- Fruits: berries (other)
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: decision support system, focus group, on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management, market study, value added
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
- Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture
Three women farmers explore ways to expand the markets and local awareness of unique perennial berry varieties in the Upper Midwest.
Project objectives from proposal:
Problem: The Organic Tree Fruit Association reports a growing number of organically managed orchards seeking to diversify their farm production and product offerings. However, one of the major problems to this approach is the availability of markets for small-sized fruits and fruit products. People express a desire for more fruit in our CSA boxes and at our local farmers’ markets (Minneapolis MN, Baraboo, WI). Yet they don’t fully understand what berries such as Saskatoon are, let alone how they are priced. They are unaware of the exceptional nutritional content, yet many would value such. The few larger existing markets for these fruits require quality, quantity, and product consistency which requires substantial investment in infrastructure. While research exists on the nutritional benefits and growing needs of non-traditional, small-sized, perennial berries (hereafter referred to as small fruits), little research exists on processing options, marketing messages, and pricing for our areas and scale of operation.
Solution: In this project we address these marketing challenges by engaging, educating, and involving existing and future customers to help determine uses, products, and pricing of less common small fruits to determine best markets for small to mid-sized growers. We will also provide transparency in our research, and build connections with local food enthusiasts. The fruits we will focus on include: elderberry, currants (red, white, black), honeyberry, and Saskatoon. These fruits are high yielding, grower friendly, and have exceptional nutritional value.
Each farm will conduct two focused group discussions, host a farm event, and distribute a customer survey at farmers markets, community events and on-line. The first focused discussion will include primarily consumers (CSA members, interested farmers market customers, neighbors, and wholesale accounts such as restaurants, preserve makers, and wineries). Discussion will center around identifying the fruits, brainstorming ways to use them, and feedback on price points. The second focused group discussion will be during the second year of the project and will include feedback from products and fruit tastings. As more product becomes available we will be able to conduct more pilot tastings. We plan to use World Cafe techniques for engaging participant feedback. World Cafe is a facilitation technique that works with larger groups of people to generate diverse creative ideas and then build to points of consensus. Project collaborators through the UW Extension and UW Madison Department of Community and Environmental Sociology will help facilitate these focused discussions. All three farms will use the same questions and process for the focused discussions.
Additionally, we will educate and engage our customers and farmers through farm events. Each farm would support a different farm event: Erin will host “Currant Events” in July of 2012, including a tour of the orchard, jam session (music and making fruit products), and a panel discussion with value added marketing entrepreneurs and experts. Clare will work with Slow Food Duluth in the second year of the project to provide a tasting session. Rachel will host a field day with the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings program, focusing on diversification of products and marketing.
We will also conduct surveys with our customers at farmer’s markets throughout the season, through on-line brainstorming sessions using the BrainReactions website and other social media tools.
Our findings can help set criteria for developing new fruit products more regionally and inform business models for small to mid-sized growers throughout the Midwest. We will offer results to inform a diverse geography of farmers and eaters, product outlets (CSA, farmers market, restaurants, wineries), and provide in-depth analysis of what conditions exist and what is needed for marketing lesser known, small fruit crops. We expect that our market research approach for these berry crops can be adapted for other uncommon tree fruits, such as quince and seaberry. Having a clear understanding of local markets and customer needs alongside more diversity of fruit and fruit products would improve the food security as well as the food cultures in our regions, in addition to providing an extended income stream for farmers.
NETWORKS: We will disseminate the results of our project through the Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Association, the University of Wisconsin – Madison Agriculture Innovation Center, The MOSES Rural Women’s Project, the Agriculture and Energy Resource Center in Ashland, Wisconsin, The Land Stewardship Project, and the Lake Superior and Crow River Chapters of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.
CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS: We would propose a presentation of our findings at the 2013 conference of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) in LaCrosse, the ACRES conference, and the conference of the Wisconsin Local Food Network.
INTERNET: We would also post information on our farm websites, Farm Facebook pages, Linked In, and grower groups, and share results through a You-Tube video.
CUSTOMERS: Insights from behavioral economics reveal that customers can be greatly influenced by peers and by information passed on to them by people they know. Our research actively engages our customer base in helping determine the best possible uses, markets, and health benefits of the fruits we are growing.
EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS: We will also do a fact sheet on recommended business model that features tips for incorporating small fruit in existing orchards and perennial plantings and steps for direct marketing of small berry crops in the Midwest.
OTHER: in addition to the networks listed above, publicity and outreach support will come from MACSAC the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, Edible Madison, Women Food and Agriculture Network, Slow Food chapters, the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union, and FRESH a publication for the Wisconsin fresh fruit and vegetable associations.