1996 Farmer to Farmer Conference
Judy Powell of the Division of Market Development at the Maine Department of Agriculture and Sheila Unvala of Darthia Farm in Gouldsboro tackled a big issue at the Farmer to Farmer Conference last fall – how to develop an image for your farm that reflects your goals and draws customers.
All types of businesses have an image, whether it comes from advertising, from the way they present themselves to the public, or from plain neglect. Farms are no different from other businesses in that sense – the image is the identifier that helps to promote products or services in the marketplace.
According to Judy, often we’re simultaneously trying to make a statement about our farm or products, present an impression quickly to the public, encourage people to look at our products again in the future, and avoid being rejected out of hand. The best contacts involve sending a message to your customer, and the customer interpreting your message from his or her perspective.
Those connections can be made in a variety of ways. Key aspects for product labeling include color, fonts or typefaces, and the images or artwork involved. Materials can include: business cards; folded business cards (mini-fliers); newsletters; direct mail; catalogs; fliers; bags; posters and signs. It’s important to start, and then refine and build as you clarify your own image of your business.
Sheila Unvala has been at Darthia Farm for eight years. She’s Bill and Cindy Thayer’s daughter-in-law, and has worked closely with Cindy in developing the farm’s promotional materials. Darthia uses a circle of sheep as its logo. Robert Shetterley did the drawing and an apprentice helped with the logo design. The image implies movement (dynamic), circular/wholeness, and in some ways resembles a boat’s wheel, reflecting the farm’s marine influence. In all of its materials Darthia tries to project its image: home-grown, homemade, organic.
Darthia has found that its best customers are people who’ve come to the farm and experienced its products first-hand. Sheila and Cindy have been building a mail order business over the last eight years. Their first catalog had wreaths, and wreaths with jams, for Christmas gifts. Now they have 31 items, and their logo is everywhere on their products!
Darthia promotes in a variety of ways, including a home page, an ad in the Schoodic Peninsula tourism brochure, and regular ads in the Ellsworth American and the flier for the local movie house. It hosts farm tours with wagon rides two afternoons a week.
One caution: protect your image. One Maine company had its basic format and logo copied by a close competitor recently. You can trademark your logo with the Maine Secretary of State for about $50 for 10 years. It’s cheap insurance if you’re doing value-added products.
The workshop included a lively discussion about relatively low cost ways to promote your business. Signs need to be simple if the prospective customer is going by at 50 miles per hour. The image your farm presents to a passerby can make the difference between a sale or no interest. A cluttered yard with an unkempt lawn is not likely to attract people looking for quality produce. Suggestions included: a clean yard and buildings; keeping animals visible; plantings such as tulips to attract attention; and making your product the image for your farm.
Disagreements arose about telephones and their costs. Keeping your farm name the same as your family name saves $35 per month on directory costs. Others think that yellow pages are a good place to be, and Darthia Farm uses an 800 number for catalog orders.
Everyone agreed on one point: It’s up to you to figure out what you’re trying to sell, and to develop a strategy for connecting with the public. Even the most dedicated of potential customers can get frustrated if they have trouble finding you, ordering products, or identifying what you sell in the market. Developing your image is a critical part of any farm marketing plan.
– Russ Libby