New River Sustainable Agriculture Marketing Plan

Final Report for CS03-018

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2003: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $70,000.00
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Hollis Wild
Appalachian Trees
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

In summary, the New River Marketing Initiative was a great success. While we look forward to the time when the website has been functional for a few months and we can specifically judge the monetary success of this site, we feel confident that this project will be a future success and will aid in the sustainability of those small businesses and small farms in the region. In the very least, the pilot producers have learned where to find the help that they need either with business or marketing; how to market their products better; and where they can sell their products at a price that will sustain their business.
All tasks to be performed by NRCP have been completed except the publishing of 4 quarterly newsletters – this will be continued into next year when we can more actively market the website and products; and, tracking of producer profits through the website. Once the website is operational and transactional this tracking will be priority. Those tasks completed include:
• Conducted a community demonstration and education project of an agricultural enterprise which can supplement or replace tobacco income. This demonstration included the development of a regional brand identity and marketing initiative.
• Selected a group of 13 producers to participate in the first year pilot phase of the project. Included in this group were farmers receiving Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund Producer grants in 2003 and farmers replacing lost tobacco income.
• Conducted 3 site visits to other regional marketing initiatives.
• Conducted an inventory of area producers.
• Developed a website, advertisements, brochures, and flyers and will unveil the educational and transactional website by January 2004.
• Developed individual logo, card, brochure, and business plans for producers.
• Published a newsletter for area outreach and participated in numerous informational presentations.

Attached you will find samples of the website, labels, sample producer marketing products, and photos. The CD that is included shows the photos of products to be available online and descriptions. Each of these items must be encoded by the database manager before it can be shown on the website…you can imagine the time this takes.
We appreciate the funding made available to us from SARE. We look forward to continuing work with SARE through technical assistance and hope to work with you again in the near future.

Introduction

The over-arching goal of this project was to aid in keeping agricultural land in active agricultural production and to enhance the development of small businesses rather than large industrial development. The agricultural producers who are featured on our transactional website are all expanding and improving their businesses by becoming familiar with business plans, marketing plans, and partnerships with various resources. By giving these owners the tools to make their business a success, we are aiding in the creating of sustainable businesses and farms which will preserve the unique natural, historic, and cultural resources of the New River basin.

Project Objectives:

The objective and performance targets for this 2004 grant included:

• Develop New River basin brand identity
• Develop logo for new brand
• Conduct a comprehensive inventory of area producers
• Select 8-12 producers for first year pilot phase
• Develop web page, advertisements, brochures, flyers
• Unveil transactional and educational website
• Publish 4 quarterly newsletters for area outreach
• Participate in 8 informational presentations in the region
• Develop business model for sustaining and growing of regional cooperative marketing
• Develop individual logo, card, brochure, business plans
• Targeted advertising
• Conduct site visits to identified national projects

Research

Materials and methods:

We expected that this project would enhance the farm profitability in a region that had recently lost 41% of its tobacco farms and 87% of its dairy farms. The manner with which we evaluate the success included tangible and intangible deliverables. These deliverables were and continue to be monitored on a quarterly basis. These include:
Short-term tangibles:
• Implementing a transactional website featuring pilot study producers and products
• Creating and implementing an overall business plan for the marketing initiative thereby ensuring the eventual self-sustaining nature of this project while creating the most benefit for the producer.
• Expanding the marketing goals of the projects through purchase of additional marketing avenues: website search engine placement and magazine ads
• Increasing the number of entrepreneurial businesses located in this region using ag-based products
• Increasing sales of value-added products in the region
• Encouraging and supporting directly, through small producer grants, on-site farm activities
• Providing a legal, certified location for local producers and entrepreneurs to process their value-added food products
• Creating and implementing an overall business plan for the value-added kitchen to ensure its long-term sustainability.
Long-term tangibles:
• Document increased sales revenue due to project outcomes
• Document jobs created or increased on-farm activities due to project outcomes
• Document the number of entrepreneurial business start-ups attributed to these activities
Intangibles:
• An increase in the overall entrepreneurial spirit of the region through the building of knowledge, infrastructure, and partnerships

Research results and discussion:

This projects has shown tremendous outcomes and impacts particularly human impacts.
As a part of this project (but not with the use of SARE funds), the New River Marketing Initiative was able to provide small mini-grants.
The 13 producers continue to find creative and important ways to use their $1,000 grants…One producer has used his grant to fund a training opportunity with a Master Woodcarver (the cost would have been prohibitive had the grant not been available). Others are using the grant to fund marketing materials, business cards, brochures, and supplies.
Five of the chosen producers have also been selected to display and sell their products at the Alleghany Arts Center in Sparta thereby increasing their sales and visibility.
One of the producers, Hal Gimlin, who produces grass-fed beef, is being helped tremendously by this project. Previously, Hal was not able to certify his beef in order to ship across state lines. This project will help him receive certification and labeling in order to increase his sales. His products, once certified, will be available for purchase on our website.
While working on this project, the Blue Ridge BDC discovered the previously unidentified need for a database manager for the region. A person has been hired who will be dedicated to managing this website and working on other websites in the region.

