Stories that Sell: A Robust Communications Toolkit for Sustainable Ag Farmers and Ranchers

Progress report for ONC20-068

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $39,806.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Women, Food & Agriculture Network
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Ahna Kruzic
Women, Food and Agriculture Network
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Project Information


The next generation of farmers and ranchers come from historically underserved backgrounds: farmers of color, women, and Veteran farmers. A 2017 study commissioned by the National Young Farmers Coalition shows 60 percent of beginning farmers are women, 13 percent are farmers of color, and 75 percent are first generation. These farmers are more likely to operate smaller farms (averaging 19 acres), and 75 percent labeled their farming as “sustainable.” 

This next generation of farmers, those we wish to serve, face multiple barriers when attempting to build successful agriculture operations and change the face of agriculture in today’s world. A key challenge these farmers face is finding a marketable way to share their stories that rewrite the agriculture narrative. Our project will support and better understand the needs of these farmers through a survey, online video advisory meetings, listening sessions, and the creation and distribution of training and education materials. Based on the information we gather from the survey, from these listening sessions, and from research of past programs and interviews conducted with experts in marketing and storytelling, we will create curriculum to help farmers pitch and tell their stories across multiple channels and platforms. 

Project Objectives:
  • Create and distribute an online survey to ~10,000 WFAN members regarding the communications barriers they face, and their storytelling and marketing needs. 
  • Host six in-person listening sessions in six distinct locations, reaching ~120 farmers, to learn barriers preventing them from successfully telling their stories and marketing their operations, and to learn their educational needs. 
  • Research previous sustainable agriculture programs that pertain to communication, marketing, storytelling. 
  • Interview marketing and storytelling experts. 
  • Create a curriculum, 12 podcasts, three videos, four online webinars, and 20 handouts, to be used by farmers in programming across the region at in-person training and networking events.


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Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
1 Online trainings
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

50 Farmers
40 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Covid-19 during this project period has presented unforeseen challenges for the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and the farmers we serve. During this project period, we have pivoted to build infrastructure to continue serving the urgent needs of farmers in our network, including assisting with COVID-19 response, moving all programming online, launching a hotspot lending library for rural program participants without reliable internet access, testing engagement tactics for online program offerings, building out offerings that are accessible via landline telephone connection, and adjusting our program and project plans and building out infrasture accordingly. These adjustments required significant staff time and program coordination.

With that said, we are proud to continue serving and working alongside our farmer-members in the midst of COVID-19 as a result of the above changes, and we have started utilizing this updated infrastructure as we continue our work for Stories that Sell. Our granted 6 month extension has enabled us to build the above infrastructure, and we are on track to meet all project deliverables by the end of grant period.

Educational and outreach activity completion thus far has largely taken place in early 2021, however the infrastructure, groundwork, planning, and construction was done throughout 2020:

  • 2/8/21: survey distributed regarding narrative support needs. This survey was distributed alongside an invitation to a forthcoming webinar registration for an online event on the development of farm business marketing and storytelling brands, “The Marketplace of Story: What Marketing Questions Keep You Up At Night?”
  • 2/16/21: Formal advisory committee convening #1 (60 minutes with 5 members and WFAN staff representative). Planning underway for March panel discussion with advisory committee members on farm story-telling.
  • 2/18/21: Webinar – The Marketplace of Story: What Marketing Questions Keep You Up at Night (91 registrants). 
    • Marketing language for this webinar, for context, includes:

      Please join WFAN board member and media expert, Diahann Lohr, for a deep dive into developing and polishing your farm business marketing plan on Thursday,  February 18th, from 4-5:30 pm CT. Are you in a leadership capacity and seeking help to build a non-profit organization marketing plan? Then this workshop is for you, too!  This workshop is part of a WFAN storytelling series funded with the help of North Central SARE. Stay tuned for more programs! 

      Di asks registrants: 

      1) Are you dreaming of starting a farm-based business and need help building a brand?

      2) Do you have a few years under your belt and ready to get serious with marketing?

      3) Are you well established and looking to ramp your marketing to higher levels? 

      Whatever level you’re at, you probably have marketing questions!

      We’ll learn why you need to brand before you market your business. We’ll discuss how social media enables you to captivate a large-reach audience. And we wil learn how to attract public media outlets to your business.

      About our Presenter:

      Diahann Lohr is owner and a marketing and design professional at Adunate. Diahann Lohr is a marketing professional with a commitment to sustainable living with 25 years of journalism and media relations experience. Since 2005 she has owned Adunate Word & Design, a unique marketing studio overlooking the farm fields of rural Watertown, Wisconsin. One of the few professionals skilled in both writing and design, Diahann helps caring organizations grow through branding and marketing. She also keeps her hands deep in the soil and, together with her husband, raises herbs, vegetables, fruit, poultry and bees.

  • 3/18/21 Webinar – Growing Forward: The Power of Sharing our Stories. Description: Whether you farm, work for a food justice organization, or are part of food systems education: what is the narrative you hold about your work? What do we vision for our food system in the future? What is the story that guides our community to action?

    • Marketing language for this webinar, for context, includes:

      Uncovering the stories we hold about ourselves and our work highlights our uniqueness and grounds us in purpose. When we share those stories with our food system community, we root our growth in interdependence and shared power. 

      In this workshop, we will create space to pause. You will be guided through reflective practice to gain clarity on the distinct value and voice you bring to your work. We will explore how our foundational narratives can be utilized towards growing a business or deepening a professional practice. And we will share our stories with one another to experience the connection and confidence that we can tap into as we work together towards a socially just and sustainable food system.


Learning Outcomes

4 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
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.