Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: Training for Trainers Project

Final Report for ENE02-073

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $53,813.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Federal Funds: $55,376.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $7,754.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Maria van Hekken
The Food Trust
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

“This experience inspired me to look for different marketing venues when helping the participants in our project.” – Direct Marketing Participant, 2003.

The Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: Training for Trainers Project was a two-year initiative to increase knowledge about, skills in, and resources for off-farm direct marketing. Over the course of the two-year project, a total of 127 agricultural professionals working with farmers and their communities in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions were exposed to new ways to successfully market farm products. Project collaborators include The Food Trust, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of New Jersey, University of Maryland, Delaware State University, and Penn State Cooperative Extension. Training was offered as a pre-conference event and within the program of the annual Future of our Food and Farms Summit, hosted by The Food Trust in 2002 and 2003.

Each training had a specific focus: Year 1 emphasized farmers’ markets and tailgate markets. Year 2 focused on restaurant and institutional sales, mail-order marketing, on-line sales and niche markets. In both years, many of the presenters were practitioners -- farmers who have achieved success through direct marketing and have been able to translate their experience into a skill set for training participants. Presenters also included brokers who have successfully developed markets for locally grown produce with institutions, restaurants, and supermarkets, as well as through farmers’ markets.

In addition to the training itself, participants received a copy of the “Direct Marketing Training for Farm Profitability” manual; key materials were converted into an on-line resource and made available on the agric-marketing pages of www.agri-culturehealth.com a Mid-Atlantic Food Systems educational website, The Food Trust website www.TheFoodTrust.org; and the Mid-Atlantic Food & Farm Coalition website www.foodfarm.org. In addition to training and the “Direct Marketing Training for Farm Profitability” manual, the project significantly widened the network of resources and contacts available to Cooperative Extension agents, State Department of Agriculture staff, farm market managers, agricultural professionals, and other participants who can support off-farm direct marketing initiatives.

Performance Target:
OBJECTIVES & PERFORMANCE TARGETS

Performance targets seek changes in participants’ knowledge, behavior, and attitude related to direct marketing. Specifically, of the participants attending the training:

  • 75 percent will be able to describe new tools, techniques, and strategies for successful direct marketing, including marketing in underserved areas.

    40 percent will work with farmers and others in their respective regions to create and strengthen an existing direct marketing venture (e.g., farmers’ market, tailgate market, etc.), using a tool, technique, or strategy learned at the training.

    75 percent will be accessing new resources and networks identified at the training in their work within three months after the training.

Introduction:

The Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: Training for Trainers Project collaborators -- The Food Trust, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of New Jersey, University of Maryland, Delaware State University, Penn State Cooperative Extension -- conducted a two-year project to provide training in direct marketing and wholesale produce auctions for increased farm profitability to Extension agents, as well as representatives of state departments of agriculture and USDA.

The objective of the training was intended to increase knowledge about, skills in, and resources for off-farm direct marketing for these agricultural professionals who work with farmers and their communities in the Mid-Atlantic region. The training was offered as a pre-conference event and within the program of the annual Future of Our Food and Farms Summit, hosted by The Food Trust in 2002 and 2003. Emphasizing farmers’ markets, tailgate markets and wholesale produce auctions the first year; the Project focused on restaurant and institutional sales, mail-order marketing, on-line sales, and niche markets in Year 2.

Project training used a variety of methodologies – presentations, focused discussions, structured networking activities, video presentations, and more. Leading the training were farmers, farmers’ market managers, successful farm-direct marketers, and Extension educators. Training content addressed issues of working with farmers and communities; marketing sustainably produced, organic, and ethnic foods; and other subjects important to farm profitability – the bottom line for sustaining agriculture in the region. The training built on Summit attendance by Extension agents and others in the target audience in previous years (53 in 1999 and 57 in 2000) to provide tools, techniques, and strategies of direct marketing and wholesale produce auctions to 127 Extension agents and other agricultural professionals over two years.

In addition to the training itself, participants received materials presented during the training and the “Direct Marketing Training for Farm Profitability” manual on direct marketing that was converted into an on-line resource and made available on the agri-marketing pages of the agri-culturehealth.com, a Mid-Atlantic Food Systems educational web site, www.TheFoodTrust.org, and www.foodfarm.org.

