Collaborating with other farmers to direct market food can show customers that they are part of a larger community, says one direct-market farmer. And, unlike organics or environment-friendly farming practices, community doesn’t scale up to Walmart size.
“(The local food movement) succeeded in creating an awareness that food is a purchase that has a serious impact on our communities,” said Justin Girard. “The larger food system is adapting to that.”
Girard is a director of Direct Farm Manitoba and farms near Elie with his partner Britt Embry. He spoke during Direct Farm Manitoba’s online 2021 conference in late February.
Some of the labels ‘small food’ fought for at a grassroots level have been taken up by ‘large food,’ Girard said. The large-scale food system will be able to mobilize new technology and make equitable, earth-friendly food much more convenient.
But if these labels are no longer unique to them, small food producers still have a unique ability to band together and to make people feel like part of a community. Community may also be how small farms thrive going forward.
Farmers’ markets are one example, but the small-farm sector can’t stop there, Girard said.
Girard suggested introducing customers to more than one farm by collaborating with others on marketing. For he and Embry, who grow mainly fruits and vegetables, this has meant teaming up with a farm that produces grass beef and other meats. The two farms have shared a drop-off point where customers come to pick up orders.
They’ve done home-delivery vegetable boxes with another farm that sells meat, allowing that farm’s customers to conveniently add produce to their orders. They’ve sold other farms’ potatoes and carrots, quinoa, honey and other products. They’ve hosted fundraising dinners featuring others farms’ food alongside their own.
Girard suggested farmers to consider how they can add more services for their communities — for instance, if they make delivery runs can they also pick up things that are needed in their area and bring them back?
Collaborative marketing is also a way for farmers starting out to break into markets and gain customers, said John Muller, who spoke alongside Girard during the virtual conference.
He teamed up with another farm which sells grass-fed beef, lamb and honey. This allowed that farm to offer their customers more products — in this case, chicken — and introduced him to their customer base.
Muller, who owns a small chicken farm in the Interlake, shared his story of starting his chicken farm on less than two acres rented off another farmer. Completely without a farming background, he’d gained experience by interning on farms.