- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, participatory research, workshop
- Farm Business Management: marketing management
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems
Problem and Justification:
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) market models such as farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) appeal to a limited population of consumers. Growth beyond this population has been stagnant for a decade, limiting market access for small and mid-sized farms in New England reliant on these markets. For farmers, DTC markets require substantial time and labor, yet are unreliable and often inadequate, thus limiting farmers’ ability to increase production. For consumers, DTC markets are inconvenient, have higher prices, and limited choice, restricting participation to privileged consumers with higher income and capacity to overcome these barriers. To ensure their long-term viability, small and mid-sized farms in New England need new marketing strategies that reduce their labor but still deliver a fair price and expand market access.
This project will benefit the nearly 8,000 small New England farms that sell directly to consumers, specifically those that are seeking to expand their production, reduce their reliance on DTC markets, or decrease their marketing labor. The project will also have implications for the more than 2,700 small and mid-sized New England farms selling to restaurants and institutional buyers who may also be seeking additional market outlets.
Solution and Approach:
Collaborative, or mediated market models (MMMs) are a rapidly growing adaptation of DTC markets that introduce a single intermediary between producer and consumer that serves to aggregate products from multiple farms and communicates information about farm practices and values to consumers. Examples of MMMs are online farmers’ markets, multi-farm CSAs, online subscription programs, and multi-farm-aggregating farm stores. MMMs are proposed as a solution to farmers’ intensive DTC marketing labor and limited market access by creating short supply chains that deliver fair prices for farmers. By collaboratively aggregating products from multiple farms, MMMs increase convenience, choice, and flexibility for consumers, and thus potentially increase consumers’ participation in markets appropriate for small and mid-sized farms.
As New England MMMs develop, farmers and stakeholders need opportunities to learn from each other as they experiment with these new market models. Our educational workshops and Community of Practice network facilitation will bring together farmers and stakeholders engaged with or interested in experimenting with MMMs, for peer-to-peer learning. The workshops will generate actionable insights as stakeholders and farmers bring together their emerging knowledge of best practices and strategies for successful marketing through MMMs. Farmers and stakeholders will benefit from educational products generated from workshop findings and a survey of New England consumers about their experiences and preferences with purchasing food from MMMs. A core group case study will provide a deeper learning opportunity for farmers to measure the impact of this marketing strategy on their labor and income, informing decision-making and investment in these marketing models.
Performance targets from proposal:
130 farmers who participated in the workshops will increase their participation in MMMs or join an existing or newly created MMM by selling at least five percent of their products through a New England MMM. Farmers’ participation in MMMs will result in an average of $200 net income per week and 5 hours per week of reduced marketing labor per farmer.