More Tennessee farms are inviting the public onto the farm to purchase products. “Selling products directly from the farm can be an effective marketing strategy,” said Megan Leffew, a marketing specialist with the University of Tennessee Extension Center for Profitable Agriculture. However, she cautioned that such efforts should be considered within the whole farm context.
“For farms near population centers, on-farm retail can eliminate the cost of getting farm goods to the consumer. The customer incurs the transportation time and fuel needed,” said Leffew. “Locating a retail market at the farm can also provide more flexibility in products offered,” she added. For example, different sizes of fruits and vegetables could be sold at the farm.
Leffew and co-author Matthew D. Ernst, detail many of the advantages and challenges of selling directly from the farm in the UT Extension publication “Choosing Direct Marketing Channels for Agricultural Products” (publication number PB 1796). It’s a good source of information for folks who might be considering new directions for their farms as this season winds down and they begin planning for next year, said Leffew.
One advantage to direct marketing is that customers value the experience of visiting the farm. “Serving fresh food and offering on-farm activities for visitors can help make the visit positive and memorable,” said Leffew. However, impressions count. The cleanliness of facilities and the freshness of the product go a long way in making customers want to return, she added.
Offering products right from the farm also caters to those seeking locally-grown foods, which are maintaining popularity with consumers. “Selling products from the farm where they’re grown provides instant “locally-grown” credibility,” said Leffew. Farms can sell items produced elsewhere, but such products should be clearly labelled to prevent confusion.
There are also challenges to marketing at the farm. “Dealing with customers face-to-face may be daunting for some farm owners,” said Leffew. Visitors to the farm might arrive outside the farm store’s retail hours or wander onto parts of the farm not open to customers. Clear signage and communication, including social media like Facebook pages can help.
Among the biggest challenges to direct marketing is location, especially for farms located far off the beaten path. “Some less-than-perfect locations have been overcome by effectively marketing the experience of shopping at the farm, incorporating additional on-farm activities like hikes and hayrides. Such ‘destination marketing’ can work for on-farm retail, especially for farms with unique products or settings, such as wineries,” said Leffew. “But remember, assuming ‘if you build it, they will come’ is a risky way to start a business.”
“Choosing Direct Marketing Channels for Agricultural Products” is available for free download online at the UT Extension publication website: utextension.tennessee.edu/publications. Enter the title of publication into the search engine. You may also visit your local county UT Extension Office to obtain a copy.
The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.
Photos courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.