Inventive farmers are creating their own markets
Bill Myers saw an opportunity so simple that at first it seemed surprising that more farmers hadn’t seized it. He realized that his crop—sitting on the combine on his eastern Washington farm—was just one short step away from being a consumable product.
That insight became the genesis of Joseph’s Grainery. "I just wanted to see if I could take my grain from one end to the other," Myers says.
Using two small millers, Myers grinds his wheat and barley into flour. Bag it and tag it, and it’s ready for the local grocery store. Since then, he has expanded his product line and his customer base. To date, about 20 area grocery stores carry his products, including a variety of flours, mixes, lentils, garbanzo beans and more.
In total, Joseph’s Grainery diverts about 1% of Myers’ annual crop to the local market. That’s more than 1,000 bu.—a number that is growing each year. "We’ve done a lot of the front-end work, and now we’re finally getting unsolicited business," he says.
Myers’ daughter Kendra handles the accounting, and his other daughter Kelli works on the website, test kitchen and marketing. "For the most part, the public just isn’t familiar with cooking and baking with whole grains. We use our blog to help those who want to learn how to incorporate whole grains into their diet and learn where their food comes from," Kelli says.
As demand for transparency in agriculture continues to grow, Myers says farmers who market a portion of their crop directly to consumers are in a unique position to showcase farmer accountability and sustainability. The concept of sustainability, in particular, is hard to define, but he says it’s still important to have those conversations.
"As a fifth-generation farmer, I have a stake in being sustainable, and the ground is in better shape now than when I took over the farm," he says.
Kelli says face-to-face sales have a rewarding side, too. "While there has been a movement in the last few years to know your farmer, we’ve enjoyed getting to meet the people who are eating our grains and legumes," she says. "Now we get to see the faces of the folks who enjoy our products. There’s a great amount of pride and reward in that."
Can You Do It?
Direct-to-consumer marketing isn’t for every farmer, but it might become a profitable component of your operation. Bill Myers’ business model works well for him, but there are other ways to sell direct to the consumer, such as you-pick operations, roadside stands, farmers markets and more.
Pacific Northwest Extension suggests farmers consider a series of questions before deciding if direct-to-consumer marketing is right for their operation. Some of the questions you should ask:
- Does my personality lend itself to direct marketing?
- Can I produce a commodity that the public wants?
- Will direct marketing fit into my existing operation?
- Is there a demand for the product?
- Are there regulatory restrictions on marketing my product directly?
You can e-mail Ben Potter at email@example.com.
For more information about how to decide if direct-to-consumer marketing is right for your operation, visit www.FarmJournal.com/direct_to_consumer