The headquarters for this project, Liberty Land and Livestock, is a 180 acres family farm. The farm is primarily in permanent pastures that are intensively rotationally grazed.
The main cooperator raises approximately 200 Dorset ewes along with some Jersey cattle. The sheep are on an accelerated lambing program in order to have a steady fresh year around supply of lamb. Chickens and eggs are also marketed. Turkeys were added to the operation during the grant period.
The main cooperator has been practicing sustainable agriculture for over 15 years and at the time of the grant already had a successful business of selling all of their farm raised products direct to consumers. These outlets included restaurant sales, an on farm store and USDA processing facility called the Lamb Shoppe, live sales for Moslems, and a state fair ready to eat food booth.
At the initial time of the grant application, the demand for the farm products was more than the cooperator could produce. A cooperative effort with area farmers who practice similar management practices, use like genetics and have other diversified products was already underway. Grant funding of this project would allow continued work with cooperating farmers and would help expand the existing markets and increase sales of the sustainable products of the farmers. The keys to a successful business were already at hand. Included among these were basic marketing skills, the existing USDA cutting facility, and the ideal location for sales as the farm retail store is located on a major highway just 70 miles from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
The cooperators in this project have supplied the main cooperators with products for previous sales. Cooperator #1 raises 150 head of commercial sheep along with cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks, geese and eggs. Cooperator #2 is a beginning farmer and raises a small flock of sheep on pasture and specializes in garden produce. Cooperator #2 was replaced in year two of the project due to a family tragedy and was left unable to participate. Cooperator #2’s replacement had a flock of Dorset sheep and cattle which were forage based and was also actively involved in the marketing aspect of pasture raised meats.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of the project was to be a model for eco-agriculture for both consumers and other producers alike. It was hoped to have the existing retail farm store serve as the nearby communities’ connection to healthy, wholesome food while being a profitable outlet for other producers. Thereby creating an increase in sales and thus a higher demand for the farm raised products. At the beginning of the grant, the farm store featured all natural raised products. At the beginning of the grant, the farm store featured all natural chemical free meats. The stumbling blocks to increase sales that the grant will address are as follows:
1) Increase consumer awareness of the store and the kind of agriculture it represents
2) Improve visual enhancement of the farm retail store.
3) Improve buyer allure through diversification of products offered
4) Expand storage facilities will be necessary to accommodate this growth
5) Augment ethnic on farm sales with improve slaughter area.
Although this is a complex project, much of the work was already underway before the grant started. The plan to address each of the stumbling blocks listed about is outlined below.
Increase Consumer Awareness:
This step is an on going process and a full time job but it is essential in getting the word out about the farm store and the kind of agriculture it represents. Today we are fortunate that more and more consumers are searching out this type of food and it is in high demand.
The grant proposed to increase consumer awareness by development of a media packet, target specific markets with personal contacts and advertising and creating of a website.
We needed to begin the project by having a strategic media plan. We made use of a consultant to help us with this part. A logo was developed and marketing strategies were addressed. We needed to have some consistency with our promotional material so that people could instantly identify our products. We also needed to convey what we were all about with just a glance. We feel our logo incorporated the concepts we were trying to portray.
One of the best ways for us to attend a broad spectrum of potential consumers was through a website. A substantial portion of the grant’s funds were used to develop this site. This website, www.ourfarmtoyour.com, ultimately turned out to be very inclusive. It also incorporated a recipe section instead of using separate funding for recipe packets as described in the original grant application. Customers can currently order direct from the site. Unfortunately, mail order provisions for perishable meat items have not yet been able to be completed.
The media packet included a color brochure and price list. At the completion of the project we had our own business cards, letterhead, envelopes, invoices, point of purchase bags. Originally as part of the media packet, the grant had proposed to create a promotional video for use with potential new accounts such as restaurants, health food store, or direct sales. However, as the grant progressed it was decided that this funding should be used toward the website as well so that an overall better site could be developed. Professional photographs were used to give it more of a professional look. The photographs were also used for the brochure.
The final step in the plan of increasing consumer awareness was to target specific markets with personal contacts and advertising. Once we had our media packet in hand we were ready to approach various businesses and groups about our project. we talked to several restaurants, ethnic markets, and health food stores and made numerous trips to the metro area markets. We found there to be very good response to our products and a great deal of interest. We targeted potential markets that we knew were not a price oriented as they were quality oriented.
Farm Image Enhancement:
The goal was to create an atmosphere that makes the farm store more intensely inviting. We wanted a customer to leave the farm not only with their prized purchases from our farm store but also with a total experience which had been intentionally created to make a consumer connection. To accomplish this task, improvement work focused on landscaping and signage.
Since the store is located on a major highway we needed to utilize this advantage. Thus, professional signs were made to advertise our store. Signs telling of an approaching farm store were put up ¼ mile on before the entrance of the driveway. This sign can be lit up at night as well. We also had a changeable letter sign at the end of the driveway can an “open” flag for the end of the driveway to make it more inviting. These signs were very successful and made a big difference in business right away. The “open” flag was so beneficial that when it was wore out by the elements that a new one was necessary to purchase.
The landscaping projects have also been a major improvement. In this day and age, not to many people are willing to drive up to a stranger’s place, knock on their door and ask about purchases. That is way we specifically set out to make our farm a welcoming place for people to come and buy food from. We opened up our yard area to make it more inviting for customers and more pleasing to the eye. We feel that if customers stop and see a farm that is well taken care of they will feel the animals are also well cared for. We made use of fieldstone to build a pond with a fountain near the store entrance. The store entrance also makes use of boulders and perennial plantings around the store sign. Image is a big part of landscaping and how it makes them feel comfortable, and once you gained their confidence they are more likely to come back time after time for more.
