|Direct Marketing Options For||BACK>>|
Farmers Markets and Community Supported Agriculture
Farmers markets and community supported agriculture enterprises are two direct marketing channels well-suited for small farm owners. They allow for a variety of crops and growing schedules, ability to maximize returns on a small piece of land, and direct interaction with customers. Sustainable agriculture practices, such as organic production, work well on small farms and may give producers a competitive advantage in consumers’ eyes.
Farmers markets are a traditional place for producers to sell horticultural crops, flowers, and value-added products. Selling at farmers markets is a good way for new farmers to begin direct-marketing because it allows farmers to start small and to establish networks for future direct-marketing enterprises. Farmers markets let producers evaluate consumer preferences and to experiment with different crops and varieties, as well as to have direct contact with consumers.
Farmers Market Suggestions
Things to consider:
1) Evaluate land capability and your agricultural abilities.
2) Investigate existing farmers market opportunities and locations.
3) Research the regulations, legal liabilities (see legal guide reference
on back pages), and sales taxes for your county and state.
Once you get started:
1) Think about pricing and marketing strategies.
2) Develop a logo or identity for your farm to make you stand out to consumers.
3) Realize that fellow farmers are your supporters and allies don’t try to drastically undersell them.
4) Keep your displays full of clean, quality produce in an eye-catching arrangement.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Community supported agriculture is another direct-marketing channel which can be profitable for small farmers. With a few acres, an efficient producer can grow enough to provide seasonal vegetables and fruits for dozens of families. In a CSA, local consumers, forming a “community,” purchase “shares” of the farm’s production before the growing season. Payments from share purchases are then used by the producer to buy seeds and equipment, pay rent, hire labor, and pay other farm costs. In return, the farm supports its subscribers by providing them with a portion of the harvest during the growing season, typically on a weekly schedule.
CSA design and operation varies widely, and can be tailored to the producers’ preferences, abilities, and resources. Some CSAs distribute produce from a central site where members come to pick it up; others invite members to come to the farm to pick up their shares. Individual shares of produce may be packaged ahead of time in bags or boxes, or the CSA may make agreements with members that they select for themselves the amounts of each item their family can use until the next distribution occasion.
History of CSAs
Community supported agriculture originated in Europe and Japan 30 years ago and first appeared in the US in the 1980s. Today there are reportedly 1200 CSAs in the U.S.
1) Take an inventory of your farm’s natural resources (water, soil, fertility, etc.), as well as labor and your agricultural abilities.
2) Evaluate potential subscriber base. Consider networks created through any previous farmers market participation; advertise at fairs, health food stores, association gatherings; contact organized groups such as schools, civic groups, and churches.
3) Plan a farm budget add up farm costs, figure share prices.
4) Develop a distribution strategy.
a. Direct delivery to consumers’ homes. This concept works best with fewer numbers of subscribers.
b. Central pick-up site. A time can be arranged for subscribers to pick up their shares at a public place, such as a parking lot or park.
c. Members come to farm. Is your farm located close enough to subscribers?
Once you get started:
1) Develop consumer information methods, such as recipes, newsletters, and member handbooks, to keep members informed of farm news and to provide food nutrition facts and preparation suggestions.
2) Brainstorm ideas for retaining subscribers between seasons.
3) Evaluate the relative popularity and profitability of items to help you maximize your income the next year.
Advantages of community supported agriculture:
* Receive payment ahead of crop delivery
* Marketing can be done in winter when plants not in season
* Inherent risks of agriculture borne by all members losses more manageable
* Provides a good direct marketing complement to farmers markets
* Allows producers to retain farm lifestyle
* Decreases processing and packaging costs, as well as food waste
* Yields high quality, locally-grown produce for often cheaper than retail prices
* Provides access to farm for recreation and education
* Supplies information about nutrition and food preparation
* Allows for a better understanding of how food is grown and harvested
* Creates a dialogue between producers and consumers
* Preserves rural living and communities by allowing farmers to stay on land
* Leads to more self-sufficient communities and states
Farm Profile of a CSA in Columbia, MO
Sunny Acres Organic Farm
After selling organic produce to restaurants, retail food stores, and in farmers markets for a few years, Leanne Spurling began a 50-crop, 100-member CSA on her 2-acre organic farm in 1997. She grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, flowers, and culinary herbs during her 24-26 week harvest season. Three nights a week, the farm is open for members to come and pick up their shares. Most items are pre-picked, washed, and set out for selection and bagging by members; some crops, such as strawberries, peas, green beans, and flowers are pick-your-own. Shares are priced in increasing increments according to the number of family members over age five. (For example, a subscription for one is $255/season, while a family of four pays $470/season.) The member application includes an agreement that subscribers will take only what their family will use in one week, and not take excess for canning, selling, or giving away.
