Educating Consumers About Local, Sustainable Produced Meat

Final Report for LNC98-130

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $23,200.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $13,400.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Derek Vernon Lee
Wisconsin Pasturelands (formerly Healthy Meats!)
Co-Coordinators:
Margaret Krome
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
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Project Information

Summary:

The goal of this project was to educate consumers in Madison, Wisconsin about the way meat is produced using sustainable agriculture practices. The premise was that consumers who are thus informed would, for a variety of reasons, be interested in purchasing meat directly from local meat producers who raise their animals using sustainable agriculture practices. This project helped eight local farmers, none of whom individually could make sufficient consumer contacts, to do so collectively in a direct marketing group formally calling themselves Healthy Meats! (HM!) During the year, we assisted the development of direct markets for local owner-operated farms and increased local support for buying sustainably raised meat. We accomplished these goals by generating media articles, conducting consumer events, developing a brochure, and establishing a booth at the Dane County Farmers Market.

Generating media attention was an effective way of making our presence known in the Madison area. We published several articles in Madison’s mainstream press and several others in newsletters and weeklies. While we were successful at generating news articles, and while they generated considerable interest among consumers, that interest did not result in a significant increase in sales, for reasons we give below. Articles published in newsletters, specifically a home schooling newsletter, and weeklies generated more sales than did our mainstream press articles. We also penetrated local and public radio markets achieving similar results.

The coordinator developed a brochure that included the names and contact information of the farmers involved in the project, as well as the various meats for sale and their farming philosophy. The brochure was made available at all HM! events and was mailed to interested consumers after media hits and public presentations. While the brochure described the production methods of individual farmers, it failed to generate the number of sales we expected. One reason may be that HM! farmers decided early on not to include prices in the brochure so as not to compete with each other which may have failed to give busy consumers the information and impetus they needed to call the farmers directly. Other barriers to sales were consumer preferences for convenience, a perception of the need to buy large quantities, the desire to see the meat and the farmer before they purchase an item, and general questions regarding food safety.

Consumer events were a very effective way of familiarizing the public with HM! Meat tastings, chef demonstrations, and a hamburger stand all helped create interest. Perhaps the most compelling example of the effectiveness of consumer events was a food festival organized by our organizer and REAP, a local food group. The famous chef Odessa Piper, also a member of Chef’s Collaborative 2000, gave an hour demonstration on preparing and cooking HM! meat. Three hundred and fifty brochures were handed out that day.

Ultimately, two of the eight farmers participating in the project sold completely out of their inventory by early November. They attribute their success primarily to their presence at the Dane County Farmers Market as well as their participation in the HM! project. While many of the farmers have seen and increase in calls and an increase in recent months, their success has been anything but instantaneous and has demanded much persistence, patience, and hard work.

Introduction:

We began our efforts by pushing to generate press in the Madison area newspapers. We were successfully interviewed on WORT, a community owned radio station by food critic, Leah Zeldin and later participated in a discussion on WORT with a proponent of biotechnology. We also successfully published articles in the Shopper Stopper, a consumer weekly distributed throughout the state and an environmental newspaper that reaches roughly 10,000 members. An article was also distributed to several hundred people by the Center For Integrated Agricultural Systems.

Given that Madison boasts one of the largest farmer’s markets in the country, with roughly 20,000 people attending each weekend, the coordinator created a booth at the Dane County Farmers market complete with pictures of HM! farms and farmers and proceeded to hand out the HM! brochure. Derek Lee, the project coordinator, set up the booth at 12 farmers markets during the summer and early fall. Derek spoke at length with hundreds of consumers at the farmers market and handed out between fifty to one hundred brochures each weekend.

Derek also met with Paulette Hardin, Executive Director of SHARE, a low-income food distribution organization. After several visits out to the farms, SHARE purchased 2,000 pounds of ground beef that was distributed to two hundred and seventy five low-income drop off sites throughout Wisconsin.

Derek met with several community groups during the course of the grant period. He met several times with REAP, a local food action group, local Lions clubs, eco-teams, neighborhood organizations that are set up to reduce their impacts on the environment. Derek also met with Dona Campos, who heads up a small home school network. She enthusiastically supported our efforts sent brochures to members and included a story in her newsletter that generated several calls to HM! farmers.

Derek organized an event with an environmental organization and their members out at the Dick Cates farm. The event was an attempt to link environmentally friendly consumers with sustainable farmers. A postcard was sent to the members of the Environmental Decade inviting them to the event and giving them the option to buy sustainably raised meats direct from HM! farmers. One hundred Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade members attended.

