Community-based Marketing with the World Wide Web

Project Overview

FNC97-194
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1997: $9,992.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, sheep, swine

Practices

  • Education and Training: networking, study circle
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, market study
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, social networks, sustainability measures

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Jim and Lee Ann VanDerPol, “Pastures a Plenty” Farm, Kerkhoven, MN. The VanDerPol farm is 320 acres of corn, alfalfa, oats/barley/pea mixture, and 50 acres of which are managed intensively grazed pastures. Change for this farm began in 1989 with a switch to ridges for the row crops and decreased chemical use. A pasturing system was started in the early 1990’s and two hoop buildings were constructed in 1995 and 1997. The farm has a ewe flock that lamb on pasture in May. The two hoop buildings use a deep bedded straw system, which has cut commercial fertilizer use. Sows and gilts (110 head) farrow in the spring and 50 sows in the fall using port-a-huts in the pasture and in the hoops. Their son, Josh, and daughter-in-law, Cindy, came in as farming partners in 1996. Holistic management is vital to the operation. Jim writes a weekly newspaper column and hosts a local public television program called, “The New Farmers’ Almanac”.

    Larry & Carolyn Olson, “Morning Has Broken” Farm, Granite Falls, MN. Larry and Carolyn, along with their son, Matthew, farm 388 acres of diversified grains. These grains are corn, soybeans, alfalfa, barley, oats and wheat. Their cropping system has been ridge tilling since 1982 using minimum tillage and minimum herbicide use. They were organically certified between 1982-85. For the past several years, they have been raising and selling free range chickens directly to consumers in the Twin Cities. They would like to develop a more local market. Since 1995, the Olsons have intensively managed their pastures. Livestock on their farm includes chickens, cattle, hogs, and horses. The hogs are deep bedded in the winter. The Olsons are practicitioners of the holistic management principles. Larry also serves as the chair for the Land Stewardship Project national Board of Directors and ministers to two rural Lutheran Churches.

    David & Avis Swenson, “Swenson Orchard”, Montevideo, MN. David and Avis Swenson have a 5 ½ acres commercial apple orchard. Although most of their production is in apples, they also grow plums, apricots, raspberries, and cherries. Their goal is to produce good fruit using the least toxic pesticides possible. They follow withdrawal and harvest requirements. No pesticides are “restricted use” pesticides, even though Dave is certified. Twenty years ago before starting their orchards, they began by talking with an orchard that worked with Robert Rodale of the Organic Farming Institute. This is a family business because their children are also an important part of their operation.

    Craig & Joanie Murphy, “Murphy’s Organic Farm”, Morris, MN. The Craig, Joanie, and Erin Murphy farm consists of 460 tillable acres where they produce corn, soybeans, sunflowers, wheat and alfalfa. They also raise beef, sheep, pigs, and chickens. The farm is certified organic so their reliance on synthetic pesticides has been eliminated. They have experimented with ridge till and no till technologies. They converted their first 80 acres to organic production in 1980 and were 100% organic in 1995. They have gentle rolling land with a clay loam soil. They have a few acres of trees, a restored wetland of 8.5 acres and rent 35 acres of pasture to the DNR wildlife protection. For the past five years, the Murphy’s have sponsored “Communicating for Agriculture Exchange Program” students from Hungary, Germany, Costa Rica, and Brazil to work with them on their farm.
    Audrey Arner and Richard Handeen, “Moonstone” Farm, Montevideo, MN. Audrey and Richard raise ridge till corn, edible and regular soybeans and 70 head of grass fed beef on their 244 acre Century farm. They are searching out ways to diversify their farm and believe their weakest link is marketing. Audrey is one of the founding members of the Western SFA and she currently works for the Land Stewardship Project as a Holistic Management Educator. She has connections with producers throughout the North Central SARE Region. Audrey and Richard recently traveled to Cuba as part of a delegation of twenty-six US farmers and researchers under the Food First program and hosted by the Cuban Organic Farming Association. They have just returned from a European Sustainable Agriculture Tour and Marketing Strategies Symposium. Their tour was of English farms. The touring group gathered in the Netherlands for the symposium. Electronic marketing was part of the discussion and Audrey and Richard shared our project as a model.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    Project Goals:
    1) To form a study circle of five local SFA chapter producers to research and establish a collective web site to market sustainably produced beef, pork, lamb, goats and poultry products. (Goal change: beef, pork, lamb, poultry, apples, and organic grains).
    2) To make extensive use of direct mail, newspaper and radio to publicize the web site’s existence to sustainably minded consumers in a sixty mile radius from Montevideo, MN and to metro area consumers in the Twin Cities and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
    3) To increase the demand for locally raised farm produce by placing a computer kiosk featuring the web site in an existing main street storefront where small town farmers and consumers will meet to exchange product information, make orders and learn how to use the web site and locally produced foods.

