Local growers encouraged to think outside the plot
By Rich Eldred - firstname.lastname@example.org
Local food, locally grown and eaten is all the rage and farmers markets are springing up around Cape Cod like turnip sprouts and fat- podded peas.
But it can be a shock for market shoppers when they peruse the fruits and veggies and spot non-supermarket prices for non-factory farmed foods. So how can local growers market their wares to wary customers?
The Community Development Partnership held a forum on marketing for local farmers, cheesemakers and jam cooks last Wednesday evening in Eastham.
“You’re already marketing. We want to change the way you think about it,” Angela Gaimari of the CDP told the audience. “Think about it. Social media, digital, one on one. Halcyon Farm (in Brewster) markets the romance around the farm so people say I want a piece of that. Americans are accustomed to paying a low percentage of their income on food. Industrial food is subsidized. Second, you’re offering yourself. Finally, customers are a moving target. You have to create a product others don’t have.”
Lucas Dinwiddie runs Halcyon Farm right on Route 6A near the Orleans line in Brewster. He tries to make the farm attractive and inviting so customers will want to purchase his crops.
“We’re a small farm and we can’t make it growing vegetables so we have to diversify,” he said. “We’re slowly transitioning to value added selling the experience of the farm. People shop here because of how the farm looks. We have a 200-year-old farmhouse and a Bed and Breakfast now. A small scale farm on Cape Cod is not sustainable so we’re leveraging agritourism. Open house events, weddings, community supported agriculture and we’ll also try farm to table.”
The idea is this is a farm where you can rent a room.
“That way I don’t have to think of the vegetables paying for everything and that relieves a lot of stress,” Dinwiddie said. “In the future we hope to cook on site and cooking classes, jamming classes.”
Victoria Pecoraro runs In The Weedz Farm in Wellfleet. She carefully tailors her displays at farmers markets to be as attractive as possible. She started selling eggs.
“They’re colorful and beautiful at the same time,” Pecoraro explained. “They are so unique. If we tried to replicate it somewhere else the eggs would never be the same. We do grow specialty heirloom vegetables as well. But I found out that like vegetables eggs don’t make a lot of money. So we are looking towards value added such as composting.”
Pecoraro hired help so she could focus on marketing at her stands and designing the display the way she wanted.
“I’ve gone to trade shows to educate myself and to meet other foodies,” she said. “At a Northeast Organic Farming Association conference I took a class on no-feed chicken raising and how to put them to work to make compost.”
She also met someone who makes hot sauce with habanero peppers, which Pecoraro grows. She now sells the sauce and will sell his Bloody Mary mix that uses her horseradish and tomatoes as well.
“Going to the Boston Food Show you get inspiration and find ways to bring other things in,” Pecoraro said.
Milisa Moses owns the Salt Cellar Shop selling goods made from flowers and herbs. She also produces calender’s and towels for planting by the phases of the moon. She uses Instagram and Facebook for marketing.
In the early 1990s Ron Backer, a retired physician, bought a 120-year-old farm on Seymour Pond (Surrey Farms) in Brewster.
“I first started with flowering perennials and discovered that after July 1, nobody buys flowering perennials,” he explained. “Then I went to vegetables. We grow a lot of diverse fruits and vegetables and have a small farm stand with jams and honeys. I go to the Orleans and Wellfleet farmers markets. I think people are buying the person who represents the wares and if it’s a valid product and you’re honest you’ll do well.”
Backer sells to restaurant chefs (“they take great pride in putting you on the menu”) and produces his own flavored honeys and paprikas from six different paprika peppers.
“Everybody can grow great squash, melons, cucumbers. You’ve got to change because constantly someone competing with you and you have got to have cachet,” Backer said. “We’re now trying a purple bean that doesn’t lose color when you cook it, a Korean avocado. I look for products that grow in our zone that most people don’t grow.”
Customers are also looking for those unique products. The bottom line is it isn’t easy for local growers to compete with industrial agriculture’s volume and low cost. Your product may be fresher but it has also got to be special in some way.