Getting into farming is a challenge. The most obvious question is what the farm will produce. Meat? Eggs? Vegetables? Fiber? I chose animal husbandry, and in the early years of my farm, I remember the endless challenges and experimentation it took to figure out the best way to manage my cows and pigs.
There were lots of resources I could turn to for ideas: books, websites, other farmers. But over the years I’ve come to recognize a major blind spot I had in the beginning, a point I think almost all new farmers share: I didn’t really understand who I was going to sell to. .
I had the idea that simply setting up buyers clubs in reasonably populated areas would organically bring in all the business I could want. It worked, but not well enough to put my farm on the healthy growth path needed to make it a viable business.
I needed to figure out how to market, that’s how I came to create a directory to help customers find a local grass-fed beef farm. But before we get to that, a little background.
Agricultural marketing is a necessity
I have yet to meet someone who got into farming because they liked marketing. It doesn’t matter if you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you can sell milk, grain, beef or some other product at wholesale prices and make money. But to make economic sense, the vast majority of small farms need to get the extra margin that comes with selling direct to the public. And selling to the public takes conscious effort.
In short, how will customers find you? There is no single answer to this question. If you are a vegetarian business on a busy road, a nice hand-painted sign and a nice retail stand might suffice. But if you want people to search for you, you need to make it as simple as possible. Generally, this means helping people find you online.
Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder. In my little corner of the world, grass-fed beef companies like Butcherbox, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, as well as private label products sold in a growing number of supermarkets have all made a lot of people.
It used to be that anyone looking for grass-fed beef online was likely to end up at a small local farm. These days, a potential customer browsing online will have to sift through half a dozen listings and a few national brands before arriving at a single farm, which may or may not be close to them.
Directories are great, when they work
In theory, directories are a good answer. Because no farm has the clout of a national company, it is very difficult for us small farms to compete for customer attention. A directory listing many small farms solves this problem. It’s a single, central location that anyone can visit so they can quickly find a local source for whatever they’re looking for.
Because that’s what many customers actually want when they google something like “local grass-fed beef,” it has a chance to rank high. The client accesses the directory, and the directory helps them quickly find a suitable local farm.
It worked pretty well. I put my farm on a number of directories, and for a while they sent me a steady stream of clients. But that flow has slowed down in recent years, and I don’t think it’s because the basic idea of a directory is wrong. I think the problem is with the directories themselves. All existing directories that I know of suffer from one of two problems, and sometimes both.
First, they have not modernized. The internet and the way people use it are constantly changing, and Google and other search engines are changing along with browsing habits. A website that looks good on a computer but is impossible to navigate on a phone might have been fine 10 years ago, but these days when half of all internet traffic is on phones and other mobile devices, it can no longer serve its purpose well. .
Second, most directories charge for their listings. This creates a catch-22. No one wants to pay to be listed on a site that won’t send them a significant number of customers. But Google won’t rank a site very high unless it actually serves a purpose. A national grass-fed beef farm directory that only has one listing per state isn’t going to help a lot of people.
Why I Built a Grass-Fed Beef Farm Directory
It’s possible that the days when directories were a great way for potential customers to connect with local farms are over, but I bet that’s not the case. I believe a simple, clear, and comprehensive listing page is so helpful that there will always be a palate for one. But after hours of searching, I couldn’t find a single directory that actually met modern standards for clarity of purpose and ease of use. So I decided to make it myself.
I hope eventually whenever someone searches for “grass fed beef near me” they will see this map of local farms. I’m optimistic because it’s easier to use than any existing directory I know of, especially on a phone or other small devices and because I’ve already listed 400 farms there, which means the most people in most places can actually use it. I’ve also included some basic information on the ins and outs of buying direct from a farmer.
And it’s free. If you are a farmer who sells grass-fed beef directly to the public, please add an ad. You can do this by filling this form, which takes about two minutes. If there is enough interest in the directory, I plan to create similar free listing pages for chicken, lamb, and maybe other products like eggs.
A card alone will not suffice
Obviously, I’m excited about the benefits a good directory can have for small operations. But there’s a lot more to enticing customers to make a purchase. Although I’m far from an expert, I’ve spent quite a bit of time learning the basics of marketing and thinking about how they apply to farming operations. I’ll be back soon with a few do’s and don’ts of creating a good agricultural website.
Until then, I urge you to take marketing seriously, especially if you’re a new farmer. You can raise the best beef or the best broccoli in the world, but it doesn’t matter if nobody knows you exist. Well, that’s not entirely true – you can still enjoy it, which is a big deal. But if you want your farm to be a business, it’s worth thinking hard about who your customers are and how you plan to connect with them.
Garth Brown owns Cairncrest Farm. It sells 100% grass-fed beef and lamb as well as pastured pork and poultry in Long Island, Brooklyn and the greater New York area. You can read more of his writings at his farm blog.
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