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Proud to Be A Farmer;
Locally Grown-Let Your Light Shine
By Jane Eckert
We all tend to take for granted our farming profession and mission – “growing healthy food to feed the world.” I think we are also letting our community forget that they can buy tasty, nutritious food grown right here at home—doing a favor for themselves, and their friendly local farmer.
Many of us grew up on the farm and so did our grandparents and even their parents. It’s pretty cut and dried, “this is what our family does.” It’s our heritage, and we are rightfully proud of it. But it is so natural for us that we typically discount the value of our contributions. Farming—betting on the weather, the insects, and the market—includes some risks and sacrifices that we’ve just quietly accepted, not to mention the knowledge and intuitive abilities we have developed to put fresh, quality food on the table for our neighbors and our communities.
It’s my understanding that a lot of non-farming people go to work each day—not because they love what they do—but to—figuratively speaking—“put food on the table.”
But we do “put food on the table”, and we love it. I am always amazed, at every one of my private farm consultations, how much the small farmer puts their heart, their soul and their entire daily existence into what they do. We don’t just punch a time clock, we hide the watch! A farmer never truly leaves the job. We are always on-call, watching the weather, going out to get the animal that escaped from the pen, pulling out the tractor that got stuck in the wet field or setting up the irrigation so it can start at day break. This spring has been a particularly difficult one for everyone in North America, yet I didn’t hear the farmers complain, (oh, maybe a few) they just waited for the rain to stop and the sun to shine.
I recently was honored with an invitation to a private breakfast with TomVilsack, our United States Secretary of Agriculture, and he shared some of the important statistics of farm production today. Out of the 2.0 million plus farmers in this country, he said that 1.2 million were considered small, residential farmers who claim farming as a sideline occupation. These folks work off the farm for their primary income and, in fact, he said, their farms showed no profits.
The remaining 800,000 farmers were the rest of us. The mid-sized and large farms who are producing the food we eat here and that gets sent out of this country to feed the rest of world. In view of the 300 million plus people is this country, it is time that we let them fully appreciate what just 800,000 of us are doing to benefit their lives and their good health.
Fortunately, the media and food advocates are now helping us to let everyone know the value of terms such as local foods, homegrown foods, slow food, sustainable farms, organic practices, locavores and more.
But here’s the kicker: the big supermarkets are doing a better job of singing our song than we are. To hear them tell it, they’ve got all the “locally grown” and “organic” foods right there—so why go to a farm?
I believe that in many areas of North America, the supermarkets and super stores are doing a better job than local farms in telling our story and capturing the food dollars from the masses. From a marketing point of view here in the states, I watch customers look at the new “Country of Origin (COOL)” labels, and it appears to satisfy the shopper that they are buying products grown in the U.S. That’s reinforced with more displays and signs in the store indicating that they sell homegrown products during the harvest season
The signs tell them they are “buying locally”, but is that really helping you and your farm market to sell your crops?
It’s time as farm marketers that we get smarter to compete with the supermarkets and tell our story. As the farmer and the local food producer you have the ability to make the strongest connection with your local consumer—but you have to take the time to make sure your story is being told and understood. You can do this by communicating through your on farm signage, your advertisements, your website, your e-newsletters, your billboards, your Facebook page, in store product sampling and every other one of your marketing tools.
Please, don’t take for granted that the customer knows that you picked your sweet corn this morning and can be eaten for dinner less than 12 hours from being harvested. Can the supermarkets tell that story?
Be proud of the fact that your customers can pick their own fruits and vegetables at the peak of quality. Can the supermarkets open their back doors to let the customers go to the fields and ride a wagon to go picking?
Now, the supermarkets are even putting photo’s of the farmers amidst their local homegrown displays and television advertising. But where is that farmer if the customer wants to ask how this was grown, how does he keep off pests, or how long ago was this picked? Be proud you’re a farmer and tell your story.
The USDA started a program in 2009 called Know your Farmer Know Your Food. The tagline for the message is “ Every Family Needs a Farmer. Do you know yours?” The website address is www.usda.gov/knowyourfarmer. Projects like this can help, but the rest is up to you. The point is that we are getting media and government support for our contributions. Yet, we, as farmers need to become more marketing savvy as to how we can include these messages into our customer communications.In the U.S., we are soon going to be celebrating July 4th, Independence Day, an opportune time to remind your neighbors that you are engaged in one of the most honorable professions in the world. You grow and sell nutritious, delicious food right there in the local community. It’s time to stop hiding our light under a bushel—put the word out that locally grown means right here, right now—and let your light shine.
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.