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Simply stated, marketing is the action of promoting and selling products that your business undertakes in order to create income. However marketing is more than just promotion and selling. Marketing requires an exchange of value between a customer and seller that can represent more than an exchange of funds. Marketing implies physical logistical functions such as transportation, storage, and processing. Marketing also needs support and facilitation where farm businesses are financed, risk is managed, and standards are established for goods and services. When starting a new farm business or exploring new farm products it is important to consider some of these as key factors in determining if it is possible to earn farm income from the crop you are growing or animal that you are raising. Other than production feasibility, marketing is the next most important factor in determining if a farm is going to be financially sustainable. We have included some topics along with the resources to help you explore and plan for marketing your produce:

Benjamin Sheilds of In Good Heart Farm at the Fearrington Farmers Market. Photo Credit: Debbie Roos

Benjamin Shields of In Good Heart Farm at the Fearrington Farmers Market. Photo Credit: Debbie Roos

Market Planning and Strategy

Planning and strategizing about how much demand is possible for your farm product, who your customer is, and how you will attempt to reach them is a critical part of your marketing success. This process is research based and may not dictate the reality of what will happen when you start a farm or add a farm product. However, having a plan in place will allow your farm business to quickly shift and rediscover what is going to be the most successful avenue for your business to get your produce in the hands of your customer.

Marketing Channels

Market channels is the term used to describe how you sell your product. For example, you can sell through a direct to consumer market channel, such as a CSA, or you can sell to intermediary markets, such as an institution or wholesaler. It is important to think through the specific requirements and expectations these general locations have before you attempt to sell your products. To understand various marketing strategies and marketing levels available to local food producers t the NC Extension Local Food site is very helpful. When thinking about market channel selection consider using the “Market Channel Selection Tool” developed in partnership by Michigan State University for beginning farmers and ranchers. Once you have selected the market channels you think may be viable for you can use the NCAT Marketing Tip Sheet Series to guide you on the practical/logistical selling and presentation points when trying to reach your customers at various locations.

Harvesting, Processing, and Handling Produce

Each farm product will require a different process to get from the field to the plate of your customer. It is important to consider how this will happen before you plan your farm infrastructure. The NC Fresh Produce safety page will help you outline the kind of equipment and facilities you will need to handle produce on your farm. Be sure you think ahead specifically about how many pounds of produce, what varieties you will grow, when they will be harvested, if they need to be washed, how they will be stored, and how they will be transported/packed. The Produce Quick Reference Guide can help you as you think through this. The NC Fresh Produce Website contains information about good agricultural practices (GAPS) and the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). Its a good idea for you to be aware of these resources and what is required and at what scale of farm this applies to. The more educated you are as a customer and current or potential producer the better you will be at navigating your own market risk.

Meat and Egg Handling Requirements

Livestock producers are subject to a different set of storage, handling, and transportation requirements in North Carolina, many of which require certification prior to selling meat to consumers. The website Growing Small Farms updated and curated by Debbie Roos has a wonderful section on the basics of Meat Handling Requirements including basics of labeling.

Labeling Claims and Certifications

These are marketing standards that when met can help you market your products and maybe get a higher price point for your product. Consider whether you can meet any standards associated with a label or certification. Some require detailed recordkeeping. Growers will want to know if there is a price premium or other advantages and how much they will affect your business before choosing those certifications. NC Farm School has a labeling claims document that give more insight into labeling claims such as “natural” and “organic” or take a peek at our certifications page.

If you want to learn more about marketing your products, reach out to your local Extension Agent to learn about programs where you can learn more.