Eric Barrett, an Extension educator at the Ohio State University, speaks to guests at the Women in Agriculture conference about opportunities that exist to directly market produce, meats, flowers and more to consumers. As the owner of Sunrise Farm in Youngstown, Ohio, he brought plenty of experience to the talk, speaking later in the day about how to educate customers about local foods.
Eric Barrett, an Extension educator at the Ohio State University, speaks to guests at the Women in Agriculture conference about opportunities that exist to directly market produce, meats, flowers and more to consumers. As the owner of Sunrise Farm in Youngstown, Ohio, he brought plenty of experience to the talk, speaking later in the day about how to educate customers about local foods.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Plenty of opportunities exist for direct marketing in agriculture, but what are they?

The Ohio State University Extension Educator Eric Barrett has ranked them from one to 10 and applied many of them to his farm, and his message to guests at the Purdue University Women in Agriculture Conference was that they could, too.

As the owner of Sunrise Farm in Youngstown, Ohio, he shared how his family farm grew from a one-acre corn maze after his father’s retirement to an agritourism outlet offering a corn maze, hayrides and wagon rides to a 6.5-acre pumpkin field, school tours, parades, and lessons in “The Three Little Pigs” for youngsters.

“There are plenty of ways for you to direct-market your farm, many of which you wouldn’t immediately think of, but that have become so important to selling your farm products,” Barrett said.

* No. 10 — Community-Supported Agriculture: Knowing that finding and keeping customers is a challenge, many producers are collaborating to conquer delivery costs, dips in clientele, supply and other perennial challenges of local and direct marketing in agriculture.

“When lots of folks are working together to sell a beet, zucchini or other product, they can get more customers and keep them year-round,” Barrett said. “Marketing is always kind of the last thing you think about during the growing season. A CSA can help you focus on what you love to do — growing food — and share and manage your risks with other people who have the same passion in mind;”

* No. 9 — Farming Local Cooperatives;

* No. 8 — Natural Resources: Folks look to get back to the basics when visiting a local farm, and hunting, fishing, and enjoying the wildlife while staying in a comfy cabin could be just the enticement producers are looking for in drawing people to their farm;

* No. 7 — On-farm bakeries and coffee shops: That dawn or predawn trip to a neighborhood gourmet coffee shop is becoming a mainstay of modern life in the city.

“Almost 70 percent of Americans say they’re addicted to coffee, and there’s an opportunity to promote sustainability and localness of coffee,” Barrett said. “What kinds of pies can you make out of the apples and berries you grow on your farm? Use the milk you produce on your dairy operation to flavor your own coffees;”

* No. 6 — Farmers markets: Purple carrots may seem out of this world, but that is exactly what consumers are looking to buy these days.

By selling unusual colors and breeds of produce at the local farmers market, along with flowers, fresh herbs, soap and other farm fare, producers fulfill a growing customer niche.

They can expand beyond cash sales to using the modern scanner code available on smartphones to publicize their farm and reach new audiences;

* No. 5 — Specialty and ethnic vegetables: Eggplants don’t only come in the color purple — there also are white, orange and lavender-hued varieties.

“While I’ve never been a big fan of eggplant, your customers will be,” Barrett said. “There are so many shapes, sizes and varieties of vegetables, and sometimes it’s just a matter of talking folks into buying and eating them and offering them tips on how to cook them;”

* No. 4 — Locally-focused meats: There’s a big push for protein right now, and with cattle herd populations at their lowest numbers since the 1960s, the possibility of beef becoming a luxury item offers the opportunity for farmers to make a profit, as well as on chicken, pork, lamb, bison and other meats.

What’s more, processing facilities are making money on hearts, tongues, livers, bones and other unconventional cuts of meat, Barrett said.

Producers can satisfy customer demand for local meats while confronting the challenges that come with it, including offering hormone and antibiotic-free meat products, selling at a premium price, finding a slaughter facility and meeting packaging requirements;

* No. 3 — Pick-your-own berries: Few local farm visits rival the experience of berry picking. Growers can offer guests a unique experience selecting their own healthy, fresh food grown with good practice and family experience.

Many berry varieties will be quite profitable for producers, who can adopt new fertilization, irrigation and plasticulture techniques to derive the best berries on their farm, Barrett stressed;

* No. 2 — Farm tours and events: Opportunities abound in this category, the extension educator said.

“Invite the public to the farm for an on-farm meal,” he suggested. “When grandparents take their kids to the farm to pet the coats and buy sweet corn, you offer them an alternative to non-interaction, and they are going to spend money and not stay as long. Explain to folks they can come and enjoy the farm.”

He stressed that farmers should have an audit of their farm every year if they are engaging in agritourism activities including corn mazes, hayrides and farm dinners.

“The old adage ‘If you build it, they will come’ is not altogether true,” he said. “You want to look at sales, operations and cash flow before diving headfirst into launching a fresh, new agritourism business on your farm;” and

* No. 1 — Online promotions: Though it may come as a surprise, the No. 1 link between direct agricultural marketers and the public is the Internet.

“People long to be on our farms, but they are on the Internet,” the educator said. “Though cyberspace can eat up a lot of time, there are lots of opportunities through social media for you to market your farm and be an advocate for agriculture. Be an advocate and a marketer on your personal website, on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.”

Barrett stressed the importance of Good Agricultural Practices on local farms for farmers to ensure their products are safe.

New state-by-state GAP rules were released Jan. 10, and he encouraged producers to read them.