The three farmers involved in the show are all pursuing sustainable practices and direct marketing. Kreycik’s Riverview Elk Ranch at Niobrara raises elk and buffalo and has wagon tours and private hunts in their rolling pastures. They market their own elk and bison meat. Gary Cwach and his family raise natural beef north of Yankton, SD and direct market their products to consumers in that vicinity. Curt Arens and his family raise black oil sunflowers and Christmas trees. Curt also writes and produces the program and the website.
Through this radio/web-based project we wanted to increase awareness of local consumers in the listening area of KK93 FM radio in Yankton, SD about the diversity of agriculture in the region by describing to them the family farm stories of locally raised food and farm products available within driving distance.
We wanted to increase sales through this campaign for family farmers and direct marketers and we wanted to encourage more young people to become involved in these types of sustainable family farm enterprises.
Finally, we hope to quantify some of the impact of the show by interviewing farmers who participated to help establish if there were in fact increased sales and new customer contacts. We planned to share the results and technical advice about starting such a program elsewhere through speaking at sustainable agriculture meetings and promoting the concept through media releases and columns.
Using contacts already established through the advertising program at KK93, we sought out new prospective business sponsors to support the show so that it could be aired twice on Thursdays — in the mornings at 7:45 am and evenings at 5:35 pm — prime commuter times for those traveling to and from work in Yankton and surrounding areas.
We were selective about sponsors — in deference to our organic farmers featured on the show — we avoided seed and chemical companies that only wanted to promote those products or GMO seed. We went instead to a regional health care center, a regional lumber yard, an automotive supply, an ethanol plant, construction company, and support though the SARE program to support airtime financially. Farmer participants also paid $50 to participate.
We have been surveying participants to find out their success. We also shared the technicals on setting up this type of campaign at the Center for Rural Affairs annual gathering in February 2005, through the agri-tourism group, Heartland Experience and through articles in the Center for Rural Affairs and Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society newsletters. The program has also been featured in numerous articles for Sioux Falls Argus-Leader and Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan among other publications. These are available in the pressroom area of our website.
Curt Arens also shared individual transcripts of each program through his Food and Society Policy Fellowship website and with others involved in sustainable agriculture at the Food and Society Conference sponsored by W.K Kellogg Foundation in Virginia in 2005. Several articles also ran in local newspapers.
People directly involved in the project are:
1) Curt Arens, farmer and writer and producer of the radio show and the website,
2) Gary Cwach and Kenard, Chris, and Steve Kreycik — both families are producer partners in the project who are being surveyed for results and getting a sense of the show’s success with their own customers.
3) Laurie Larsen, Carolyn Becker — KK93 Radio executives. Carolyn takes care of the financial end, while Laurie has been instrumental in finding and signing up farmer and business participants as well as business sponsors of the show. She is vital to the project.
4) Jan Jorgensen, Northeast Nebraska RC&D; Terry Gompert, Knox County Cooperative Extension Educator; and Wyatt Fraas, Center for Rural Affairs — all have supported the project by helping identify prospective direct marketers and promoting the project through their own media relations.
We have gotten an indication from general surveys that have been turned in from farmer participants that sales for them have increased around 5 to 20 percent because of the show. Farmers who have on-farm activities or entertainment ventures seem to do better with this kind of project. However, over all of the participants, the more frequently they were on the show, the more contacts they received because of it. This tells us that farmers should not expect a big response from being on the show once in a year, but if they work to develop a promotion that we can use seasonally, maybe four times a year, the results definitely have paid off the very minimal $50 fee to be involved.
We have learned several things.
1) The most challenging part of launching this type of campaign is financial. You need business sponsors right up front to pay for valuable airtime. It is tough, especially at first, to explain the premise of the show and get businesses interested. They’d rather follow a track record already established, like sponsoring Husker football programs, for instance. But slowly, as the show becomes more popular, it is much easier.
2) Local sponsors are the best. They know the people and have a vested interest in economic development like this.
3) Finding farmers is also somewhat difficult, because we like to feature farmers who don’t have a big operating budget for advertising and need help getting the word out. That’s why we keep their portion low at $50. We could offer them the program free, but then they don’t have a vested interest in providing the information we need to do a good job for them. We’ve seen some of that happen.
4) The website is a key to the show. Some folks might not remember phone number or other contact information mentioned on the show, but they often remember www.farmtofamily.net because it is mentioned in every promo and every show. Now we’re getting nearly 1,500 to 2,000 hits a day, just because people are going back and checking out the farms we mention.
5) Having the right radio station, willing to work with farmers and willing to be patient, is also key. We got lucky with KK93 and with Laurie Larsen. Without her knowledge of the communities and farms, it wouldn’t have happened. She has fund another financial sponsor for the show, to help fill the gap when the SARE funding is completed, so we can continue this project long term.
6) You have to have someone to write and voice the show who knows area farms and farmers, knows how to tell their stories and shares their compassion for direct markets and farming practices that think and work outside the box.
7) Frequency of participation in the show yields results. You have to tell your story several times to connect with new customers.
We feel the project is helping promote sustainable practices by raising awareness of the diversity of food and farm products being raised in the area. It is planting seeds in the minds of young people who are learning that you can make it farming without raising only corn and soybeans and relying on government payments. There are other ways to farm.
Also, if the early indicators are correct, we are growing business for many direct marketers who are participating, by perhaps 5 to 20 percent. That is no small feat.
As we mentioned earlier, we participated in meetings for the Center for Rural Affairs, Heartland Experience. We wrote articles for Center for Rural Affairs newsletters and Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society newsletters. Articles appeared in local papers. The project has been featured in several individual articles — one in January 2005 in the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader and another in February 2005 and again in June 2006 in the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan. We were also interviewed by Alan Nation for a story in Stockmen Grass Farmer.
Curt also promoted the project through his Food and Society Policy Fellowship and he worked with Sandy Patton and Northeast Nebraska RC&D to obtain a W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant to pursue the project now that the SARE funding has run out. Sandy serves as he project director with Curt as the assistant director.
We developed a tabletop display featuring the radio/web-based campaign that was exhibited at the Nebraska conference on RC&D programs. Curt also promoted local food and the radio show concept through his weekly column – Farm to Family – in the Cedar County News and other newspapers owned by Northeast Nebraska News Agency based in Hartington, NE.
Curt Arens and Terry Gompert participated in the Avera Sacred Heart Hospital Health Fair, promoting locally-raised food as a good healthy diet source. We also visited with the public relations staff at Avera about utilizing locally grown meat as an entrée once a month in their food service. These discussions are ongoing, but the connection with Avera is quite strong and we believe their interest will continue to grow.
We believe that the SARE program is a wonderful way to fund “real” farmers and their ideas in a variety of areas, testing their ideas on the farm. We were not visited by the SARE director through the project and would love to show off our project to the director some time in the future. We believe this project provides some new ways to approach customers in the fields of direct marketing locally-produced food and farm products and it has implications for other farm groups around the country.