Please note: This article first appeared in the 2019 Spring Edition of Plain Dirt Newsletter and has been slightly edited to fit all of our audiences.
By Andrew Stutzman, Loan Officer
As farmers, it’s not always common that you come into direct contact with consumers. The traditional means of production agriculture are commonly thought of as farms producing grain, livestock, and dairy products and they're not commonly sold directly from farm to consumer.
Over the years, many small farms have started producing local products and selling directly to our local communities. This has provided our farmers the opportunity to share in the local journey of food production. As consumers grow further apart from production agriculture, it’s common to find folks skeptical of production practices.
Storytelling provides the opportunity to inform your customers directly about the product they are producing and the reason why.
What makes storytelling so powerful? This process is focused on making a connection with the customer first, and selling a product second. This is an opportunity for your farm to share your family’s story and then showcase your product. You have the opportunity to share the reason why you grow certain products and the opportunity to connect on a more personal level. It is important to keep these conversations personal, positive, and informative.
When customers buy from you, they’re not only buying your product, they’re also buying the feeling they get from your product. For example, my wife has a sewing machine that was passed down from her grandma. In her case, she didn’t have to pay for it, but if she did, she’d be willing to pay far more for it than any other comparable machine. This is because it is worth more to her than just the value of the physical machine. The feelings connected to it are worth something extra to her. When customers hear your story, it builds an extra connection to your product, and they’re willing to pay for that feeling of connection.
The farm I grew up on retailed beef and other meat products directly to consumers. Telling our story involved sharing about our sustainable farming practices, the steps we took to produce a healthy product, and the involvement of our whole family on the farm. We told our story in our newsletters and in daily interactions with customers. We even held a customer appreciation farm tour event, which gave us an opportunity to show them in person what we had been telling them about. Each of these storytelling opportunities created a connection between our customers and our farm.
Tips to Telling Your Farm Story
Listen for an opportunity.
If you already own and operate a roadside market, think about all the neighbors and motorists that drive past your farm. These consumers drop by to make a purchase. Many of the consumers have limited ties to production agriculture and understanding of how their food is produced. Most of them learn about food production from television or online.
The best way to truly learn about agriculture is to communicate directly with the farmer. I recommend starting the conversation with a warm personality and greeting. If a consumer is taking the time out of their busy schedule to make an extra stop at your farm stand, they certainly value fresh and local products. They are interested in the story of how the product was grown. This opens an opportunity to start a more personalized conversation between farmer and consumer. It allows the consumer to ask questions about the product and for the farmer to answer with credibility. This creates a sense of value in the buying experience for the consumer.
Find a shared value.
Throughout the buying journey of agricultural products, consumers are genuinely curious about how their food is produced, and it’s important to find common ground in the conversation.
One common characteristic found both with farmers and consumers is the value of family. Consumers will relate more with hearing about your favorite fruit pie recipe you share with your family, your favorite annual to plant in the garden or a personal family experience on the farm. As farm families, we can share these common values with our customers.
Ask for permission.
Some consumers may be more open to having a conversation than others. I find that most consumers want you to acknowledge their concern. Since so many people are fairly removed from the day-to-day farm tasks, our communities have grown into skeptical consumers.
We can’t expect them to be immediately won over by our story. It might take several conversations. As they return to the farm for repeat buying experiences this can provide you the opportunity to continue your storytelling. It’s important to discuss your best management practices and to emphasize that your product is safe to eat.
Share your story.
Once your customer sees that you are passionate about farming and care deeply about the food you produce, it deepens the conversation. This allows you to tell your story about your farm, and the consumer will then begin to listen. As a farmer you provide the credibility and real-life experience that helps to gain the trust of the consumer. While sharing your story, keep in mind you might be the only farmer to directly communicate with a specific consumer. Not only will your story help to sell your own product, but it will help to educate and restore trust in the agriculture community. Try creating a Facebook page or Instagram profile for your farm and sharing frequent updates like, what you're planting, how you're growing it, and even your favorite recipe for that particular item!