Brand building through special events
Defined officially, a brand is “a product, service or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services or concepts so that it can be easily communicated and usually marketed.” Many farmers don’t devote much time to defining their brand, but maybe they should.
“Brand Building Through Special Events on Working Farms” was presented by three people in the know at the most recent International Workshop on Agritourism: Pam Knights of Pam Knights Communications, Northfield, VT; Eric Tadlock, executive director of Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center, East Thetford, VT; and Mike Isham, farmer and owner of Isham Family Farm, Williston, VT.
Knights spoke first, explaining that special events need to be a part of a larger marketing strategy. “The more innovative events are these days, the better,” she said. “They draw bigger crowds and more media attention.”
Special events attract, engage and retain customers of all ages. They give regular customers another reason to return and be part of life on the farm, according to Knights.
Workshops and educational activities help to promote you as an expert in your field. Cooking classes teach customers how to use your farm’s products and promote purchasing them. And annual events provide PR opportunities.
Knights also offered these tips for building your farm’s brand over time through special events:
- Develop a strategic long-term marketing plan that includes special events to help increase farm revenue.
- Develop business collaborations for cross-marketing opportunities and help build community.
- Do good – help customers feel good about supporting your farm. Incorporate a social mission and enhance PR opportunities.
- Start promoting events six to 12 months out in key publications to attract visitors making vacation plans.
Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center
Tadlock said Cedar Circle became a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2020 to further its agritourism goals. The farm features a 40-acre diversified vegetable operation, a farm stand, a farm café, a kitchen/bakery and sells at farmers markets. It also has three retail greenhouses and a U-pick flower operation. The whole farm is open to the public.
The farm is trying to transition its customers into engaged donors. “We need to educate them about the impacts of their food choices,” including the basic concepts of ecology and agronomy, Tadlock said. “It’s one small farm with millions of meaningful moments.”
Their special events include a summer camp (which Tadlock said is a lot more in depth than just a field trip and the cornerstone of their educational funding) and school programs (which help to build relationships with their community), as well as adult education, tours, cooking classes and festivals.
“You want to ensure they have fun,” he said of visitors. “Make sure their experience is authentic, their experience is tactile and it builds a sense of belonging. This last part is the most important.”
Isham Family Farm
Mike Isham is a member of the fifth generation to run the family farm, along with his wife Helen Weston. He said his goal was to find a way to bring people to the farm year-round – starting with maple sugaring in spring, then berry picking in summer, pumpkins for autumn and Christmas trees in winter.
The historic 108-acre property is a working farm and community center, becoming known as the Champlain Valley Community Center.
“Everything we do on this farm is so gratifying, including the restoration of our barn,” Isham said. Their fully restored 200-year-old, 30×100-foot timber-frame barn enhances what they can host, which includes weddings, other special events, theatre productions and concerts.
Their agritourism offerings began with a chicken tractor and some calves their neighbors loaned them. The animals drew people in, and they grew from there.
The events specifically started with small, free birthdays parties in the sugarhouses when they weren’t working full tilt during sugaring season. Then along came the pumpkin patch, the wagon rides and the corn mazes in autumn. Today, Isham Family Farm has a popular theater program and larger events in barn. They even host an artist-in-residence.
“We started small with everything,” Isham explained. “And everything is fun – don’t be afraid of taking a chance.”
To see what both farms offer to build their brands and draw visitors, check out cedarcirclefarm.org and ishamfamilyfarm.com.
by Courtney Llewellyn
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