Enhance Your On-Farm Direct Marketing with Infrastructure

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Do you want to create a welcoming and appealing space for customers at your farm? Have you been thinking of making aesthetic and functional improvements but want to keep costs low? Adding inviting, low-cost structures to your business can be an inexpensive way to attract customers and provide space for direct marketing.   For new and beginning farmers, creativity and frugality can go a long way toward making practical and beautiful spaces.

PA-WAgN recently toured Piney Creek Greenhouse in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, to find out how owners Vernon and  Lucille Martin create welcoming spaces to draw customers in to look around and stay awhile. Then we traveled down the road to Friend's Farm to apply the lessons we learned. Participants helped farm owners Chris Wise and John Favinger build a beautiful and inviting pergoa at the entrance to their farm.

Piney Creek Greenhouse includes a nursery and greenhouse, gift shop, and beautiful gardens. Over the years, Vernon and Lucille Martin have added dozens of small structures to display their plants and products and to create a welcoming space for customers.


The Martins find ways to use recycled materials for most of these structures. For example, they used an old fence that a neighbor was tearing down to create a short wall between the plant tables and the area where employees work on potting plants and other "behind the scenes" jobs. This way, customers can peruse the plant tables and ask the employees questions while they are working. The Martins hang baskets and other decorations on the fencing to create a charming and rustic look.


They have also taken old cupboards, old doors, and similar scavenged materials to create outdoor backdrops for ferns, hanging baskets, and garden sculptures.


Perhaps the most impressive sight at Piney Creek Greenhouse is the botanial garden surrounding the nursery where Vernon and Lucille display many of the plants they sell. Customers wander along pathways rich with color and scent to see how the annuals, perennials, bulbs, flowering shurbs, and trees available at the greenhouse might look when they are planted at home.


Water tumbling from fountains and benches hidden along secluded passageways hung with Silver Lace vine and in gazebos encourage customers to rest a while. A small vegetable garden tucked away in a sunny spot in the middle, where scarlet runner beans climb a trellis among cucumbers and squash, entices customers to taste the culinary herbs, cherry tomatoes, and raspberries grown from Piney Creek plants. The setting provides an unexpected gift for customers and it's a wonderful marketing tool for Piney Creek.


In the future, the Martins plan to build a large gazebo in the gardens that will allow them to take advantage of the gardens even when the nursery is closed. The gazebo will be rented out for weddings, parties, and other gatherings that would benefit from a beuatiful, picture-perfect space.


At Friend's Farm, Chris Wise and John Favinger run a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where members come to pick up a share of the weekly harvest of food and flowers, buy fresh food at the on-farm market, and volunteer in the fields. Chris and John were inspired by the structures at Piney Creek Greenhouse and wanted to incorporate something similar at their farm to provide an inviting place for their friends and customers.


They decided to build a pergola at the front of the farm to provide a beautiful shady spot flanked by perennial gardens. They plan to grow grape vines over the structure and add benches on the inside. They envision this being a welcoming spot for customers as well as a shady place where CSA members working in the sun can sit and relax.


Before we arrived, John cut black locust posts from his woodlot and sunk them in the ground at each corner of the pergola. He chose locust for its durability. (Locust has long been the wood of choice for fenceposts because of its exceptional resistance to decay.) We cut smaller poles and bolted them for the roof. In a couple hours, we had created a structure that was simple, yet graceful, and practically free. When the vines and flowers planted around its base mature, it will serve its purpose well.


Advice for New Farmers

Vernon and Lucille advised new and beginning farmers to plan carefully before getting a farm business off the ground:


•Create a relationship with your local county extension, which is a great resource for your business. Extension educators can help you with marketing and business planning, horticulture, and more.

•Seek financial advise from the Southern Allegheny Planning Commission.

•Establish a relationship with a bank and ask for their help in establishing credit.

•Consider showcasing your products in a real-world setting. Display gardens can be "garbage gardens" where you can take plants that don't look so great in the greenhouse but might be fine once they are in the ground. Display gardens are a peaceful space for customers that will encourage them to take spend more time (and money) at your business.


John and Chris suggested that new and beginning farmers also build long-term relationships with their customers:


•Make your farm a destination, not a quick stop. Make your setting as attractive as you can, within your budget, and offer experiences--as well as products--to your customers.

•Make sure your customers are satisfied and that they feel part of your farm family. "If it weren't for our CSA customers," Chris said, "we wouldn't be in business. They make it possible for us to make a living farming. We treat them as well as we can."


Your Feedback: If you attended the field day, or would just like to talk about the topic, please leave a conment below. You can also post your photos or videos to share with others.


Other Resources 


Guide to Direct Marketing from ATTRA

Penn State Farm Business Direct Marketing website

North American Farmers' Direct Marketing Association 


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