Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Marketing Sweeter with Jam

We have gotten our first taste of marketing the farm. And, it is sweet!

These are definitely organic
After planting, we had a lot of questions on how to market a farm. What is local demand like? Who are the local farmers? Is there a market for organic? We needed more local knowledge to generate our own ideas and marketing. 

To be fair, there is some marketing and media help out there for farmers, like CauseMatters, and more awareness about urban farming is emerging, like BuffaloRising reporting on farming within in the Buffalo city limits

But, what better way to learn about the local market landscape than at the local farmer’s market?
We visited the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market – in Buffalo’s happening neighborhood – to observe and take notes.  Oh, and eat delicious whole-wheat cinnamon buns from Five Points Bakery

For the first time in decades, corn pops up in rows on the property.
Is That Non-Organic?

When I think of a farmer’s market, I think of the established markets in places like San Francisco, Washington DC, Monterey and Durham that offer lots of variety, 99% of it organic. Now that I’ve read it, too, I realize that those farmers all read Organic Farming: Everything You Need to Know and printed “Organic” in big letters on their signs and put flowers in front of their stalls as a way to drawn customers’ attention.

The Elmwood market is a bit different than we expected, but nonetheless a great market. First, and most surprisingly, organic produce was not a big selling point. We were told that people around here were more into their fruit looking perfect. A certain amount of consumer education is still needed. Also, produce was very seasonal. By that I mean, northeastern. Unlike California where strawberries and artichokes are offered almost year-round, these sellers were just beginning to offer spring potatoes, rhubarb and asparagus. It made me respect WNY’s distinct seasons and appreciate local customers who know what grows when. They have new fruit and vegetables to look forward to every few weeks.

Be A Friendly Farmer

The Elmwood Market was definitely more casual, low-key and unhurried than others. That was great because we got to meet and actually converse with local growers and companies that offered everything from organic and non-organic produce, cheeses and baked goods to craft beer and wine.  

Great label
We got to see how a similar farm to McCollum Orchards is succeeding. Blackman Homestead Farm had a great display with pear and apple preserves and juices chilling in tin buckets. Turns out, they are located in Lockport and used to sell grapes to Rich’s old family winery, Chateau Gay. The owner took several minutes to chat with us about their farm and gave us good tips. They take their fruit to be processed at a nearby Certified Kitchen run by a Mennonite family. Their apple juice was delicious and came in lovely jars with their pen-and-ink sketched log on dark-green labels.

We also met local organizations and businesses in related niches. The guys at Community Beer Works tent signed us up for their home-brewers meetings as a way to learn about local  demand for fresh hops. When a bee-keeper heard we want to put a hive in the apple orchard next spring, she told us where to find good equipment. A goat-cheese maker suggested who we might call for goats to use as mowers in the field. That would make the 6-hour weekly mowing job a lot easier!

Every Tweet is a Pitch

Our foray into the Twitter world has given us much marketing practice, too. Every Tweet is like a mini business pitch where you only get 140 characters to convey your message. McCollum Orchards has connected with several local farms and businesses, like Lake Effect Ice Cream – an artisan ice cream shop based here in Lockport. Our own local artisan ice cream shop? Count me in! They are looking to use local fresh fruit and herbs and offer all sorts of interesting flavor combinations, like Rosemary Vanilla. I can’t wait to try them all. 
Follow us to the farm @mccollumorchard
Meeting local farmers and foodies, growers and goat-herders in person and online has been fun. We are forming our role as the “new face” of McCollum Orchards and learning how to market a farm. I’ve checked out the recently updated USDA Farmer’s Market Directory to see where others are located because, really, the best part about farm marketing is – every new contact offers something delicious!


  1. Great article!

    I was a little sad to see that you left out San Diego as a great place for farmers markets. We have a market every day of the week and multiple locations on the weekends.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Joseph, I bet San Diego would have great farmer markets! I'm sad that I never got to them when I was there. We'll have to go next time we visit.
    Hope all is well with you!