By JULIE MURPHREE
For the Capital Press
Not long ago, Bob McClendon, an organic produce grower in Arizona, had a clear and concise answer when asked how Arizona Farm Bureau could help small and local farmers and ranchers succeed.
His reply: Help direct-market farmers and ranchers market their products.
Not only did McClendon's request ring loud and clear at the time, but it also had staying power. By digging into how best to honor his request, Arizona Farm Bureau discovered an opportunity to approach its bottom-line support of farmers and ranchers with a different method.
The end result is a new guidebook, "A Farmer's Guide to Marketing the Direct-Market Farm."
The book is the result of three years' worth of interviews with direct-market, or "retail" farmers about their marketing strategies and needs. One common thread is that farmers have often asked for simple, quick and inexpensive strategies for marketing their agriculture products to the public.
In other instances, innovative farm families have come up with simple and straightforward methods of connecting with their customers and selling their products.
Both sides of this story became the foundation of the 68-page guidebook. It's loaded with questions for farm families to answer as they develop their marketing strategy and specific examples that other farm families in the retail agriculture market can relate to in a competitive market.
Uncovering "traditional" farm and ranch families slowly dipping their toes into this new market was one of the most fascinating aspects to emerge from this quest to help direct-market agriculture. One of the book's most interesting stories highlights the saga of a traditional farm family as they begin direct-marketing.
As the book went to press, more and more farm families with a traditional farm and ranch enterprise began to emerge as interested direct marketers. It's clear that they identified with the goal of helping farm families of all types benefit from doing business directly with their end customers.
One resounding experience common to all the farmers interviewed for the book--regardless of size and type--was how they grew to believe their farm story was their marketing message. They also realized that before re-evaluating a direct market connection, they were not inclined to tell their stories.
As a result, many of the marketing strategies in the guidebook are built around the story that must be told.
The last chapter is devoted to storytelling and easy tips for telling the farm story. When farmers are able to tell their stories in an engaging way, they are better able to connect with their customers -- the quintessential "public." In this way, they earn trust from their customers and relationships develop.
When a farm family recognizes that marketing is about their story, marketing becomes manageable and rewarding. Ultimately, marketing is simply a platform for a story; it gives voice to farm families and their products.
Julie Murphree is director of public relations for the Arizona Farm Bureau and is author of the book, "A Farmer's Guide to Marketing the Direct-Market Farm," which is available at Amazon.com.