We continue to be surprised at the enthusiasm being generated in phone calls and office visits to talk to us about the next round of producer applications. The opportunity to enhance the secondary or primary incomes of producers in the region has proven successful and continues to expand. As mentioned above, through our partnership with the Blue Ridge Business Development Center, we are already bringing work to the small businesses owned by our web developer (who has hired a new person) and graphics designer. As mentioned in previous reports, we have partnered with the Alleghany Arts Council in the opening of the Alleghany Arts Center. Five of our producers are represented there, and sales at the center – opened in May of this year- have now exceeded $20,000. We are working closely with the Todd Mercantile in Ashe County to begin selling the New River Arts and Crafts products.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We continue to be surprised at the enthusiasm being generated in phone calls and office visits to talk to us about the next round of producer applications. The opportunity to enhance the secondary or primary incomes of producers in the region has proven successful and continues to expand. As mentioned above, through our partnership with the Blue Ridge Business Development Center, we are already bringing work to the small businesses owned by our web developer (who has hired a new person) and graphics designer. As mentioned in previous reports, we have partnered with the Alleghany Arts Council in the opening of the Alleghany Arts Center. Five of our producers are represented there, and sales at the center – opened in May of this year- have now exceeded $20,000. We are working closely with the Todd Mercantile in Ashe County to begin selling the New River Arts and Crafts products.
Attached you will find samples of the website, labels, sample producer marketing products, and photos. The CD that is included shows the photos of products to be available online and descriptions.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

• The New River Basin brand identity has now been chosen: “New River Arts and Crafts…Arts, Crafts, Food and Music”.
• The logo for the new brand has been approved by the full committee and is prominently displayed on the website (www.newrivercrafts.com).
• Labels displaying the new brand are now being designed and will be made as needed using equipment at the Blue Ridge Business Development Center (see attached).
• The website design is completed and is anticipated to “go live” by the end of the year. Delays have been necessary as we have encountered many difficulties and challenges in creating the transactional portion of the site. The preliminary site will likely be without transaction ability for the first few months. (see attached)
• A comprehensive inventory of area producers has been completed and will be published in the coming months (hopefully by the end of December). The listing contains over 3,000 producers/artisans. The Ashe County Arts Center is aiding with the development of this listing.
• The 13 producers and larger marketing advisory committee (50 participants) continue to meet monthly or as needed. (see attached)
• Photos of each of the products to be featured on the website have been gathered along with descriptions of each product and producer. In addition, stories about the producer and farm history are being written in order to include on the website. Almost 200 products will be featured on the website. (see attached)
• Targeted advertising and brochures continue to be developed and will be used to promote the website. Also, we will be purchasing web placements in the coming months to ensure a high number of “hits”.
• Michael Sligh with RAFI has been hired to perform Technical Assistance for this project. Michael will spend 3-5 days developing a business and operational plan for the project for the current year and looking 3years into the future.
• All 13 producers have been offered scholarships to attend the REAL (Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning) program that will begin in the spring. In addition, the producers are offered free business plan help through the Wilkes Community College Small Business Center and are encouraged to have a business plan completed by next year. (See attached)
• The products from New River Arts and Crafts were featured on the cover page of the 8 county Angelou Economics Regional Comprehensive Economic Development Plan. (See attached).

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The 13 producers continue to find creative and important ways to use their $1,000 grants…One producer has used his grant to fund a training opportunity with a Master Woodcarver (the cost would have been prohibitive had the grant not been available). Others are using the grant to fund marketing materials, business cards, brochures, and supplies.
Five of the chosen producers have also been selected to display and sell their products at the Alleghany Arts Center in Sparta thereby increasing their sales and visibility.
One of the producers, Hal Gimlin, who produces grass-fed beef, is being helped tremendously by this project. Previously, Hal was not able to certify his beef in order to ship across state lines. This project will help him receive certification and labeling in order to increase his sales. His products, once certified, will be available for purchase on our website.
While working on this project, the Blue Ridge BDC discovered the previously unidentified need for a database manager for the region. A person has been hired who will be dedicated to managing this website and working on other websites in the region.

Future Recommendations

Problems that we foresee include website maintenance (daily and yearly) in order to keep the products fresh and available as well as keeping the website interesting and “shoppable”. I also foresee issues with adding additional producers…it is likely that what is now a 1 person operation handling the finances will have to become a contract with a larger financial institution. One challenge AND opportunity is the future goal of creating a fulfillment center here in the region which could possibly employ several persons to package and ship. We will need technical assistance with all these issues, but look forward to working on them.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.