I spoke in my GFP video about my key take home messages from the whole trip which were the importance of good relationships, communication with your consumer and collaboration across different disciplines.
The 10 days that we spent in the USA learning about USDA policies in Washington and visiting agricultural businesses in Wisconsin, were a good reminder about the importance of a story.
In the land where Big Ag, Big Data and Big Cola rules, the smaller producers really work hard to ensure that their story is heard.
The Cates family run a grass-fed beef cattle business selling directly to their consumers who are restaurants and households. We paid a visit to their farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin where we saw the trout stream, beautiful countryside and a type of agriculture practice that promotes well being of the animal and the surrounding environment. No growth hormones or antibiotics are used and the family have won awards for conservation, sustainability and water quality. Ron and Dick have moved from an intensive, high volume, low margin system and found that they have been able to reconnect with the people who cook and eat their product.
Vermont Valley Community Farm is a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture business near Madison where members pay an annual fee to receive weekly or bimonthly vegetable boxes from the farm from May to November. Barb and David Perkins run the farm with their family and Cambodian workers and in addition to providing a wide range of vegetables to complement a family’s weekly diet, they hold events on farm where members can take part, learn about the farm or get involved. The farm ethos is focused on the environment, nutrient density and marketing the produce. Barb and Dave both worked in the city before setting up the farm and the goal was to do something meaningful rather than just move to the country and commute to the day job. It is refreshing to see that they are strong believers in both the importance of the quality of life and keeping the farm a financially successful. It will soon be time to hand over to the next generation and see how the veg box thrives in the changing landscape of convenience meal boxes.
The Farmer’s Market is another place where perception and the value of story are essential. I spoke with one lady at the Madison Market who says that she spends no less than $80 at the market each time but wouldn’t dream of spending that much in the grocery store! The quality of the produce is not necessarily better than in the supermarket and some growers do not participate in certification schemes, but what the consumers love is the story behind the product. People are making buying decisions based on provenance and what they believe is the best way of producing food for the environment. The Grow Local, Shop Local, Eat Local branding is splashed all over, prices are robust but government food vouchers are redeemable at higher than face value.
We visited other businesses with excellent communication with their consumer, for example, the Wollersheim Winery perfectly placed on the market with mid-priced wines tailored to the local palate and a new range of gins and whiskeys for the growing market in spirits. Blue Moon Community Farms who are a CSA not only providing food to paying members but find ways to get their food to food banks, distributors to low income groups and also educating minority groups about agriculture
Getting sales might be about consumer perception but the story has to be genuine.