The final event Derek organized was a food tasting and grilling event during the Food For Thought Festival. Derek was able to get Odessa Piper to cook various meats up under a tent. The event drew hundreds of consumers who took roughly three hundred and fifty brochures. Derek also manned a booth along with HM! farmers who sold grilled meats to the crowd.

Project Objectives:

1. Conduct at least 13 meetings and create 5 media contacts per year to educate middle-to-upper middle income Madison, Wisconsin area consumers about the prevailing meat industry and buying locally produced meat.

2. Conduct at least 5 meetings per year to educate low-income consumers, including members of certain ethnic groups in the Madison area about buying meat from Healthy Meats! farmers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Audrey Lesondak
  • Steve Stevenson

Research

Materials and methods:

The material that was developed for this project was a brochure for consumers that described Healthy Meats!, the farmers, their philosophy, and other contact information. After consulting with the farmers, prices were not included in the brochure. The farmers were selling similar products and did not want to compete with each other.

The booth Derek developed for conducting meetings and communicating consumers was complete with pictures of the farms, farming methods, and farm families. Derek believed the best place to find consumers interested in sustainably raised meats would be at the Dane County Farmers Market where twenty thousand people visit on Saturdays.

The food tastings were conducted during festivals and outdoor events where people congregated and had time to think about the issues of sustainable meat production and take time to listen to a cooking event. Derek was able to get Odessa Piper, a famous chef and member of Chef’s Collaborative 2000 to give a presentation and tasting. The idea was to create an inviting atmosphere to fully engage consumers intellectually and physically with the aromas and ideas of sustainable meat production.

The articles written focused on newsletters and weeklies. We were unsuccessful in publishing articles in the mainstream press and found interest in an environmental newspaper, a consumer weekly, and a home school newsletter.

The farm visits that we set up and built organizing events around were intended to bring urban consumers, mostly members of environmental organizations out to the country side to tour farms, learn about sustainable agricultural practices, meet farmers and buy meat directly from these farmers.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1. Conduct at least 13 meetings and create 5 media contacts per year to educate middle-to-upper middle income Madison, Wisconsin area consumers about the prevailing meat industry and buying locally produced meat.

The brochure that was made available at all HM! events and was mailed to interested consumers after media hits and public presentations was problematic. While the brochure did a great job of describing the production methods of individual farmers and the overall philosophy of the group, it failed to generate the number of sales we thought it would. One reason may be that HM! farmers decided early on not to include prices in the brochure so as not to compete with each other which may have failed to give busy consumers the information and impetus they needed to call the farmers directly. Other barriers to sales were the perception of the need to buy large quantities, the desire to see the meat and the farmer before they purchase an item, and general questions regarding food safety.

Our media efforts resulted in mixed results. Despite the projects prior success generating media in the mainstream press, we had difficulty penetrating those same sources. Where we found success was the alternative press and community radio, newspapers and newsletters. While articles generated great interest, these calls did not result in sales for farmers.

Consumer meetings and events were a very effective way of familiarizing the public with HM! Meat tastings, chef demonstrations, and consumer events on farms all helped create interest. Perhaps the most compelling example of the effectiveness of consumer events was a festival organized by our coordinator and REAP, a local food group. The famous chef Odessa Piper, also a member of Chef’s Collaborative 2000, gave an hour demonstration on preparing and cooking HM! meat. Two hundred and fifty brochures were handed out that day. Again, while we generated much interest in the farmers and meats, people failed to call the farmers. The brochure was handed out but the farmers yielded very few calls.

Ultimately, we surmised that people are not accustomed to buying meats directly from farms even when farmers deliver directly to their door. Many consumers like to see the meat they are going to eat before they buy it. Also, we feel that the brochure failed to communicate the necessary information that would have enabled consumers to make purchases. People are so busy today they need prices and numbers. Also, people are so busy they usually decide what meat they are going to cook just before they cook it which inhibits purchases. We also felt that people were worried about having to buy large quantities of meat.

Objective 2. Conduct at least 5 meetings per year to educate low-income consumers, including members of certain ethnic groups in the Madison area about buying meat from Healthy Meats! Our major work here was with SHARE, a low-income food distribution non-profit organization. SHARE buys food in bulk at a discount and sells it to low-income families throughout Wisconsin. SHARE has two hundred and seventy five host sites throughout the state and serves roughly twenty thousand families a month. SHARE also publishes a newsletter that reaches thirty thousand people state wide.