Finally, the Project widened the network of resources and contacts available to Extension agents and other participants that support off-farm direct marketing initiatives. The effectiveness of this training was documented by written evaluations and telephone interviews with a sample of participants after both training events, and following the distribution of the manual. Results of the evaluation are synthesized in this report.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • John Berry
  • Robert Halman
  • Virginia Hubbs
  • Duane Perry
  • Stephan Tubene
  • Rick VanVranken

Educational Approach

Educational approach:
PROJECT DESIGN

The Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: Training for Trainers Project was designed to address issues of importance to participants; involve knowledgeable and stimulating presenters; offer multiple, informed perspectives reflecting the diverse situations of participants; and create a learning environment that invites questions and dialogue, respects difference in perspective and learning styles, and takes advantage of all the knowledge in the room.

Administratively, the training also involved effective, targeted outreach to potential participants, as well as careful selection of and coordination among collaborators and with presenters on the learning objectives for their workshop, as well as how they intend to achieve them.

Further, the training included a rigorous evaluation component that assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the training for program adaptation and revision.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

ACCOMPLISHMENTS & MILESTONES

Training Planning: A steering committee composed of representatives of collaborating institutions 1) designed the program; 2) advertised the training and scholarships; 3) organized logistics; 4) implemented the training, including providing a wide array of topics and presenters, as well as resource materials for display and distribution; 5) put systems in place for training evaluation; and 6) distributed and promoted the direct marketing manual.

Advertising and Promotion: The training was advertised extensively among extension networks in the region (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania); state departments of agriculture and economic development; colleges and universities with agriculture programs; farm marketing organizations and firms; growers’ associations; and local organic, sustainable food system, and nonprofit organizations, primarily at the local and state levels. Information about the training, including logistical information, topics covered and keynote speakers, was also posted on the Future of our Food and Farms Summit web site at www.foodfarm.org and was linked widely to other sites. In addition, press releases were disseminated announcing the training and the availability of scholarships.

Training Delivery: In year 2, the training was held December 4, at the Wyndham Wilmington Hotel in Wilmington Delaware. Eighty-two (82) participants attended. The training program was composed of six sessions, supplemented by the keynote lunch presentation of the larger summit. Session presenters discussed direct marketing to restaurants, institutions, specialty stores, and supermarkets; strategies for operating a successful farmers’ market; building farm-to-city connections; selling locally grown meats and other products to extend the marketing/income-producing season; keys to small-farm financial success; cost-effective strategies to promote farmers’ markets; the economics of consolidating and trucking small-farm produce; selling farm products at a variety of retail and mail-order businesses; and more.

Publishing and Promoting the Direct Marketing Training for Farm Profitability Manual: The Food Trust published the proceedings from the two consecutive years of the Direct Marketing Training in an easy to read, attractive manual. The Direct Marketing Training for Farm Profitability manual contains a wealth of information from direct marketing experts who spoke at the training held during the 2002 and 2003 Future of Our Food and Farms Summits. Encompassing a rich array of ideas and lessons learned by farmers, Cooperative Extension, state department of agriculture representatives, fresh-produce brokers, farmers’ market managers, small-farm researchers, and others, it is an excellent resource that readers will turn to again and again for concrete, practical ideas to use in direct marketing training throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

OUTCOMES

Evaluation findings obtained at the end of the two-year period reveal that more than 80 percent of participants believed the Direct Marketing Training increased their knowledge about new direct marketing tools, techniques, and strategies. Furthermore, the majority found that the project increased interest in direct marketing as a tool for increased farm profitability and served as an opportunity to make new contacts with other individuals or organizations in related work. Perhaps most exciting is the finding that three-quarters of participants intend to use the new tools and resources obtained at the training to work with farmers and others in the region to create and strengthen direct marketing ventures.

Examples of techniques learned included “importance of market presentation and farmer-customer interaction;” “using radio and print ads to promote farmers’ markets;” and “how to sell the ‘squeal’ – sell vegetable flowers, garlic roots, farm ambience, family values.”

Overall, participants loved the networking opportunities and quality of content offered at the training sessions. Through the final evaluation, participants had the opportunity to comment on their experience, noting likes and dislikes. Dislikes were sparse and most often centered about the topics of hotel climate, the snowstorm, not being able to attend all sessions, or food preferences.

