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Unit 1: Conceptual Framework and Historical Foundations of Sustainable Agriculture

What does a local/regional food system look like? The following list describes some of the key characteristics. You'll be exploring these in more detail in Course 2 of this series (Strategic Farm/Ranch Business Planning and Marketing). Click on each item for a preview:
  • Farmers' markets
  • In 1994, there were 1,755 farmers markets operating in the U.S. In 2014, there were more than 8,200. This huge  increase represents the intense interest in buying fresh products directly from farmers. Farmers' markets can improve quality of life in communities, drawing dollars to nearby businesses and serving as a focal point for urban or suburban neighborhoods.

    Learn more:

    USDA AMS: Farmer’s Markets and Direct-to-Consumer Marketing
    Farmers' Markets: Marketing and Business Guide (ATTRA)

  • Farm stands
  • From a roadside bench with tomatoes and zucchini and a cash drop box to a more sophisticated store selling many types of produce, farm stands showcase local foods at the height of ripeness. Many farmers throughout the U.S. have found farm stands to be an easy way to attract neighbors - and profits - to their farm.

    Learn more:
    Tips for Selling at Roadside Stands (ATTRA)

  • Agri-tourism
  • Combining agriculture and entertainment has proven lucrative for many farmers and ranchers, from those on the urban edge to remote rural outposts. Producers can develop tourism-based activities to add another revenue line to their balance sheets. Examples include festivals, hayrides, petting zoos, on-farm classes and workshops, and  leasing land for hunting, fishing or horseback riding. Farmers have invented a wide variety of "entertainment farming" options.

    Learn more:
    Agritourism World
    Entertainment Farming and Agri-Tourism

  • Value-added
  • By processing their products, farmers and ranchers can increase the value of what they produce. Adding value to farm products can occur with cleaning, cooking, culturing, grinding, hulling, extracting, drying, smoking, handcrafting, spinning, weaving, labeling, packaging, distributing, and by adding information, education, or entertainment.

    Learn more:  
    Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
    Adding Value to Farm Products: An Overview

  • Direct sales to restaurants and local retailers and distributors
  • Restaurants and local or regional grocery stores are prized markets for many growers, as they and their customers are willing to pay a premium for quality and freshness. Farmers who cultivate relationships with chefs and restaurant managers can develop lasting business partnerships that invigorate profits.

    Learn more:
    Selling Directly to Restaurants and Retailers
    Selling to Restaurants (ATTRA)

  • Community supported agriculture (CSA)
  • Since the concept of community supported agriculture (CSA) premiered in the U.S. in the late 1980s, it has revolutionized thinking about how farmers and consumers can participate in a local food system based on mutual trust. CSA is an organized form of subscription marketing in which consumer-members invest in the farm by paying up-front for the harvest. In return, they receive weekly shares of the harvest all season long.

    Learn more:
    Community Supported Agriculture (ATTRA)
    Marketing Strategies for Farmers and Ranchers—Community Supported Agriculture  

  • Institutional sales/Farm-to-school
  • Recognizing the natural connection between food served at institutional cafeterias and local farmers seeking new outlets, community groups across the country are developing new initiatives to match producers and schools. These symbiotic relationships create profitable opportunities for small family farmers while improving the quality of school meals. Some farm-to-school programs incorporate agricultural courses into school curricula.

    Learn more:
    National Farm-to-School Network

  • Cooperative and collaborative wholesale/retail marketing
  • Cooperative and collaborative wholesale / retail marketing. A marketing cooperative is a business organization owned by farmers to collectively sell their products. It allows producers to collectively accomplish key steps they couldn't achieve on their own, from promoting their products to distributing them. Local and regional co-ops can establish their "brands" in the marketplace using such hooks as location (New Jersey Fresh, PlacerGrown) to growing methods (Natural Meats).

    Some groups of farmers cooperate without forming a true cooperative, but simply by pooling their products and marketing efforts.

    Pooling products and marketing efforts examples

    • Demand for the specialty sheep cheese farmers David and Cynthia Major had perfected on their Vermont farm encouraged them to bring other producers on board. The Majors taught other Vermont farmers how to milk sheep and make raw cheese, which they then tend in their cheese ripening room and market as Vermont Shepherd cheese. Working together, they increased the reach of their brand and the efficiency of their distribution.

    • Appalachian Harvest. Farmers in southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee re-tooled their operations to grow a wide range of vegetables and began to work together to sell their products to wholesale markets; about 25 farmers - many of whom used to grow tobacco - now supply three supermarket chains representing more than 100 stores.

    • PlacerGrown, a nonprofit organization in Placer County, Calif., links farmers and ranchers with potential customers, providing a venue for producers to advertise themselves and the products they produce.

  • Food hubs
  • Food hubs facilitate the aggregation, distribution and marketing of food products primarily from local or regional producers. A food hub is managed by some entity or organization with the purpose of connecting producers with diverse markets (wholesalers, retailers, processors, and consumers). There are many food hubs operating in different areas of the country. A few examples include: FoodHub (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska),  Local Food Hub (Virginia), Common Market (Pennsylvania), and Bring It Food Hub (Tennessee). Learn more:
    SARE: Local Food Topic Room (Food Hubs)
    National Good Food Network: Food Hub Center

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