Given that SHARE had already created the contacts and infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods, it was a very effective way of reaching our goals. The farmers were very satisfied with our efforts given their ongoing concern that their foods are only affordable to the wealthy.

Research conclusions:

I think that producers could benefit from this project in a number of ways. First, I think farmers need to be aware that when buying meat directly from farms, consumers have various reservations. Consumers come to the table with the perception that they have to buy large quantities. They are concerned about food safety issues, and they are not as comfortable buying meat as they are vegetables. Therefore, farmers need to anticipate these reservations in their marketing materials and approach. Also, consumers like to know prices and how deliveries are conducted before they make a purchase.

Second, farmers need to understand that there are limits to direct marketing. Many of our farmers sell between 10% to 15% of their animals direct and the rest to through conventional marketing channels. Also, direct marketing takes a lot of time and resources that farmers may or may not factor in to the equation. Personality is also a factor. Farmers need to be honest with themselves and decide whether they have the personality to deal with customers asking tough questions, complaining, and inquiring. Direct marketing is not for the meek. The most successful farmers are aggressive and personable.

Economic Analysis

Pasture Poultry Direct Marketing Profit Analysis

These numbers are based on one of our larger pasture poultry producers. He raised roughly 3,000 chickens last year and sold them mostly to consumers at the Dane County Farmers Market, to restaurants, and directly to consumers. These are his prices and costs. The farmer chose not to pay himself a wage and had no numbers for taxes, depreciation, or materials. His farm also includes direct egg and beef sales.

Costs

0.60 a chick
2.19 conventionally grown feed
2.75 processing fees
0.30 transportation
0.00 Labor, taxes, materials, depreciation

5.84 Total Cost
8.55 Gross Revenues @ $1.90/lb for a 4.5 lb chicken

$2.71 Net Profit per chicken excluding labor, taxes, materials, and depreciation

$2.71 x 3,000 chickens = $8,130

Organic Beef Direct Marketing Analysis

The information provided here is for sales of 12 beef cows and is fairly rough. It was the best the farmer could come up with.

$2,172 To Local Families
$4,596 Madison Restaurants
$3,032 Madison Area Families
$600 Various functions and fundraisers
$5,823 Dane County Farmers Market
$686 Local Farmers Market

$16,909 Gross Beef Sales
$5,115 Processing, Marketing, brochures, etc. Does not include cost of raising animal, phone, labor, or transportation to processor and to market.

$11,794 Net income excluding above costs not factored in or $982 an animal.

Farmer Adoption

This project generated enormous interest from farmers interested in joining. However, we chose to remain small until we could assess the merits and problems of a project of this design. This proved wise. We began working with eight different farms and ended up with four farms that seriously participated. Of those remaining farmers all four are now participating in Wisconsin Pasturelands, formerly Healthy Meats!, a marketing pool that is pursuing one label and is intent on creating markets in supermarkets, restaurants and institutions. Attached is a questionnaire the farmers filled out that explains their feelings about the project, its impacts, and changes they will or won’t make because of it.

Involvement of other Audiences

General Public, Dane County Farmers Market
General Public, Food For Thought Festival
Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade Members, Cates Family Farm Outing
General Public, Best of the Midwest in Chicago, Illinois

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Derek Vernon Lee, 8/16/71, Project Promotes Healthy Meats, Healthy Environment, The Defender, Volume 29, Number 5, Page 6.

Derek Vernon Lee, 9/20/99, Healthy Meats! Taste The Difference, Shopper Stopper, Page 31.

Jack Kloppenburg, 9/22/99 Reap good farming’s benefits at Food For Thought Festival, The Capital Times, Page 11A.

Phillip Heasley, 8/16/99, Learning and Fun Planned for Upcoming Member Outing: Farming and water quality is the focus of the gathering, The Defender, Volume 29, Number 5, Page 5.

Derek Vernon Lee, 10/17/99, Family Day on the Farm, Presentation on rotational grazing by Dick and Kim Cates to 100 members of Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade.

Derek Vernon Lee, 6/1/99 – 10/1/00, Dane County Farmer’s Market, Booth.

Derek Vernon Lee, 8/27/99, Best of the Midwest Festival, Chicago, Illinois.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

There needs to be further study into the profitability of direct marketing factoring in costs farmers sometimes fail to include in their own informal analyses. I would like to see a profitability model developed that could be applied to various farms. Further study about criteria influencing success in using marketing pamphlets, labels, logos and the costs of developing a collective brand.

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.