Post Training Evaluation

In order to better understand the long-term impact of the training, as described in targets 2 and 3, a survey with Direct Marketing Training participants was undertaken in the Fall of 2004. Targets 2 and 3 state that 40% will work with farmers and others in their respective regions to create and strengthen an existing direct marketing venture using a tool, technique, or strategy learned at the training and that 75% will be accessing new resources and networks identified at the training in their work. The purpose of the survey was to understand to what extent the information conveyed in the training was able to be applied, the resources that were most useful, and those that needed to be improved.
In total, 12 respondents completed paper surveys. Follow-up phone interviews yielded feedback from an additional 8 individuals. Most respondents worked with cooperative extension (60%); about one in four respondents were farmers. All respondents resided in the Northeast US, most from Maryland or Pennsylvania.

Even one year later, respondents were very positive about the benefits of the training. More than 80% believed that the training provided an opportunity to make new contacts with other individuals or organizations in related or similar work and nearly all reported using a tool from the training to access a new resource or idea. The information learned at the training was later used by most participants (90%) in subsequent workshops, training sessions or guest speaker presentations. About three-fourths (73%) used what they learned in their work or communications with farmers. Training tools were used less often for work with policy development professionals (40%) or for work with farm product brokers/buyers (22%).

A key strength of the training was its ability to help participants network. Cooperative extension, farmer to farmer, farmers markets and small farm development resources were all frequently sited as networks accessed as a result of the training. Those networks related to state/county economic development, hunger and nutrition, and small-scale brokers were used less often, though to varying degrees.
Follow-up phone calls enhanced the depth of the understanding of what in the training worked, and what might be done to improve. Red Tomato, Delaware State and University of Maryland were found to be valuable connections for many. Participants appreciated the diversity in types of farmers/farming that were included in the training and the time allotted to network.
“Yes, the [Direct Marketing] training helped me access certain agencies that I would not have known about before. It has opened a window for me, so that I have those things as resources.” (2004 participant)

While not all accessed the nutrition networks, several noted their interest in using nutrition information and health in promoting fresh produce was sparked by the conference. In the words of one:

“This effort has to be sustained and upheld. It truly represents a viable forum for the small farmers of the region to exchange and to acquire innovative ideas.” (2004 participant)

Others re-iterated this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of the training for small farmers.

“You are doing a real good job, in a good area, increasing the sustainability of our small farm people, and new farmers coming in, and it’s a good way to keep abreast of what the consumer wants.” (2004 participant)

In the future, participants would like to have a venue to continue connecting and sharing ideas about direct marketing. On suggestion is that this should take the form of an advisory council. Another suggested that there be ongoing publications to spark ideas and initiate contacts. For many, bringing together different types of farmers is an important activity that does not often happen outside of projects like these. Other suggestions for the future included creating a “living example” of a farm market during lunch or stand of produce, which optimized marketing, providing attendees with a list of participants and their contact information, and providing more financial information about the economic benefits of direct marketing. Another participant suggested a greater emphasis be placed on animal foods.

Overall, the findings from the surveys as well as conversations with attendees of both years of the training, indicate strongly that bringing together people from different parts of the food system helps participants improve their own work. The training took place in a larger conference that includes training and networking in direct marketing, nutrition, minority farming, youth in agriculture, and other issues. A consistent observation from those attending the direct marketing sessions has been the importance of learning from the experience of others in different yet related fields. This contact with others across the food-system spectrum informs everyone’s work in ways that are concrete and often unexpected. End of project surveys and interviews indicate that the training has been widely adapted across the northeast and that the manual produced is a valuable, easy to read, resource.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
ACCOMPLISHMENTS & MILESTONES

Training Planning: A steering committee composed of representatives of collaborating institutions 1) designed the program; 2) advertised the training and scholarships; 3) organized logistics; 4) implemented the training, including providing a wide array of topics and presenters, as well as resource materials for display and distribution; 5) put systems in place for training evaluation; and 6) distributed and promoted the direct marketing manual.

Advertising and Promotion: The training was advertised extensively among extension networks in the region (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania); state departments of agriculture and economic development; colleges and universities with agriculture programs; farm marketing organizations and firms; growers’ associations; and local organic, sustainable food system, and nonprofit organizations, primarily at the local and state levels. Information about the training, including logistical information, topics covered and keynote speakers, was also posted on the Future of our Food and Farms Summit web site at www.foodfarm.org and was linked widely to other sites. In addition, press releases were disseminated announcing the training and the availability of scholarships.

