believes that your product is a good fit for their market. At City Roots, Eric explained that they have 3 sizes of their microgreens for chefs and farmers markets, but they use clamshells for big retailers, such as Whole Foods Market. They do this for presentation and to ensure a longer shelf life of their produce in the store.
Finding Your Niche
Urban farming is still a bit foreign to most people in the city. City Roots Farm has found several ways to use this novelty to attract their ideal customer. They meet their community on common ground at places like the local Farmers Market, or provide them with options to obtain locally grown food through the the Community Supported Agriculture program they have formed. For added value, City Roots packages all of their CSA items in a reuseable bag with their logo. This is free advertising for them, said McClam. It doesn’t matter if their customer is at the Farmers Market or at the local chain grocery store, people in the community are able to recognize the farm’s brand when they see it.
Social media and newsletters are useful inexpensive tools to use for your business. City Root sends out 2 distinct letters, one for members of the CSA and another for Chefs and Retailers, to keep them up-to-date on the farm’s latest activities and products.
For a farm, unless your business heavily relies on agrotourism, you don’t need to do a lot of traditional advertising, according to Eric. The key to get people to come to your farm or farm stand is good signage. If you make it difficult for people to read what your product is about or your signage isn’t visible in the right place, then there’s a chance that you are going to lose a customer.
At City Roots they provide guide tours for students – from elementary school to college; they have You-Pick and hosted events. All of these activities complement the farm’s mission – and add to their brand value.
“All of these tactics were carefully adjusted through trial and error to make them work best for their farm,” stated McClam, “but, once you get a consistent winner, you will start to see the return on your investment.” Agritourism has played a significant role in their business, so much so that they have hired a professional event planner to manage this area of their business.
To learn more about City Roots Farm, visit their website at http://cityroots.org/