Hello Farm blog readers! My name is Emily Shoemaker, and I’m a dietetic intern from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. Over the course of my short internship rotation at The Farm at St. Joe’s, I’ve managed to pick up quite a bit: an armful of fresh produce to bring home, plenty of weeding experience, and a surprising glimpse into the future of local farming. In this post, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a topic that might seem a little out of place amidst the talk of cherry tomatoes and kale—the importance of marketing in the world of local farms and sustainable agriculture.
Confession: As a dietetic intern, I’m primarily concerned with the eating aspect of food rather than the growing aspect. However, I have always believed that sustainable agriculture is fundamental to promoting good nutrition. Simply put, both sustainable agriculture and good nutrition share a foundation in fresh, healthful food. And both face the same obstacles: large-scale commercial agriculture and food processing corporations. These entities possess enormous resources, including huge marketing budgets, significant political clout, and a food distribution infrastructure that is aligned with their needs. Local farms and healthy diets don’t stand a chance. Or do they?
Farmers, dietitians, and those of similar ilk actually have a number of tools at their disposal to raise consumer interest in local and sustainable food products. From my experience at The Farm, I’ve come to realize that farmers are highly aware of the need for marketing of their goods and implement number of marketing strategies. Some of the Farm’s current marketing projects:
- Social media promotion (Twitter, Facebook, and this blog)
- Recipe cards and tastings at the Farmers’ Market (St. Joe’s Lobby, Wednesdays 11:00 am to 1:00 pm)
- Distribution of produce to foodservice operations within St. Joe’s hospital (including some awesome snack-sized cherry tomato cups)
- Ongoing efforts to increase signage around the hospital to draw in new customers from outside of the hospital
These projects are great for getting the word (and cherry tomatoes!) out there, but there’s plenty of room for even more innovative marketing—and not just at St. Joe’s. What this means is a HUGE amount of potential for increasing consumer awareness of sustainable agriculture and for grabbing a larger portion of American food dollars. There’s already been some discussion of smart marketing strategies that sustainable food growers can use to gain visibility, such as marketing outside of traditional supply lines and focusing on specialty grocery outlets. However, farms and farmers need to be even more innovative to draw in more consumers and greater interest. Some ideas:
- Aggressive social media campaigns
- Emphasizing the unique, desirable attributes of locally-produced foods to a wider audience
- Branding and packaging (e.g., attractive website design, recognizable logos, convenience packaging)
- Greater use of promotions (e.g., sales, student discounts, giveaways)
- Seeking and incorporating consumer feedback…often!
While individual farms will obviously have to pick and choose the strategies that work best for them, the basic idea is the same: in order to thrive, sustainable agriculture organizations must keep on top of the latest marketing trends. Innovative and aggressive marketing has the potential to benefit consumers, farms and farmers, and the sustainable agriculture movement as a whole. And a thriving sustainable agriculture culture can only mean positive things for good health and good nutrition!
Farmers’ market shoppers and sustainable foods enthusiasts, you’re not off the hook! Connect with The Farm via social media, share your farmers’ market experiences with your friends and followers, and help us get the word out there!