Training Delivery: In year 2, the training was held December 4, at the Wyndham Wilmington Hotel in Wilmington Delaware. Eighty-two (82) participants attended. The training program was composed of six sessions, supplemented by the keynote lunch presentation of the larger summit. Session presenters discussed direct marketing to restaurants, institutions, specialty stores, and supermarkets; strategies for operating a successful farmers’ market; building farm-to-city connections; selling locally grown meats and other products to extend the marketing/income-producing season; keys to small-farm financial success; cost-effective strategies to promote farmers’ markets; the economics of consolidating and trucking small-farm produce; selling farm products at a variety of retail and mail-order businesses; and more.

Publishing and Promoting the Direct Marketing Training for Farm Profitability Manual: The Food Trust published the proceedings from the two consecutive years of the Direct Marketing Training in an easy to read, attractive manual. The Direct Marketing Training for Farm Profitability manual contains a wealth of information from direct marketing experts who spoke at the training held during the 2002 and 2003 Future of Our Food and Farms Summits. Encompassing a rich array of ideas and lessons learned by farmers, Cooperative Extension, state department of agriculture representatives, fresh-produce brokers, farmers’ market managers, small-farm researchers, and others, it is an excellent resource that readers will turn to again and again for concrete, practical ideas to use in direct marketing training throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

“(I learned) many new ideas; I prefer the farmer presentations to professionals because they’re speaking from experience; they know where the train wrecks are.” 2004 Interview comment

“Many of us in the growing community recognize that it is the hands on farmers work -- not academic approaches often heralded at conferences -- that offer the best measures for dealing with our issues and this conference recognizes that immeasurable contribution.” Farmer Testimonial

The Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: Training for Trainers Professional Development Project was a two-year initiative to increase knowledge about, skills in, and resources for off-farm direct marketing. This project was unique because it brought highly experienced educators, farm market managers and farmer entrepreneurs together with “The Future of Our Food and Farms Summit” participants for discussion and dialogue on ways to increase the sustainability of agriculture in the region through direct marketing and wholesale produce auctions. Incorporating the training as part of the annual Summit to consider issues of food and farming offered some distinct advantages:

  • The training in marketing was linked to a conference with topics including food policy, urban food issues, and other issues affecting agriculture and participants had the opportunity to connect direct marketing into the wider social and economic policy environment, by attending other Summit sessions after Project training was completed.

    The participants were exposed to a diverse audience including many underserved groups who attend the Summit.

    Participants were able to develop networks beyond the marketing arena because the Summit draws such a wide variety of professions and interest areas.

    The Summit provided a multi-disciplinary, multi-state venue where people of all opinions come to discuss important issues related to food and farms and community development aspects needed to create successful community marketing outlets.

    Practitioners including farmers, farm market managers, brokers, entrepreneurs, and others involved in the direct marketing industry themselves, brought a wealth of information and practical, hands-on perspective to the training that participants valued.

    The Project took advantage of existing organizational contacts and relationships, and conference structure, thus reducing costs.

    The collaboration of non-profits, state departments of agriculture, and universities and Cooperative Extension created a public-private combination of resources and leveraged an extraordinary wealth of resources and experience.

Future Recommendations

There were several themes that emerged in the Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: the importance of networking and bringing together individuals working across the spectrum of fields related to farming and small farm profitability and the ongoing need for continued outreach and/or venues for collaboration. Overall, through surveys and interviews conducted during and post-project, participants indicated that the project was very successful and had very few suggestions for improvement.

“So far I can’t see any improvement. Except to continue and get more participants involved.” (2004 Participant)

In the future, participants would like to have a venue to continue connecting and sharing ideas about direct marketing. On suggestion is that this should take the form of an advisory council. Another suggested that there be ongoing publications to spark ideas and initiate contacts.

Other suggestions for the future included “tweaking” the training to include: a “living example” of a farm market during lunch or stand of produce which optimized marketing, an attendee list with contact information, and supplemental financial information (or research) about the economic benefits of direct marketing. Another participant suggested a greater emphasis be placed on animal foods.

Perhaps the most telling outcome of this 2 year project is the consistent finding that the information conveyed, networks formed and ideas expressed at the training have planted seeds that continue to grow. Indeed, nearly everyone we spoke with, as part of the follow-up survey and/or interview, was able to site a specific person or activity that they continue to benefit from having met or learned about. Participants are genuinely thankful to have had this opportunity to learn more about direct marketing and feel strongly that a continued opportunity for collaboration is important.

Information Products

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.