One of the best ways to preserve Ohio’s farmlands is for family farmers to understand and exploit their market opportunities and keep the family farm in agricultural production.
A breakout session at the 12th Annual Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit put on by the Ohio State University Extension provided Ohio farmers, planners and activists with a few tools and ideas to help farmers in Ohio market what they produce.
The Ohio Farmers Union was a sponsor of and exhibitor at the Preservation Summit.
Mike Hogan, an Extension Educator and Associate Professor at OSU, presented the breakout session, Local Food Business & Community Resources. Hogan also serves as the statewide Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator and the Local Foods Network Leader for OSU Extension. Additionally, he serves as the Ohio Coordinator for the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. Hogan specializes in sustainable agriculture and small farm issues including direct marketing, local food systems and alternative crop and production systems.
Hogan’s first message is that farmers shouldn’t get hung up on the definition of “local.”
“What’s local is almost always in the eye of the beholder,” Hogan said, explaining that different buyers define buying locally different. Some buyers begin in their home county when making decisions or sourcing food. If they can’t find what they want there, they expand their search into neighboring counties and perhaps even statewide.
The moral of the story for small farms is that the produce they are growing or the grass-fed beef they are raising may be in demand from a wholesale or consumer buyer outside of what the farmer believes is local.
To that end, Hogan introduced three tools that can be used by farmers, farmers market managers or other local food activists: Ohio MarketMaker, Ohio MarketReady and Meet the Buyers.
MarketMaker was originally developed as an online marketing resource to give Illinois farmers greater access to regional markets by linking them with processors, retailers, consumers and other food supply chain participants. Since its inception, it has expanded tremendously and is currently one of the most extensive collections of searchable food industry related data in the country, containing nearly 500,000 profiles of farmers and other food related enterprises in sixteen states.
MarketMaker is a free and easy to use Web-based resource. Users of the system are either buyers or producers. As a producer, a farmer builds a profile in the system containing information about his or her farm, crops and livestock. They key is to let the buyers know what you have to sell. Farmers can show their affiliations and link to the farmers markets or other places they sell their products. There is also a ‘Market Place’ where sellers can post information about occasional products for sale.
Buyers can set up similar profiles, only their information is targeted at what they’re looking to purchase. Whether a user is on the buyer or seller side, they may use the tools in the software to find opportunities to connect with people who are either selling what they need or buying or what they have to offer. Users can also find market data which comes from the community of users and from federal demographic and food consumption data. Users are also able to map their data. For instance, a buyer may produce a map of the closest farms in their area selling organic leafy greens.
Ohio Market Ready
Hogan used a quote from renowned management and business expert, the late Peter Drucker: “Marketing is not only broader than selling, it the whole business seen from the customer’s point of view.”
And that’s the point of Ohio Market Ready. This program, also managed by the OSU Extension was incubated in the state of Kentucky to great success and is catching on in Ohio. Made up of workshops and a set of tools for producers to use to implement best marketing practices, Market Ready begins with farmers analyzing their own business goals and how to line them up with a potential customer base. In one-day workshops, extension educators take family farmers through the basics of marketing dealing with subjects from product selection to signage, delivery, promotion, regulatory and insurance issues and how to get to know your know your (potential) customers.
The workshops’ cost varies due to location expenses, but includes lunch and should be in the neighborhood of $75 per person. The next workshops are tentatively planned for late January through February 2012 in Athens, Columbus, Youngstown, Cincinnati, Toledo and Cleveland. For information check out Market Ready on the Web. Hogan said the marketing team at OSU Extension is also open to scheduling workshops by working with Ag groups whose members could put together the numbers of participants to make an event work. Julie Fox may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Meet the Buyers
Meet the Buyers is an extension program that has enjoyed some success in the past, but is somewhat currently limited due to state budget cuts. The aim of the program is to sponsor events where institutional or wholesale buyers set up shop in a trade show like atmosphere and producers can interact with them to find out what they would need to do to sell the likes of broadline food service distributors like Sysco or large-scale food service operations like OSU’s cafeteria system.
Hogan said that budget cuts haven’t killed the program, but the events are likely to be fewer and feature fewer buyers. Again, farmers can watch the OSU Extension direct marketing website for more information.