Selling products directly off the farm is nothing new — for as long as crops have been grown, farmers have sold the fruits of their labour to friends, family and neighbours. But today there’s increasing demand from other consumers to buy directly from farmers, which was reflected in the themes at the 20th anniversary of Manitoba’s Direct Farm Marketing here last week.
“For years this conference has provided a venue for producers to grow the industry, gain knowledge and learn from each other,” said Waldo Thiessen, founding organizer of the conference, which started in 1995. “We are looking forward to the next five years because things in this sector are going to be happening fast.”
During the two-day event attendees discussed tips on extending growing seasons, innovative research in the sector, advice from successful direct marketers, ‘enterprise stacking’ for sustainability, how to best utilize packaging and labelling and how to go beyond just offering products for sale.
Manitoba Health representatives reviewed the permits necessary for selling food directly, what they look for when inspecting farmers’ markets and individual operations, and participated in a question-and-answer period to address any regulatory misconceptions.
A new stream of sessions on grass-fed beef was also implemented for the first time at this year’s conference.
“I really encourage you all to think outside the box and try to see how you can use adversity as an opportunity,” said Colleen Biggs, who operates TK Ranch in Alberta with her family. “At the time that we moved our operation into direct marketing, there was really no one in Alberta direct marketing beef. The learning curve was overwhelming but with some tenacity and perseverance we have created a successful business.”
All about relationships
In January, the provincial government released a report on small-scale production and marketing by a working group chaired by former provincial veterinarian Wayne Lees.
The report indicates the main reason why more consumers are moving towards purchasing goods directly from the farm or through farmers’ markets is the ability to speak directly with the farmer who has produced the product.
“Farm-direct marketing is all about relationships. If you are going to be a great farm-direct marketer, you are going to need to think not as a farmer producing crops but as a person developing relationships with a consumer base,” said keynote speaker Charlie Touchette, executive director of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association.
“These connections are what drive direct farm marketing. The industry is dependent on our relationship with customers and working with one another and networking.”
Touchette discussed how marketers could take their sales to the next level by considering product displays, diversifying into new areas, incorporating an agri-tourist attraction and being open and adaptable to change.
“Consumers want what you are selling. They want homegrown products from right here in Manitoba,” said Danny Kleinsasser, who has created a brand with his homegrown restaurant and catering business, Danny’s Whole Hog Barbeque and Smokehouse.
“Sometimes we are being too shy about our operations. But I believe that everyone in here can have success. It is just a matter of associating yourself with good people and not being afraid to go after your goals,” said Kleinsasser.
Many of the event’s seminars focused on the small-scale producers’ ability to be nimble and respond to consumer demands, allowing them to take advantage of new markets or develop nuanced products to fill a niche.
“Farmers’ markets and small-scale farms are not feeding the world. Farmers’ markets are not even feeding their cities. Farmers’ markets are nurturing communities and keeping agriculture infrastructure and farming alive,” said Touchette.