A Diversifying and Marketing Strategy for Sustaining Small Farm Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,976.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: apples
  • Vegetables: cabbages, cucurbits
  • Additional Plants: trees


  • Farm Business Management: marketing management

    Proposal summary:

    Small farms in the south are faced with the constant struggle of trying to make a living from farming alone. Various things contribute to this struggle. Many farmers have to take outside jobs to make ends meet, giving up on their dreams of farming for a living, thus affecting generations to come. In less than a decade, more than 500 small farms have been lost in Watauga County, NC alone. Diversity is key to the future success of farms and is particularly valuable for tobacco farmers at this stage. Diversity and capitalizing on new markets is of utmost importance to the future of sustainable farming for small farms. Our solution will come in a multi-part plan: diversification, the expansion of profitable selling opportunities, and the direct targeting of specific customers. We want to create a fall farm weekends series of events. In the mountains of Western NC, we have a particularly strong tourism industry. We are modeling our “Fall Farm Weekends” after a system that is currently used in this choose & cut industry. Our strongest agri-tourism industry is choose & cut Christmas trees. We have identified choose & cut patrons as our new target consumers. They typically have disposable income and travel to our area on a regular basis. We also know that they enjoy coming to a farm and choosing what they want to take home. We believe that offering the “choose your own” concept during the fall season will allow us to capture a market that is untapped. In particular, we plan to operate Fall Farm Weekends that will offer these customers an opportunity to pick their own fresh pumpkins and gourds. We will operate an open-air market on these weekends selling fresh fall harvest produce such as cabbage, potatoes, winter squash, and lettuce; fall decorations including corn shocks, hay bales, and Indian corn in addition to pumpkins and gourds; as well as handcrafted items like bird houses and knitted and woven items. Pumpkins and gourds will be displayed and sold at the open-air market if weather conditions have prohibited our leaving them in the field. Selecting crops that we have determined are higher yield and less labor intensive will increase profits and decrease labor. These crops will be grown on our farm and also contracted from other local producers, opening additional sales opportunities for them. Priority for grower participation will be given to some of the county’s hundreds of farmers who did not grow tobacco this year. The Fall Farm Weekends will give us another source for the sale of any extra apples grown at our orchard. Our first year will be used to test product mix and the niche market we are targeting, with our second year opening up to a larger consumer audience and additional products like ornamental grasses, greens, and dried flowers. Starting small will allow us to develop a precise system for collaborating with our choose & cut cooperator and its customers. Since we will be operating on weekends during the month of October, this will allow us to capitalize on the customers who decorate for fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving and having handcrafted items on site will also capture the interest of early Christmas shoppers. Since we have already identified these customers as having disposable income, premium prices can be charged for items sold during the Fall Farm Weekends, allowing for better profits. Surveying these patrons will help us determine other products that we can have available for them to purchase and identify other potential seasons or events that will make the farm a family entertainment and education destination. With our solution, diversification not only means trying different crops but also a new way of marketing. The combination of diversification, expanded selling opportunities, and better profits lend themselves to sustainable and secure farms. Since we have already identified our target customers, we will operate a direct mail and email campaign to invite them to the Fall Farm Weekends. We will be able to measure the success of this campaign by the number of customers who participate in our Fall Farm Weekends. We will survey customers during the weekends to get feedback on what could be done to improve the weekends, to discover other needed products, and to identify other profitable seasonal events. We will be able to add additional successful events to the calendar from compiling survey data from our customers. We will also survey the contracted farmers, finding out what benefits they got from the weekends, what they would do differently, and what additional or different items they would like to produce. A similar survey would be taken of cooperators providing handcrafted items.

    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.