    We set up monthly study circles at which we made group decisions and shared and gathered necessary information. After the first two meetings, two of our producers decided not to continue so we thought of possibilities and replaced them with two new producers. We considered other producers that might offer something new to the group than what we had.

    The group decided to hire Kevin Hein as our computer consultant. He has been helpful in giving us advice about computers and creating our kiosk and web site pages. Kevin brought examples and any other information he could find for us. He has also been creating a site to bring in tourism to the Montevideo area. It was discussed how we might tie the two together in that visitors to the area could recreate and buy our products to take home.

    Kiosk design can computer type discussion took much of our time. We wanted something that drew people’s attention and that was user friendly for those who aren’t comfortable with computers. We obtained the use of a digital camera so that we would be able to have quality pictures that we could be easily added or changed as needed. We created a questionnaire so producers could gather information necessary to develop their web page. After Kevin had a rough draft together of each of our pages, we viewed them and gave suggestions on possible changes.

    In choosing a name for our web site, the group believed it would be good to have something that identified our location and said that we had quality food to offer. The group settled on “Prairiefare”. We had a sign designed for the top of the kiosk just above the computer screen. To cut down on paper use, our group decided to forgo a printer and had the kiosk designed so that flyers about each farm could be placed in racks on the sides.

    Patrick and Mary Moore purchased an abandoned store front in downtown Montevideo and remodeled it for a coffee house, which opened in mid summer. They offered the group, that if we thought it the best location, that we could have the kiosk at their new business. The marketing group though it to be an ideal atmosphere for farmers and consumers to come together. Future plans are to offer cooking demonstrations of locally grown products some evenings at the store.

    To get the word out about the web site, some local newspapers ran stories. We advertised in several papers and sent flyers out to the Land Stewardship Project and Clean Up Our River Environment (CURE) membership, and locally sponsored a public TV show, Frontline’s “The Farmer’s Wife”.

    People:
    Patrick and Mary Moore, “Java River” coffeehouse, Montevideo, MN. Patrick has more than 11 years experience as a program organizer and fund raiser for the Land Stewardship Project. Currently, Moore is the coordinator of the Chippewa River Stewardship Partnership (CRSP) and of CURE (Clean Up our River Environment) the largest environmental grassroots organization in the Minnesota River Basin. Moore has brought his proven new project start up skills to the study circle. Patrick and Mary own the main street store front the local sustainable network uses to house the computer kiosk.

    Kevin Hein, “Theobald Hein and Associates Inc.”, Montevideo, MN. Kevin Hein was hired as our computer consultant. He brought to the study group various ideas about computers, kiosk design, how to create our web site and each farm’s individual web page.

    Deb Elias, MISA Associate Program Director, St. Paul, MN. Debra has been working as the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) Associate Program Director for the past 3 years. She has a background in agricultural economics and currently manages the Information Exchange – a sustainable agriculture resource and information service. Debra has been a resource person for suggestions as we developed our marketing tool.

    Results:
    At this stage, if is difficult to evaluate our results. Contacts have been minimal, but we have been told to be patient. We created a form to monitor customer response.

    With the kiosk in the “Java River” coffeehouse, exposure to the community has been excellent. The Moores say that many customers stop to look at the kiosk and ask questions. There haven’t been many contacts through the internet yet, but those received have mainly been inquiries about farming, pricing, and interest in direct marketing their own products.

    Discussion:
    We have learned that we have to be patient. These things take time to build. Knowing full well that it would be beneficial, some of us have been slow in getting our individual farm flyers created. This project has affected us in that it has helped us focus our minds on the marketing of our farm products. We haven’t overcome our identified barrier. Our barrier is that we could sell our products if we could just connect with the people that would be interested. Two advantages come to mind. The first is it helps us become more regular about how we need to present our products. The second is when people can see where their food comes from; it connects them to the land. We producers also like the connection of selling directly to the consumer and being able to meet them face to face.

    The disadvantage is that direct marketing takes a lot of work. We would tell others that with direct kinds of marketing be patient. It is slow to develop. We would estimate the impacts on the economics is that this is good for local communities and socially it connects communities. We feel our kind of farming practices are more beneficial to the environment than some of the conventional ways. With selling and buying closer to home, there is less distance for transporting the food to the consumer.

    OUTREACH
    Outreach has and will continue to come in many forms. First of all, the “Community Based Direct Marketing on the World Wide Web”, itself is an outreach with the internet use. With the Moores being a large part of this project and allowing us to have our kiosk in their business establishment, we are getting community exposure. The Moores’ coffeehouse, “Java River” also had an open house on August 28-29, 1998 and approximately 500 people attended. Local newspapers were notified and several papers ran stories about our project. We advertised on a local public television station, in a tourism paper, in Twin Cities papers, and did flyer mail outs. The Western Minnesota Sustainable Farming Association Board of Directors made the decision to plan the January 1999 annual meeting with a marketing theme which will center around this project. Approximately forty to fifty people usually attend. The public will be extended an invitation through press releases.

    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.