Managing Risk through Collaboration Between Farmers and Farmers Market Managers
Farmers’ success with direct marketing through farmers markets depends on whether the market attracts sufficient customers; otherwise, farmers take the double hit of time and produce lost. This project brief presents the best practices learned from a grassroots marketing strategy coordinated by Southside Community Land Trust between farmers, market managers, and urban youth to promote three urban farmers’ markets in Providence, RI. The brief also provides basic tips for marketing and branding.
Many farmers rely on farmers markets as a way of selling their produce. Harvesting for a market involves a certain amount of risk— there is no guarantee that customers will show up for the market, and factors as diverse as publicity or weather can significantly affect a week’s sales. Involving farmers in a grassroots marketing campaign to publicize the local farmers market to neighbors is useful in a few ways. Firstly, farmers can communicate with outreach personnel about what is actually available over the course of the season. Also, farmers can participate in outreach gatherings, as physical representatives of what is being sold. Finally, farmers can take the opportunity to educate themselves about what the customers are seeking at the market, and tailor their stands to better serve the needs of the people shopping at their market.
Second, accessing healthy food is a challenge for many people, particularly those in urban, low-income neighborhoods. A number of studies have investigated what barriers exist that help explain this challenge of healthy food access in urban neighborhoods, and particularly, the barriers to shopping at farmers markets. Some studies point to a lack of information as a reason why residents don’t shop at farmers’ markets. People often are not aware of when and where the farmers markets take place, what can be purchased there, and what kinds of federal nutrition benefit programs can be used there. Other factors also can limit healthy food access, for instance transportation, price, or cultural appropriateness of the offerings. This project was organized around addressing the information gap because it was a tractable and effective first step.
Marketing and Branding
A basic marketing strategy consists of a few components: (1) creating a brand, (2) identifying your audience, (3) choosing your points of contact, and (4) defining your message. (Adapted from Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture materials.)
Creating a brand: Your “brand” is how the public thinks about your business. A marketing strategy goal is to make the public’s perception of your business align with your vision of your business. Some questions to consider: What adjectives describe your brand? What features do you provide, and how do these benefit your customers?
Identifying the audience: It’s important to narrow in on who you will target with your marketing campaign. Who are your core customers? Or, is there a new segment of customers you want to attract? Once you’ve identified the audience segment, list out its characteristics including demographics (where they live, age, income level), lifestyle etc.
Points of contact: Customers need to see your message multiple times before they absorb it. When, where and how will they see your message? Advertisements, internet, road signs, direct mail, packaging, events….
Defining your message: Set a simple message that can be repeated at each point of contact. Build your message around your customers and what they want to know, not what you think about your own business. Messages that evoke emotions help to create a convincing mental image.
Grassroots Marketing Campaign
- In May 2015, Southside Community Land Trust invited all vendors and farmers market managers from the three farmers markets to participate in the project.
- Farmer vendors, farmers market managers, and SCLT staff met twice in June to plan the project. At these meetings, SCLT staff led the group in learning marketing basics. Then the group brainstormed elements of the strategy by identifying key branding elements, the target audience, and the places to make contact with that audience.
- The core planning team – SCLT staff, two market managers, and one farmer – used this information to create the marketing plan. After getting feedback from the other participating farmers, we all got to work!
Four points-of-contact comprised the strategy:
- Door-knocking: For three afternoons per week in July and early August, SCLT high school youth staff (with adult staff) walked door-to-door in neighborhoods surrounding the farmers markets and passed out flyers. The youth invited the residents to attend a market and explained the locations, hours, and EBT incentives. It was important that many youth staff were bilingual and could have these conversations in Spanish. Outputs: Distributed 1,961 flyers and engaged residents in 455 one-on-one conversations.
- Community Presentations: Project participants made presentations at community organizations. After passing out flyers, they engaged the group in a discussion around two topics: 1) sharing information widely about the neighborhood farmers markets and inviting people to shop at them, 2) hearing from people about whether or not they shop at the farmers market, and how the markets can better satisfy customers. Sites included churches, senior centers, job training sites, ethnic organizations, and WIC clinics. Outputs: Conducted 13 community presentations reaching 240 people.
- Lawn Signs: Project partners designed and distributed “lawn signs” (like those used in political campaigns) around the target neighborhoods. Outputs: Installed 30 lawn signs were installed in high traffic areas in the South Providence, West End, and Olneyville neighborhoods.
- Postcard Mailers: The flyer was converted into a postcard mailer that was sent out to low-income households in the target zip code. All text was written in both English and Spanish. The postcard included a contest: bring the postcard to a farmers market to be entered to win a market gift certificate. The contest’s purpose was to test the effectiveness of the mailers in attracting customers. Outputs: mailers sent to 4,874 households.
Final 2015 flyer we distributed door-to-door and at community presentations.
Photographs Convey the Message: On our print materials, we used lots of photographs of the varied fruits and vegetables available at the markets. This conveyed information well to our multi-cultural audience. This especially was important to show that the markets sold both ethnic and American produce. Because changed the photographs throughout the season to show what was currently available at the markets.
English and Spanish: All information on the flyer was translated into both English and Spanish. We purposely gave equal space to each language. In our door-knocking and community presentations, we spoke in both English and Spanish
Start Earlier: The first meeting with farmers and market managers took place in June. By this time, farmers were in their very busy farming season. It also takes time to create the marketing materials. We learned that the planning stage should have taken place in late winter (January-March) when farmers have time and market managers are planning for the season.
Engage Personal Networks: In our mid-season surveys, farmers market customers listed word-of-mouth as the major way they get new information. We built on the personal networks of our farmers and other partners by providing them with marketing materials (flyers). We asked them to distribute the flyers to their neighbors, co-workers, and others in their community.
Community Presentation Tips: The presentations are a chance to answer questions and dispel misconceptions about the farmers markets. Participants loved tasting samples of fresh-picked vegetables that we brought. Going forward, we will bring a farmers market’s current price list. This list will help answer common questions about cost and availability.
Marketing 101: An Introduction to Basic Marketing Practices. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.
Farmers Markets as a Strategy to Improve Access to Healthy Food for Low-Income Families and Communities. 2013. Project for Public Spaces.
SNAP Healthy Food Incentives Cluster Evaluation 2013 Final Report. 2013. Community Science.
This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2012-49200-20031.