Leanne finds that members are generally respectful of the agreement and careful not to take an unfair or wasteful amount. Most labor on the farm is provided by Leanne and Bart Spurling; they also hire a few part-time workers to help with harvesting, farm chores, and CSA distribution nights. Sunny Acres provides members with a farm newsletter, as well as recipes and food nutrition information. Leanne enjoys the interactions with her subscribers and the fulfillment she gets from providing the community with locally grown, organic produce. She says she is still evaluating whether CSA farming can provide her with an economically viable living. She does value the more stable income and reduced marketing demands of having a CSA versus other direct marketing options.
Other Direct Marketing Channels
1) Wholesale to restaurants/chefs. Chefs and restaurant owners will pay premium prices for top-quality, unique items. Daily deliveries, freshness and special varieties are other features that will bring top prices. Call prospective buyers ahead of time to make an appointment, and bring samples of your produce along to show them. Prepare a brochure describing your farm and item selection.
2) Sales to grocery stores and health-food stores. Especially with health food and other specialty stores, having organic produce will give you a competitive advantage over other producers. Stores will pay more for organic products which can be sold at premium prices.
3) Pick-your-own operations. Having customers harvest, package, and transport their own produce reduces farm costs. Many pick-your-own farms are set up to turn the picking experience into a fun, educational activity for customers; pick-your-own can be profitable when paired with farm entertainment or tourism activities.
4) Tourism farms. Many tourism farmers gradually got into the business by adding activities and facilities to their farms slowly, and then eventually capitalizing on a unique idea that put them ahead of the rest. One example of a tourism farm is a bed and breakfast with horseback riding or other nature activities; another idea is the farm “village,” on which a town of small buildings is built and furnished with artifacts to depict farm life or a time in the past.
Back to top
Operation Guidelines and Legal Considerations
Vendor/Small business licenses
Business and Sales taxes
Containers, weights and measures
Resources: General Information
Agricultural Electronic Bulletin Board. http://agebb.missouri.edu/
Links to information on farm marketing, horticulture, Small Farm Family Program, and more. Download brochures on designing and running CSAs and farmers markets.
Agricultural Marketing Service. www.ams.usda.gov or (202) 700-8317.
Links to direct marketing and farmers market information; map to locate farmers
markets and direct marketing enterprises in your area. Bibliography of
direct marketing information sources, including CSAs, pick-your-own, farm
to school, and internet; consumer and vendor surveys and analyses; food
quality and safety.
Agricultural Marketing Service Farmers Market Directory. www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm or (202) 700-8317.
Go online or call to locate farmers markets and direct marketing enterprises in your area.
Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA).
P.O. Box 3657 Fayetteville, AR 72702; (800) 346-9140. www.attra.org . Provides resources free of charge to farmers, educators and other ag professionals, including business and marketing guides. Links to overview of herbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE).
U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Stop 2223,
Washington , D.C. 20250-2223, (202) 720-5203; www.sare.org .
Sustainable agriculture information.
Missouri Alternatives Center (MAC).
University Extension, 531 Clark Hall, Columbia, MO 65211; (573) 882-1905, (800) 433-3704 (MO only); http://agebb.missouri.edu/mac/mac.htm .
Provides information and resources for alternative agriculture enterprises in
Missouri; houses a directory for Missouri farmers markets.
North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA).
62 White Loaf Road, Southampton, MA 01073, (888) 884-9270; www.nafdma.com . Provides opportunities for education, networking and fellowship between members.
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center. www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa
(301) 504-6559; e-mail [emailÿprotected]
CSA directories and information.
Community Supported Agriculture: The Producer/Consumer Relationship. Colorado State University. $3.00. CERC, 115 General Services Bldg., Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523; (970) 491-6198.
Community Supported Agriculture: Making the Connection. University of
California Coop. Extension, Placer County and UC Small Farm Center. 1995.
1988 pp. binder. $25 plus $5 shipping and handling. UCCE, 1147 E. Ave.,
Auburn, CA 95603; (530) 889-7385; (make checks payable to UC Regents)
A manual on designing CSAs, including price-setting and legal issues.
Dynamic Farmers Marketing: A Guide to Successfully Selling Your Farmers’ Market Products, by Jeff Ishee. $16.95. Bittersweet Farmstead. (540) 886-8477. Discusses ideas for displays and the best items to sell, as well
as interacting with customers.
The New Farmers’ Market. by Vance Corum, Marcie Rosenzweig, Eric Gibson. 272 pp. $24.95. New World Publishing. 11543 Quartz Dr. #1, Auburn, CA 95602; (530) 823-3886; www.nwpub.net/tnfm.html
to order the book and download free selections. Book includes chapters on
display, merchandising, sales and promotion, and community outreach.
Sharing the Harvest. Elizabeth Henderson with Robyn Van En. $24.95.
Chelsea Green Publishing, (800) 639-4099; www.chelseagreen.com .
CSA basics for farmers and consumers.
The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing. Neil Hamilton . $20.
Agricultural Law Center, Drake University, Des Moines, IA 50311. (515)
271-2947. Guide for laws and regulations concerning direct marketing.
Missouri Division of Weights and Measures
Roy Humphreys, Division Director, Weights and Measures Division,
Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 630, Jefferson City, MO
65102-0630; (573) 751-4316.