As the US spends $177 billion a year to produce
its food and $400 billion to market it, you’ll
find that you can never put too much thought into
marketing. If direct marketing appears to be a
good strategy for you, you can find further information
and assistance to develop an effective plan through
the following resources:
The Rodale Institute
611 Siegfriedale Road
Kutztown PA, 19530
Appropriate Technology Transfer
For Rural Areas (ATTRA)
Business Management Series: “Direct Marketing”
PO Box 3657
Fayetteville AR, 72702
MidAtlantic Direct Marketing
c/o PaFarm, Room #104
4184 Dorney Park Road
Allentown PA, 18104-5798
Pennsylvania Retail Farm Market
1000 Thorndale Road
West Chester PA, 19380
New Jersey Dept. of Agriculture
Division of Markets
Trenton, NJ, 08625
( 609) 292-8853
Maryland Dept. of Agriculture
50 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, MD, 21401
American Farmland Trust (FRESHFARM
1200 18th Street NW,
Washington DC, 20036
National Farmers Direct Market
14850 Countryside Driv
Aurora OR, 97002
Growing For Market (newsletter), PO Box
3747, Lawrence KS, 66046. (800) 307-8949.
Dynamic Farmers’ Marketing
by Jeff Ishee, 1997. Bittersweet Farmstead, PO
Box 52, Middlebrook VA, 24459. (540) 886-8477.
The New Farmer’s Market
by Eric Gibson, 2001. New World Publishing, 11543
Quartz Drive #1, Auburn CA, 95602. (530) 823-3886
or (888) 281-5170.
The Legal Guide for Direct
Farm Marketing by Neil D. Hamilton, 1999.
Drake University Ag Law Center, Des Moines IA,
50311. (515) 271-2065.
A Guide To Successful Direct
Marketing by Charles R. Hall and Jeff L.
Johnson, 1992. Texas Agricultural Extension Service,
Texas A&M University, Attn. Charles Hall,
464 Blocker Building, College Station TX, 77843-2124.
& Rusty Orner: Their Quiet Creek Herb
Farm is a creative combination of school, CSA, retreat
and organic health market.
Market reports don’t
tell the whole story. While one farmer sells a 50 pound bag
of carrots for $1.05 at the wholesale auction, another farmer
can fetch $1.05 for a single pound of carrots by selling them
through his local farmer’s market directly to the people
who will eat and enjoy them. The difference in profit lies
entirely in the marketing. The farmer who takes the time to
nurture a relationship with direct market customers will find
the increased profits to be well worth the effort.
is Direct Marketing?
By definition, “direct marketing” describes any
technique that allows a farmer to sell his product directly
to the person who will use the product, and, in the process,
develop a one-on-one relationship with that person. Examples
of direct marketing include:
Farmers Markets (“producer
Supported Agriculture” that is funded by a subscription
Mail order home delivery
services, by mail, e-mail, phone, or Internet
sales, including restaurants and other farms
Any other venue your
creative mind can imagine!
Direct market channels allow farmers to make
more profit by giving them full control over their product’s
delivery, quality, and pricing. The consumer also benefits
by paying reasonable prices for products that are locally
grown, fresher, tastier, and more nutritious than items
they may find at the supermarket. These benefits help to
make direct marketing a satisfying win-win relationship
for both the farmer and the consumer!
Is Direct Marketing
Right for You?
To help decide whether or not direct marketing might be
a good strategy for you and your operation, begin by asking
yourself the following questions (adapted from “Market
What You Grow” by Ralph J. Hills Jr.):
Are you willing to take some risks?
Do you take pride in your products?
Do you enjoy showing and telling people
how great your products are?
Are you willing to do some serious planning
Are you willing to experiment?
Are you able to be flexible?
Do you like to operate independently and
determine your own path?
Do you like to do creative things, and
solve problems creatively?
If you answer “yes” to four or
more of these questions, then direct marketing may be a
very good strategy for you, especially if you are a small
farmer making less than $250,000 a year from your operation.
For a “people person” who grows
a diverse mix of vegetables for fresh consumption, the appeal
of direct marketing is quite clear. However, if you don’t
enjoy working directly with the public, or even if you grow
a crop that people don’t consume directly (such as
wheat or grain corn), you may still be able to partake in
the benefits of direct marketing by forming marketing cooperatives
with other growers in your area.
To further assess your interest, be sure to
make a thorough and honest evaluation of your operation,
your interests, and your goals. The following steps, adapted
from ATTRA’s “Direct Marketing: Business Management
Series”, can help you develop a thorough assessment:
what kind of business and lifestyle you want. Visualize
the ways you want your farming business to grow, and commit
your vision to paper. Include a clear description of your
ideal lifestyle, and develop realistic one-year, five-year,
and ten-year goals to help you achieve your vision. Ask
yourself the following questions to guide your planning:
Do you want your business to be a full-time
or part-time enterprise?
