Cooperatives and urban farms are typically smaller organizations with strong missions, limited resources, and a whole lot of heart. And whether they sell to distributors or consumers, they share a common, powerful goal of providing people with fresh, healthy, local products. 

Marketing might seem like an impossible endeavor when you have a small staff and a busy calendar. Most of the time, farm efforts are focused on production efficiency rather than advertising or promotion. We’re here to say: don’t bite off more than you can chew, but start smart! There are marketing strategies for small but mighty farms to enact simple changes that will make a big difference to your audience.

How do you market a CSA?

CSAs (community-supported agriculture) are a popular program for small farms. They form a mutually beneficial relationship between a farm and the consumer, where the consumer pays for a “share,” and then receives fresh, local produce from the farm on a regular basis. However, many CSAs struggle to maintain a consistent customer base. This is where marketing and storytelling come into play, to strengthen your brand and attract a loyal customer base.

Creating an agritourism business plan

Strengthen your relationships with your customers by adding agritourism to your operation. Agritourism isn’t a fit for every farm, but this rising trend is worth exploring. One of the big benefits of agritourism is the sustainability of your farm and its future by providing job opportunities and increasing the income of local residents (data shows this is especially true for women). Agritourism can also improve the environment, enrich the local culture, and enhance the quality of life for both farmers and consumers.

Agritourism activities can consist of farm tours, housing animals for members and their kids to pet, on-site camping spots, u-pick activities and more. These activities engage people, get them on the farm, and really foster the feeling of community and connection to your farm. Just don’t forget to call your insurance agent to be sure your liabilities and risk are managed!

How do I brand my farm business?

Do your consumers recognize your brand on sight? Whether your farm sells to distributors, on-site at farmers markets, or directly to consumers at a farm stand on your farm or online, clear and recognizable branding can be a huge asset. 

For example, at the farmers market, your farm may not always be set up at the same booth location every time. Or your presence at the farmers market may be an additional location for you. A repeat customer will start to make the connection for identifying your farm in multiple areas when you hang clear signs with your logo that stands out. 

Remember that consumers buy with taste in mind. Consider handing out free samples, or even creating labeled take-home bags to maintain that recognition for a longer period of time. 

Building brand recognition is connected to building loyal customers. Be discovered and loved for what makes you unique and amplify that to continue building discoverability.  

Another step toward building a loyal and consistent customer base is through incentives. Help your customer remember you by creating some additional perks during your off-season. Maybe this includes deals and discounts, allowing them to pay for next season’s CSA early for a special offer. Members may also be encouraged to refer other members through a referral program. Offer a discount for your current subscribers, past subscribers, and new members in exchange for this helpful word-of-mouth advertisement. Ensure that during sign-up, you capture emails to communicate when these offers become available along with other news about your farm operation.

What is a farmer story?

No two farms are the same. And while you might know your origin story by heart, your consumers are still curious! You can stand out by sharing your family’s story and explaining how you care for your products (Is it organic? Are your chickens free range? Is your farm on a historic site?). Once you begin to own and refine your story, you’ll be surprised by how your customers begin to understand and appreciate its meaning. 

Telling your story isn’t just about impressing customers. Local journalists and news outlets are constantly looking for the next great, compelling story. Consider compiling a list of news contacts to have on hand. Build relationships with the media so you can understand what they’re looking for in a story. This understanding can help you pitch a story when exciting news or developments occur on the farm.

Collaborative farming

Have you ever heard the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats?” This can be true for you in your community, and you may even find opportunities for collaboration where you least expect.

Perhaps you offer customers a bundle of fresh produce from your farm, with fresh flowers from another! Or, if your farm offers fresh meat, you might combine forces with a nearby farm that sells seasoning herbs and combine the two for an easy package deal. 

Agritourism classes can become collaborative opportunities as well! Think of your local florist, yoga instructor, or even librarian. How fun would it be to host a floral arranging class, yoga session, or storybook hour on the farm?

If you’d prefer to connect with customers elsewhere, your farm could arrange for CSA pick-up at a local business in town, or even at your local chamber of commerce. Your local Chamber may also be able to help your farm with some extra support like opportunities for networking and further marketing opportunities.

How to increase customer loyalty in your ag business

Let’s say you have your brand’s story memorized, you’re engaging with your consumers, and your signage is absolutely ideal. Why continue to strive towards better marketing and connection in the community? Because you want your customers to be more than just customers. You want to build Brand Evangelists – individuals who love your brand so much that they go out of their way to promote you on their own.

The better we know our consumers, the better we can serve them. And the more we connect, the more we build trust. 

We recommend annual surveys to tell customers, “we are listening.” Ask them what’s working for them, and what isn’t. Ask what type of products they’d like to see more, or less of. And, ask what’s most important to them: affordability, variety, or quality?

Running the day-to-day operations and marketing of a small farm, urban farm or cooperative can be quite challenging on its own, but implementing strategic marketing tactics can have an impressive impact. By offering CSAs, exploring agritourism opportunities, building brand recognition, telling your unique brand story, and collaborating with your community, you are taking positive steps toward growing your business and maintaining a steady customer base of super loyal customers.  Or better yet, dedicated brand evangelists.

Have questions? We know and love food, beverage, and agriculture marketing and brand building! If you’re thinking about your marketing strategies, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll help you get it done!