I returned to the valley to visit with Page County Area farmers and chefs to talk about their experiences with direct marketing their products. This interview was set up a bit differently than our other interviews. Kenner Love, extension agent from Rappahannock County, coordinated the interview. We met at Mimslyn Inn, located in downtown Luray, Virginia and conducted the interview over lunch. The lunch, by the way, was delicious! I was able to speak with Jared Burner (Skyline Premium Meats, LLC), David Sours (Public House Produce), Darrell Hulver (Survivor Farm), Lynette Shenk (Little Cabin BBQ), Mike Peterson (Heritage Hollow Farms), and Chris Harris (head chef at Mimslyn Inn).
One main takeaway from this interview relates to getting started in direct marketing to restaurants. They all talked about getting your foot in the door, both literally and figuratively. Whether that is offering the restaurant your product to try for free, or repeated calls and visits. A great way to make your name known is to attend the social events in your area. Some examples they provided were the Farm to Table Conference or “the ice cream social”. Also, utilize the web to market your products such as a Facebook page or website. In Page County, David Sours started Page County Grown, a website designed to help local farmers market their products and to also to brand local products. The website features local farmers, products and different eateries which support Page County Grown. They also have a Facebook page, which keeps followers up to date with different local foods events happenings.
Communication is key. When talking about what tips they had for those looking to get involved in direct marketing, communication was a big one. You need to be honest about your products and straightforward in what demand you are able to meet. Building that relationship with your buyer is absolutely necessary, because your relationship may be what keeps them buying from you and not from someone who has a lower price. Another tip was to “sit down, figure out your costs and do a breakeven analysis”. Loving what you do, although a great thing, is not going to keep you in business. “At some point you have to draw the line between a hobby and a business”. Also, realize that customers are not going to pay more than what they think it is worth.
Overall, I had a wonderful time hearing about each farmer’s background and their stories with direct marketing. It always amazes me how much I don’t know about agriculture even though I’ve been involved with it my whole life. Learning about new things, especially when it comes to something I’m so passionate about, is something that excites me.