Time after time customers have asked to take their children to the barn yard to see the animals. It is great fun for the kids and a chance for you to show and tell your farming “story”. It makes them feel good about the meat they eat and proud to take it to their family. Again, coming to the store becomes an experience and those are the customers more likely to return.
Product Diversification and Expanded Facilities:
At the beginning of the grant project the existing facility featured lamb, accented with beef, chicken, and eggs. It was apparent that there was a demand for more items.
At the completion of the grant all of the original meats are available along with newly added products including turkeys, butter and cheeses (from a group of farmers), freshly ground organic flour (from an area grain farmer), pork bacon (from an area farmer), maple syrup (from Wisconsin), wool blankets (from a nearby woolen mill), organic teas, locally made craft products and homemade soaps, in season locally grown produce such as tomatoes, peppers and egg plants. Also the farm store has directly connected customers with local farmers that raise ducks, geese and honey producers. In addition, the sale of animal by products has greatly increased for items such as bones, organ meats, and animal fat.
As a result of the increased sales, there was a need for more storage and display space. A walk in freezer was purchased and is being fully utilized. With the increase in customer demand for more meat, more and more room is needed for storage. Now several beef or lamb may be processed at a time and stored until needed. The chickens and turkeys also require lots of storage space. In order to have enough poultry products to last through the year in sales a good stock pile is needed.
We have found that there is still a great demand for even more product diversification, but our store area is quite small and has no space to expand. However, in the future, there may be an opportunity to expand by building an additional outbuilding on the farm for just that purpose.
Augment Ethnic On Farm Sales:
Originally, the grant project set out to target the Moslem community for live animal sales. A butchering area was set up near the barnyard and various equipment associated with it was purchased. The idea was to have better overall place for the ethnic market to do their cultural traditions. But after 9-11-02 with the terrorist attacks we found that the market slowed down a bit. We still had our core of customers that came like they had come for years, but there were no more new faces coming.
So efforts on this portion of the project were then shifted. We were able to locate an Ethiopian Restaurant in St. Paul, MN that was anxious to purchase up to 15 lambs per week for their restaurant. In addition, we worked with other producers to find a market for pasture raised lamb and beef. This market so far has utilized 150 lambs and several beef. Next year, we are hoping for at least 500 lambs to go to this market and nearly 100 beef. Both of these new markets require a great deal of producer cooperation to supply this many animals and so we have incorporated quite a networking of producers to supply for these new markets.
– Scott and Theresa Hoff
– David Ashburn Family
– Laverna Just
– Don Popp
– Roger Karstens
– Lori Lundeen
– Mark Kodet
– Jim Johnson
– Mary Jaworsky
– Ralph Molnau
– Gerald Hoff
– Tim Schutrop
– Roxanne Sladek
– Terry Braaten
– Warren Youngbloom
– Pastures A Plenty
– Steve Calvin
– Casper Sugar Shack
– Litchfield Woolen Mills
– Minnesota Pasture Products/Pasture Direct
– RiverRidge Wool ‘n Weavers
– Natural Food Co-op
– Carlson Meats
– Lorentz Meats
– Potpourri Health Food Store
The success of this project over the past two years has been remarkable. Business at farm retail store, The Lamb Shoppe, has been busier than ever. More and more markets have opened and more farmers are involved. The farmers are pleased to sell their products above market price and are relieved that they have some one else to do it for them. The customers are pleased that there are more choices for them and related ag-businesses have also been pleased because it helps to keep them in business to. So it is clearly a win-win situation for everyone involved.
The disadvantage is that we have spent more time involved in the marketing end of the business. It is getting hard for us to keep up with the demand and we are putting in longer hours. We are also having a difficult time finding a USDA place that is able to slaughter as many animals as we can sell. In the future, we may need to hire additional workers to help with the workload. Currently, we have hired people to help with the trucking. There are also a number of future projects that we have in mind that we see a demand for. We are looking to expand on the use of by-products with pet treats and usage of pelts.
The outreach was an on going effort during the two year grant period. There were several tour groups that cam directly to the farm for tours. Among these were the Land Stewardship Beginning Farmers Group, 4-H, FFA and various community organizations. In addition, 32 private tours were given to individuals.
Several talks were given to various groups about our marketing project among these were New Ag America (40 people), Minnesota Grazing Conference (120 people), Minnesota Forage Council (100 people). Several news articles were written about the project or the operation.
Future plans are to continue to share the information to interested individuals and groups. In April of 2003, we will be speaking at the National Forage Council about our operation in Louisiana.
Not only has the outreach gone to farmers, but it has been addressed to consumers as well. Countless consumers have been educated about our type of farming methods and how it benefits the environment, produces a healthy food and keeps the family farm intact. Over and over, we have heard from customers who are so thankful that we are producing wholesome food and it is available for them to buy. A key element to making all this happen is to connect with consumers and we have worked diligently to do this. One event where we have the opportunity to deal with massive numbers is at the Minnesota State Fair at our food booth. It seems as though we could use a full time person at the counter just answering questions and addressing issues of concern about where the food comes from and our sustainable farming practices. As a result of our state fair booth, we have seen a marked increase in sales in the months following the fair with larger orders of meat from those who picked up a brochure or talked to one of us at the fair.