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
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
* No. 5 — Specialty and ethnic vegetables: Eggplants don’t
only come in the color purple — there also are white, orange and lavender-hued
“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
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
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
* No. 1 — Online promotions: Though it may come as a
surprise, the No. 1 link between direct agricultural marketers and the public is
“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.