Farming Magazine - March, 2012
Farmstand First Impressions
Put your best foot forward
What do people see as they approach your farmstand? What do they find inside? How does it look to the public? This is a good time to consider how your farmstand will look this upcoming season and what you can do to enhance its image.
The farmstand at Beans and Greens is one part of the farm's public face.
Photo courtesy of Beans and Greens Farm
A good first impression
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. That impression, say experts, may take from only the blink of an eye to 17 seconds to form. Your farmstand's sign may be the first indication potential customers have that you are in business. Is it bright and readable by vehicles traveling by at the speed limit? Is it smaller than local regulations allow? Is it a bit tired and in need of retouching?
What can you do if you think you have made a poor first impression? Acknowledge it, and then fix it. The worst thing you can do, say experts, is nothing.
Whether your farmstand is a board atop a couple of milk crates at the side of the road or 1,000-square-foot store, the way your products are presented speaks of your farm's values and desire for your customers to have access to good, wholesome food. Damaged, wilted or otherwise blemished products detract from your image. Relegate them to a second's area or compost heap.
If you have employees, how do they present themselves? Are they easily identifiable as your farm's employees by name tags, T-shirts or baseball caps? No matter how busy they may be, do they (and you) welcome customers with a smile and a helpful attitude? Do they know what to do with that unusual new vegetable you grew this year? Do you offer recipes?
Farmer Diane Souther's shirt reflects her farm's philosophy: "Be Local."
Appealing to the senses
Of all the senses, sight and hearing are the two humans rely on most. Light, bright, clean and tidy are key to a successful farmstand. That's not to say there's anything wrong with country décor. Whatever your style, be sure to keep it fresh. As for sound, keep it in the background, and never, ever share gossip or cross words within customer earshot.
Beans and Greens Farm hosts music, singing, dancing and eating in a timber frame pavilion they built in 2011.
Smell is perhaps the most underrated sense, but it can be compelling. Think of the appeal of cookies baking or apple pies cooling. Diane and Chuck Souther do. In their Concord, N.H., Apple Hill Farm Store, the aroma of freshly-baked cookies, pies, turnovers, bread and rolls almost always greets customers who come for berries, vegetables, and new and heirloom apple varieties. Baked goods also keep customers in the farmstand longer, bringing in sales of produce and value-added products such as cider, jams and fudge, which customers pick up while inhaling the aroma of goodies baking.
Appeal to the sense of taste with samples. Offer small pieces of cut produce or baked goods. Remember food safety issues and serve samples in tiny cups or provide toothpicks. Don't forget to also provide a place to dispose of used food service items.
Touch is important, too. With or without encouragement, people will squeeze the tomatoes and peel the corn. Make touching easy: provide samples.
Stirring the brain and making memories
With workshops from May to Christmas ranging from planting tips to decorating gingerbread houses and making birch reindeer, John Moulton of Moulton Farm in Meredith, N.H., encourages people of all ages to use his farm's products. Moulton, a former teacher, offers Little Sprouts, a series on planting and tending a garden geared to kids. For adults, he offers gardening classes and makes community gardening space available for rent.
If you've conducted farm tours, you know they can take a lot of time and energy. On the other hand, they can be a great way to introduce kids (and adults, especially city folk) to agriculture and your farm's products.
Corn mazes for big kids and adults and hay bale mazes for little folks have proved popular ways to attract people to both Moulton Farm and to Beans and Greens Farm in Gilford, N.H. Selling maze tickets, sandwiches, drinks and snacks in your farmstand increases store exposure.
In a timber-frame pavilion that opened in 2011, Andrew and Martina Howe frequently offer music and dancing "until late." They also take reservations for children's birthday parties, which, says Martina, are very popular. Fun and food contribute to Beans and Greens' reputation as a happening place to be.
Cooking demonstrations are popular at Moulton Farm.
Photo courtesy of Moulton Farm.
CSAs are a great way to raise cash, but they are also an opportunity to involve the public in your farm. Consider the contents of your customers' shares representatives of your farm.
To help connect people with whole local food and where it comes from, Beans and Greens Farm offers farm-to-table dinners. The popular events include live music and feature long, beautifully set tables on a ridge overlooking the farm and Lake Winnipesaukee. The menu features produce and meat from only an acre or 2 away. "Farm-to-table dinners are a lot of work, but a lot of fun and very rewarding," Martina says. Another way Beans and Greens presents itself is through good, fresh food from its deli. Picnic tables make it easy for customers to linger on the farm.
Taking your farmstand on the road
Having a farmstand doesn't preclude going to farmers' markets. Although extra work, farmers' markets literally let you take a piece of your farmstand on the road for the world to see and are a great way to invite new customers to your farmstand.
Carol Soule not only sells naturally raised beef and beef products (chili, sausage, soup bones and more) from the freezers in the Miles Smith Farm store, she also takes her stock on the road. Several times a year she trailers a couple of well-groomed, halter-trained Scottish Highlanders to a cooperative market that sells grass-fed beef from Miles Smith Farm. The cows also make special appearances at farmers' markets and community events, including the Concord, N.H., winter farmers' market.
After purchasing apples, a customer lingers to check out the jams and jellies while savoring the aroma of fresh-baked apple pie.
Photo by Kathleen Hatt.
Helping your community
Being seen as a public helper and community volunteer is yet another way to represent your farm. One farmstand owner plants flowers in public gardens. Another helps community members plant their own gardens.
Make buying easy and convenient
"It's amazing how many people no longer carry cash," says Diane Souther. Time and again, customers pull out plastic at her farmstand and at farmers' markets, especially markets located near shopping malls. Gone are the days of the cash box.
You could, of course, point customers to the nearest ATM - an inconvenience for them and the potential loss of a sale for you. The solution is alternate forms of payment. Wireless credit card processing is one way to do this. Even if you do not have cell phone service at your farmstand or market, the system can still work. Transaction information can be saved and transmitted when and where phone service is available. More convenient might be one of the newer technologies such as an app on your smartphone or via Square, a square-shaped card reader that plugs into the audio jack of iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android-based mobile phones. Processing fees may be lower than those charged by conventional credit card processing systems.
Your public face on a website and social media
Much has been said about the advantages of having a website, a Facebook presence and possibly a blog and YouTube videos. In an era when the Internet is primary and phone books are becoming next to useless in locating people and businesses, your farmstand needs at least a basic presence in electronic media. If this is not your thing, consider having someone do it for you. However you do it, make sure your site sparkles and is error-free. This may be someone's first impression of your farm, and great first impressions do not happen by accident. Be vigilant about the impression you create.
For examples and information about the many ways our featured farmstands present themselves and appeal to all the senses, check out their websites:
Miles Smith Farm: www.milessmithfarm.com
Beans and Greens Farm: www.beansandgreensfarm.com
Moulton Farm: www.moultonfarm.com
Apple Hill Farm: www.applehillfarmnh.com
Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Farming. She resides in Henniker, N.H.