July 23, 2015
Buy Local Week is upon us! Kicking off with Governor Larry Hogan’s Buy Local Cookout on July 16, the challenge to “eat at least one thing from a local farm every day” has been lauded by farmers market organizations, civic groups, and locavores who view eating locally as a way to protect the environment, boost local businesses, and build community. After all, the typical American meal travels an astounding 1,500 miles before it winds up on someone’s plate.
With an estimated 12,000 farms throughout Maryland, and over 1,100 of those selling locally, the Buy Local campaign is a boon to thousands of farming families throughout the state.
So, how do local-loving consumers find farms near them and how do farms reach their audience?
It’s a good question, and one that I recently investigated while updating farm information for CLF’s Maryland Food System Map Project’s “Farms Selling Locally” list. Locating accurate information about each farm involved a juggling act between a multitude of individual farmer-run sites, county lists, and database websites like Maryland’s Best or Local Harvest.
The lack of widespread online marketing initiatives by local family farms is easy to understand when we take into account that, according to the EPA, only 45 percent of farmers classify farming as their main occupation, indicating that they work another job in addition to farming. Maryland farmers, as of 2012, had an average net income of $38,920 per year. With the majority of farmers spending some of their time in a non-farm industry, combined with limited resources in terms of time and money, it’s easy to see how marketing falls to the bottom of the to-do list.
The world of marketing has also changed dramatically with the advent of social media and the need for an online presence. While maintaining a website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram might be ideal for businesses operating on a shoestring marketing budget, they can also be a time suck for a busy farmer trying to build a digital following while also managing crops and harvesting out in the field.
Despite the difficulties that marketing can present, it’s very necessary if farmers want to tap into local markets. Luckily, there are tons of resources available to farmers to market more efficiently.
- Use extension services such as the Agriculture Marketing Program, an extension program at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center, which helps farmers develop business and marketing plans with professional assistance.
- Market together! A great example of this is the 2015 Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail, which encourages visitors at eight local dairy farms to try locally made ice cream and get their “passport” stamped.
- The Growing Farms Podcast covers marketing topics ranging from successful online marketing to introducing new farm products.
- There are plenty of online resources that are free, including Marketing Local Food from the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, information from the North American Farm Direct Marketing Association, and An Overview of Small Farm Direct Marketing, from the University of Florida’s extension program, with a great breakdown of direct marketing strategies for small farms.