It just so happens that I really love the marketing and business side of farming. Well, I love the marketing side at least. Some of the business stuff I struggle with (here's looking at you small town zoning regulations). Whether it is social media, traditional printed materials, attending events, updating my website and keeping a blog, or just randomly walking around town kissing babies, I've tried it all.
Through all of it, and in conversation with at least dozens of farms all over the country, I have found one thing that is by far the most successful strategy. It also happens to work on every single marketing platform that you might want to choose.
Honest, Open, and Transparent Farm Marketing
At Camps Road Farm we are "customer certified". Being the only show in town for pastured poultry and being one of the bigger pastured egg producers in the area we get a fair amount of attention and loads of questions. When a customer comes up and starts talking chicken we are very open about all of our management practices, as well as everything else, and it is working.
Our doors are open to the public all the time (though now establishing some more official "open hours" just because people keep interrupting my dinner with Kate and Mabel). At any given time I will get someone new on farm and I take the time to give them a tour and explain how it all happens. If they like it they usually make a purchase, at least to try it. If they don't like my practices then we have a chance for conversation as to why they don't like it.
This sort of open door policy establishes a relationship of trust between you and the customer that has a lot of value to the both of you. For you it creates a relationship where that person will most likely become a repeat customer because what you are doing is (hopefully) the best option in town. For the customer, they know you're not a slimy used-car salesman trying to pull one over on them.
Know the Facts
It is your job as a producer to know all the facts about your industry. That's a big undertaking, but it's important to be good at what you do. You may have read someone on a blog somewhere saying this or that about how food is grown, or you found someone else's marketing language that you liked and might work for you, but take the time to ask why that person is making that claim, and if indeed that claim is substantiated. Remember that anyone can say anything on the internet, and it's not always true. (Did I just invalidate myself with that last sentence? I don't think so.)
This example focuses on chickens because I love chickens, but having the facts applies to any operation.
Hormones in Chicken
Here's my semi-scientific take on hormones in chickens. Please do your own research.
Growth hormones are a protein. Your digestive enzymes break down proteins in your gut, just they way they do for other livestock. If you put growth hormones in feed then the animal will just digest it and poop it out.
To be effective you have to inject the hormones into the blood stream. Plausible if you are running a dairy and you handle each individual cow on a regular basis. Hormones are injected under the skin and are gradually absorbed in the blood stream.
Now say you have chicken house with 40,000 chickens in it. Who do you think is going out with a little syringe and injecting 40,000 chickens with hormones every day? I'm pretty sure no one. Growth hormones don't work in industrial chicken farming.
So advertising a small chicken farm model that "has no hormones" is kind of schenanigans. So don't do it. Instead focus on what you are doing that is benefitting the health and welfare of your birds.
When asked if my birds are given any hormones I typically respond with, "No, and no chicken is. But let me tell you about their life on pasture..." If the customer digs deeper then we have more conversation.
This comparative conversation brings up another good point.
Focus on Yourself
I initially started this post because of a new chicken-based product I found on the internet that is complete and utter bullsh**. I'm not going to directly reference it or link to it as I am not in the business of throwing anyone else under the bus and it would be hypocritical of me based on what I'm about to say.
Yes, there are some deplorable things that come out of our food system. Honestly, we all see it, and we hear about it a lot. If a customer has found you at a farmers' market or is coming to your farm it stands to reason that they have heard about it all already. Why bring it up?
I do not believe in building a business based on the perceived negatives of someone else's practices. Yes that can be a reason to do what you do, to provide an alternative, but there's no need to highlight what you believe to be a bad way to raise an animal or vegetable. Guess what, that person believes what they are doing it right, and who are you to judge? There's probably stuff you're doing that is pure schenanigans too.
Instead of your marketing saying "Buy our stuff because that guy is gross", focus instead on "Buy our stuff because we are awesome, and here's why..."
Right now there is a place in the market for eveyone. Organic and conventional, large and small. Who am I to say that someone else should or should not be in business? The market will decide that. Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the positive and let your customers decide whether they want to buy from you or not.