03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

20 Ways Farmers Can Improve Their Marketing Chops

Farmers are business people, alchemists, scientists, economists, and
stewards of the land. But sometimes they need help with that most basic
and necessary of skills: marketing. Earlier this month I sat in on a Cornell
agriculture extension seminar on the power of storytelling.

Herewith a modest partial list of ways for farmers to craft a story
around their products, personalities, and people more effectively,
especially at farmers markets.

  1. Create a Narrative. The story should be real and worth repeating: How you got into raising sheep when a farmer left a flock on your pasture and never came back to reclaim them. (That one’s true.) Weave in details that create an image. People want -- desperately need -- the connection with the farm and an honest day’s work.
  2. Smile and Make Eye Contact: Margo Sue Bittner of The Winery at Marjim Manor found that if you smile and make eye contact within the first 10 seconds of greeting a customer you reduce theft by 20%. Is that a scientific fact? Could be. But even if its not, it’s a great start. You’re not running an art gallery that gains its cachet by turning away traffic.
  3. Identify Staffers Who Like to Talk: Sometimes customers want a simple answer. Is this easy to cook? How should I store that? The kind of questions most workers who staff farmers markets should be able to address gracefully. But not all workers at farmers markets also work on the farm. Have a designated staffer who enjoys talking about the difference between sustainable and organic. What exactly is Integrated Pest Management? Why you grow kohlrabi or celeriac.
  4. Be Honest: If someone complains that “these carrots are long and stringy” you can respond “Oh God. Can you imagine what they’re like to wash and harvest? They taste perfectly fine, but next week we have Spanish Blacks that are gorgeous and very rare.”
  5. Presentation is Everything: Show abundance when you have it. When you don’t, display products as if they were featured in Martha Stewart’s magazine. Spring for wicker baskets or wooden boxes lined with burlap. You have 10 tomatillos left? Put them in a small basket and highlight them at checkout as an impulse purchase (Make a great salsa verde!).
  6. Tell a Story about Your Area: The largest producer of cabbage and sauerkraut in America. Best known for artisanal Munster cheese. Benedict Arnold slept there. Pamela Anderson was born up the street.  (Actually Pamela Anderson was born in Ladysmith, British Columbia.)
  7. Feature Clear Labels: Easy to read and laminated. Describe the taste and some potential uses. Not all apples make a great pie but every apple has a use. Same is true for potatoes.
  8. Provide (Easy) Recipes: There are literally millions of recipes available online. If you don’t cook often pick some and try them. Or have your friends test a recipe. Product trade groups often have a wide range of well-tested recipes. Print them out. Offer to provide a recipe with every purchase. Group together items that go into the recipe into preparation (like a Butternut Souffle that includes squash, onions and thyme).
  9. Promote Your Press: If you’ve been featured in any newspaper, blog (even this one), radio or TV report, print it out and laminate it. Make copies for journalists who prowl farmers markets looking for story ideas.
  10. Meet Controversy Head On: When there is a food-borne disease story in the news don’t be shy about explaining how your product is different, or how raising your animals is vastly different from a factory operation, and what that means in terms of food safety.

For ten more practical marketing tips continue reading here.

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