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The Fourth Season-Time to Learn

by Jane Eckert

Most farmers think in terms of three seasons.   Spring is when the ground thaws, and we start the year with planning, planting, and repairing.  The summer season is the continuous loop from the field to the market, harvest fruits and vegetables and delivering them safely to eager consumers.  And of course in the fall, we are still harvesting, but many farms add the agritourism aspects of apple picking, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and fall festivals.  The fourth season arrives at last.

What is the fourth season for you?  I know those who would just as soon we name this the hibernation season.  An exhausted farmer wants to finally sit down at the dinner table and inhale a huge meal, and then crawl into a cave and do nothing till spring.  I jest.  But if you are feeling that tired, and some falls are more like that than others, I would suggest that what you need is a good dose of “The learning season.”

You don’t expect your plants to continue producing year round.  They need a time to rest, draw in nutrients, and send down a better root system.  A successful farm family is the same way.  We need time to recharge our batteries, and I’ve always felt that a good mix of winter meetings, bus tours, and travel should be self-prescribed every winter.  This combination of “daily supplements” is sure to restore both mind and soul, networking with friends, learning about new products and technologies, and picking up ideas to keep happy customers coming back for more.

I am sure you are aware of several good winter meetings and bus tours, and already have them on your “Learning Season” calendar.  If not, I encourage you to do so.  The third part of this prescription is travel, because I think it’s important for us to see how folks in an entirely different environment grow and sell their products. 

What if you customers came every day or other day, instead of every week or two?  What if customers expected you to also sell beef or lamb, and to provide their regular bakery items?  These are all growing trends we are seeing in North America, so this year, our annual Eckert Agritour is off to jolly old England to help gain additional perspective on what may be tomorrow’s market in the U.S. and Canada.  (If you hadn’t heard, on April 13-22, as the “learning season” transitions into spring, I will be leading a tour of 12 of the farms, markets and wineries of England.)

When we return from England, I will be writing more about what we learned there.  The markets we will see in England do a particularly good job with quality product displays that focus on fresh and homegrown.  The consumers in England and across Europe tend to shop more frequently for their food, and may often go daily to pick up their fresh products. The focus on “buy local,” “eat fresh” and “made on the farm” is a consistent theme that we will be seeing and hearing with all of our stops. We will be able to learn first-hand how they market their farm grown products and regional foods to distinguish themselves from the supermarkets.

The England farm shoppes, as they are called, feature displays of fresh cheeses, homemade sausages, fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and bakery products that are large, colorful and very visually appealing. Many of the farms and shops we’ll visit also feature a large local, fresh meats selection, sold by their own butchery staff. We will also get to see some outstanding farm bakeries that concentrate on scratch baking with recipes handed down from generations. We will have time to meet the farm owners and to learn about their paths to success.

Here are some specific examples of our learning season agritour. 

At Farrington’s Farm Shop & Café, we will see over 50 British and continental cheeses in their deli department as well as gourmet sausages and pates made by their own butchers.  We will sample flavored oils where the customer can fill their own container and purchase the amount they desire.  We will visit their award winning kitchen that creates salads, soups, ready meal quiches, biscuits and mouth watering desserts.

Operating since 1871, Garson’s Farm Shop & Garden Center is a multi-enterprise farm, pick your own and retail business with multiple locations. They made the transition from wholesaler to a major pick your operation with over 100 acres of fruits, vegetables and flowers. We’ll learn how their Kitchen Garden Club incentive program for multiple visit pickers has helped them to gain more repeat business.

For those wanting to learn more about what it takes to offer cooking classes on the farm, the Newlyns Farmshop Cookery School will show us a demonstration kitchen and state of the art  classroom. They offer a full year round schedule with professional staff.

This agritour is not just about farm markets but also will include Denbies Vineyard, the largest in England; Laverstoke Park, a recognized organic farm; plus a couple of outstanding large farmers markets.  There will also be several premier agri-entertainment destinations.

For those wanting to see some thrilling attractions, you won’t want to miss The BIG Sheep ultimate high rope course, outdoor combat games, mountain boarding, duck trials and more. They also feature a live animal show with sheep walking on stage as their name is announced to music.  Animal shows are quite popular in England and The BIG Sheep farm is a definite must-see stop.

Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park is open 317 days of the year, specializing in outdoor and indoor entertainment for children age eight and under.   In order to encourage multiple visits during the year, they offer season passes and special birthday party packages.

We will also be visiting Tulley Farm which has been voted the UKs #1 Top Halloween attraction every year since 2008. Their Spooktacular Park features a boo barn, circus maze, spooky trail and the horrid hayride by day.  At night, Tulley’s transforms into the Shocktoberfest Scream Park with six featured haunted attractions. They also have a farm shop, pick your own and farmhouse tea room.

We will be writing about all these adventures in the months to come, but of course I want to offer you an invitation to join us on the tour, and make your “fourth season” the very best it can be.  The ten day tour, April 13-22, 2012, includes air fare from our East coast departure city, all overnight accommodations, most meals, sightseeing in London and other recognized tourism stops.

For more tour details, contact Jane Eckert by phone 314-862-6288 or go online to www.eckertagrimarketing.com

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.