Customer Identification and Communication Education for Scale Specific Commodities

2012 Annual Report for ONE11-135

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,986.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Laura Biasillo
Development Specialist

Customer Identification and Communication Education for Scale Specific Commodities


2012 was a very busy year for this project – both a planning and implementation year after an initial evaluation season in 2011. All of the farms reviewed their 2011 customer surveys, set goals for marketing concepts they’d like to try and then picked one or two and worked on them throughout their 2012 season. As many of the farms operate year-round, or close to year-round, this was a great opportunity to really get some traction behind some marketing concepts for data to make an informed decision moving forward in 2013. All of the farms were dedicated to the project and process, though staff turnover and family changes put some of them farther behind in implementation of their marketing concepts than they would have preferred. Customer surveys were again conducted, using a variety of methods, including online and print. While not as many have been returned at the time of this report as anticipated, we believe more will come in the beginning of 2013. Additionally, while the data gleaned from the customer surveys are important, more telling as to the success of this project will be sales numbers and traffic on farm websites, Facebook pages, etc… which will come after 2012 closes and those farms are able to close their books. Great strides were made in the creation and use of marketing materials for the farms. Resource binders were created for all participating farms and drafts of outreach and publicity materials are being created for dissemination of information about this project. Finally, drafts of marketing plans were created for five of the seven participating farms. These drafts will be finalized in the first quarter of 2013 with up to date sales numbers from 2012 and projections for the upcoming years as well as market research data which was not yet available.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Customer Surveys

Customer surveys were collected in cooperation with all the participating farmers. Some challenges were encountered in collection of the original anticipated number of surveys (30/location) as many of the farms share customers and sell at the same farmers’ markets. Additionally, while we originally anticipated being able to video some customer surveys, it turned out to not be practical due to time constraints and overlap of seasons. However, the results of the surveys in the aggregate were quite interesting and indicative of the “buy local” trend. 73 surveys have been collected to date, with one farm’s surveys still waiting to be counted. Several of the farm’s surveys have been uploaded to illustrate this.

The results of the surveys showed the following:

  • ~95% still get most of their information about local farms and food through word of mouth
  • ~80% pay the most attention to social media and farm websites
  • 100% want more recipes, tips and regular communication from farms regarding what’s going on, specials/sales, etc…; and state this information would encourage their more regular, and increased, purchasing habits with local farms
  • The ability for a farm to accept credit/debit cards greatly effects customer purchasing habits – but only if they are aware of this opportunity – which many stated they were not aware of for several of the participating farms.

Marketing Trials

Each farm worked with the project leader to define some marketing goals and how they would accomplish these through one, or two, trials of marketing concepts. There was a lot of discussion around the existing skills and infrastructure each farm possessed and how that related to marketing concepts that could be tried; in addition to the project leader working to push each farm a little out of their comfort zone.

Examples of the marketing concepts suggested for participating farms included:

  • Setting a schedule for information to be put into blog/e-news/etc.. that can be created ahead of time to save time (i.e. health tips, recipe/preparation tips, where products can be found, new products coming, etc…); An example of this is attached.
  • Start gathering customer contact information to populate a database for use in an email/e-news/newsletter/blog, etc…;
  • More regular posting on social media sites (for those possessing them);
  • Increase/Expand customer base through new venture (i.e. CSA program, increase in wholesale venues, etc..);
  • Partnership with collaborative enterprises; and
  • Expansion of media outlets utilized.

The results have been mixed as of the point of submitting this report, but with the end of the year not yet completed, sales data is not available to give a complete picture of their effects. Some of their effects are listed in the “Accomplishments” section. There were some challenges due to labor turnover at several of the locations as well as once the production season starting marketing no longer taking as high a priority as it should have.

Marketing Plan

During 2012 the project leader met with each farm and talked over what was learned in the 2011 customer surveys, marketing and sales goals for the farm and then drafts of marketing plans were written. Currently those marketing plans are with each farm for review and completion with sales data from their records and sales projections for the upcoming year (2013) and beyond. This was a huge learning experience not only for the participating farms in seeing how their goals and sales relate and setting concrete goals for themselves; but also for the project leader in tracking down comparable and/or other data to help inform the plans with regards to sales and market potential. Several drafts of the marketing plans have been uploaded and all will be complete for the final report in Spring 2013.

  • Increased Sales/Increased Number of Customers:
    This information will not be completed available until each farm closes out their 2012 books, but in general there has been an increased number of sales as recent food safety scares have driven people to purchase more locally.
  • Dissemination of Information learned
    The information learned from this project will be disseminated in a variety of ways during the final portion of the project (in Spring/Summer 2013). This will include:

    • Binders for all participating farms with relevant resources, their customer survey data, their completed marketing plan, recommendations for the future, and any other information;
    • An article in Small Farms Quarterly ( in the summer/fall of 2013;
    • An article in Smart Marketing ( in the summer of 2013;
    • An article sent to Lancaster Farming ( and Country Folks ( in Spring 2013; and
    • Integration of information learned into marketing and other online courses taught through the Cornell University Small Farms Program (
  • Sunny Hill Farm Marketing Plan (draft)
  • North Windsor Berries Marketing Plan (draft)


  • One of the participating farms (North Windsor Berries) started a worksite based Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture and gained 25 shareholders. They worked with the project leader to set up three delivery sites and a schedule. 90%+ of their shareholders will be returning in 2013 and they will be expanding to six sites and 50-60 shareholders. The farm saw this as their opportunity to exit a wholesale channel which would no longer perform as well in 2013. They also gained a whole new set of customers who had never shopped with them previously but now are loyal customers. Their CSA brochure for 2013 is attached.
    Another of the farms (Sunny Hill Farm) started using Square to accept credit/debit cards in 2011 and through sales data was able to demonstrate ~$1200 in sales in 2012 directly tied to this. This same farm was also able to point to increased sales in specific products when her blog posts featured tips on preparing those products (winter greens, grassfed beef, etc..).
    A third of the farms (Country Wagon) bounced back from a devastating flood in Sept 2011 and purchased all new roadfront signage as well as completely changed their marketing tactics to transition from a mailed newsletter to an emailed newsletter by setting up a Constant Contact account. They are still mailing newsletters, but only to those without email. This has saved them hundreds, if not a thousand, dollars that they can put into other aspects of their marketing. They have also reported that this move has increased their sales.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The main outcome from this year has been an increased focus for the farms on how they communicate with their customers and how to do it more efficiently/effectively. The impacts for farms has been varied, from reallocations of marketing budgets (from mailed newsletters to email leading to increased funding for television), to entrance into new marketing channels with positive results (increased sales) to a better understanding of the composition of their current customer base, who they’d like it to be and how to access them through marketing. New marketing materials have been developed, including farm logos, websites, brochures and newsletter templates. These will be under continual review to ensure their customers are getting the information they need from them to make an informed decision and purchase with them.


Lorraine Kemak
Grants Administrator
Cornell Cooperative Extension-Broome County
840 Upper Front St
Binghamton, NY 13905
Office Phone: 6077728953