Do you want to work by yourself, with
your family, or with employees hired from the community?
What kind of environment do you want
to create within your business?
What kind of profit do you want to make?
inventory of your current physical resources.
Document all your operation’s resources, with some
assessment of their qualities and shortcomings. Include
everything you can think of, from machinery and buildings,
livestock and water resources, to total acreage of land,
soil quality, and location. This information will help you
determine the best ways to utilize your current resources,
and also help you assess what other resources you may need
to achieve your goals.
your human resources. Think of the people
who will work with you in your operation. Ask yourself the
Is your family supportive of your plans?
Will they work directly in your business’
operations, and if so, to what extent?
Can you find farm workers within your
Do you want these people to work on a
voluntary, temporary, seasonal, or permanent basis?
What kind of pay and benefits would you
like to be able to offer these people?
What kind of relationships do you currently
have with the people in your local business community?
Which of these relationships might be
developed to advance your business plans?
your current financial resources and liabilities, and outline
potential future resources. If you haven’t
done so already, outline your current financial assets and
liabilities on paper. Determine what assets you can use
to develop your business, such as savings, investments,
or credit. Also brainstorm to develop a list of untapped
financial resources to which you may have access, such as
grants, low interest loans for rural or small business development,
or investment by friends, family, or customers.
When you have clarified your vision, interests,
and resources, you can more easily identify the strategies
that will most effectively develop your direct marketing
Keys to Direct Marketing
Successful direct marketing is based entirely on the quality
of the relationship you develop with your customer. Because
direct marketing removes all middlemen, such as processors,
packagers, and other marketers, from a farm product’s
“chain of custody”, good direct marketers are
able to focus their energies on meeting the needs of their
Positive, interactive customer relationships
are fostered through the following steps:
your target customers. Decide what customers
you would most like to serve. For example, would you prefer
to develop relationships with residents of your community,
or with restauranteurs and market owners in the surrounding
area? Think creatively and “look outside the box”
for possible customers that others may not have found. (For
in-depth guidance on market research, check the “Resources”
section at the end of this fact sheet.)
your customers’ needs. Be curious!
Ask questions and learn everything you can about your customers’
lifestyles, ages, incomes, interests, shopping habits, and
food preferences. Also visit other direct marketing venues,
such as those listed previously, and ask what their customers
want. By finding out what your competition offers, you can
look for ways to improve their product and services, or
identify an unfilled niche.
your customers’ needs determine what you produce.
With the above information, you can choose the types of
produce and farm products that best fulfill your customers’
needs and desires. (This approach differs from standard
farm marketing “strategies” in which the farmer
chooses what he wants to grow and then tries to find a customer
for his product.) Toward this end, some successful direct
marketers emphasize the following points:
Grow “people food” - You can
make much greater profit from growing human consumable
foods than from commodities for processing, livestock
feed, or export.
Grow a diverse mix of crops - The more
types of produce you offer, the more people will come
to you, and the more they’ll buy. As you select
crops, include a few high-value specialty crops that people
will go out of their way to find. Also choose varieties
that excel in flavor.
Offer other products, too, if you can
- Value-added products, such as preserves, flowers, free-range
chicken and meat, or dairy products (produced by you or
a cooperating farmer) will make the allure of your business
even greater, since customers appreciate one-stop shopping.
on quality. Let one simple rule guide your
work: if you wouldn’t buy it, then don’t sell
it. When you offer only the best produce and products, your
customers will appreciate your efforts and keep coming back.
They’ll also be more willing to pay the price you
ask without question. Toward this end, be sure to invest
time in post-harvest handling because proper washing, cooling,
packaging, and storage are essential to present the best
a price-setter, not a price-taker. Make
a clear, informed decision on how you will set your prices,
and then stick to it! Be sure to set a price that’s
fair to you and the quality of your product. (For example,
take the top supermarket price for an item and add 5% or
more. This price is often easy to get if your product is
more fresh, beautiful, and delicious than the supermarket’s
your business and products effectively.
Determine what unique attributes put your farm and products
a notch above the rest. Then be sure to announce those qualities
“loudly” and repeatedly through every promotional
venue you can imagine. Think creatively! Look everywhere
for promotional opportunities, such as good signage around
your operation, fliers and brochures, product placement
at another business, or even a web site. (Be careful when
advertising in traditional print publications because the
return can be disappointingly low for the money spent.)
prepared for your customers’ needs to change.
Your customers’ needs will change over time. Therefore,
you will need to be flexible in the development of your
market plans. The most successful direct marketers will
tell you that their customers are “moving targets”,
and that their direct marketing “success” is
measured differently every year.