Nearly 200 agro-enthusiasts gathered in South Royalton Sunday for a conference on direct marketing to consumers.
You see those signs in most every Vermont town on Saturday advertising the local farmers market. It's possible those slogans were thought up here at the annual Direct Marketing Conference put on by the Northeast Organic Farming Association.
"This conference really focuses on what are those marketing techniques that work. How do you make a really effective vendor display. If people are driving by on the road side, what's going to make them stop at your farm stand," said Enid Wonnacott with NOFA Vermont.
The event encompassed many workshops, each focusing on the best way to make and keep a customer. "Most farmers farm because they like to grow vegetables and be in business for themselves. They don't think about the marketing," Wonnacott said.
In some cases the demand for locally grown food is growing faster than farmers can keep up. "A lot of people are coming to farming, a lot of people are coming to eating more local food, a lot of people are concerned about healthy eating and stuff like that," said Jon Cohen, Director of the Vermont Farmers Market Association.
In fact, according to a study by Vermont Farm to Plate, from 2002 to 2007 direct sales to consumers doubled to 37-dollars per person, making Vermont the highest per capita direct sales state in the nation. Because of the increase in demand, many farmers have had to hire managers to run their markets, like Kristina Israel, who manages a market in Putney. Israel says a big part of her day involved filing for grant money to keep her market running, so Sunday she attended a workshop on other ways to raise money.
"It turns out that community fundraising and knocking on doors is just a fine way to keep the market afloat," she said.
And while many market managers are worried about the cost of marketing, experts say the most useful tool to keep in the tool box this year is marketing by way of social media. "Today's technology in some ways even effects your relationship with people. So certainly word of mouth helps a lot but there are certainly more ways to reach people more effectively through the Internet and social media," Cohen said.
It's a lesson Israel hopes to take back to her market, as well. "There are lots of people who are young, who have smart phones who shop farmers markets and they like to interact on that level, they like to take it home with them. They like to get recipe ideas on Facebook -- you know all that sort of stuff," she said.
From 1992 to 2007 Vermont farms' direct sales increased from 4-million dollars to nearly 23-million.
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