Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: Training for Trainers Project

2003 Annual 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

Direct Marketing for Increasing Farm Profitability: Training for Trainers Project


“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 (formerly the Farmers’ Market Trust), Rutgers Cooperative Extension of New Jersey, University of Maryland, Delaware State University, and Penn State Cooperative Extension. Robert Halman, formerly of The Maryland Department of Agriculture, and now working with the Department through the University of Maryland, requested to be added as a collaborator to this project and participated fully in all aspects of planning and implementation. 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 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 to institutions, restaurants, and supermarkets, as well as through farmers’ markets.

In addition to the training itself, participants will receive a “How to Guide” on direct marketing; key materials will be converted into an on-line resource and made available on the agric-marketing pages of, a Mid-Atlantic Food Systems educational website. In addition to training, the project widens the network of resources and contacts available to Cooperative Extension agents and other participants that can support off-farm direct marketing initiatives.

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

    40% 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% will be accessing new resources and networks identified at the training in their work within three months after the training.


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; and 5) put systems in place for training evaluation.

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 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.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Evaluation findings obtained at the end of the two-year period reveal that more than 80% 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 snow storm/not being able to attend all sessions, or food preferences.

Positive comments include:
“This experience inspired me to look for different marketing venues when helping the participants in our project.”

“I liked having the ability to ask questions about marketing to more experienced farmers.”

“The presentations from farmers with specific examples of marketing strategies were great”

“Speakers were excellent with clear, approachable presentations.”

Finally, evaluations, as well as conversations with attendees of this year’s and last year’s training indicate strongly that bringing together people from different parts of the food system helps participants improve their own work. The training has taken 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.


Stephan Tubene

Director Small Farm Institute
University of Maryland
Robert Halman

Agriculture Education Program Liaison
University of Maryland
Virginia Hubbs

[email protected]
The Food Trust
1201 Chestnut St.
4th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 18104
Office Phone: 8144667075
Rick VanVranken

Cooperative Extension Agent
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
Duane Perry

Executive Director
The Food Trust
John Berry

Regional Agricultural Marketing Educator
Penn State Cooperative Extension