I (Farmer Donald) am freshly back from The National Heirloom Expo and am still in amazement at what I experienced yesterday. I left feeling uplifted, inspired, and as if I was part of a community that is growing exponentially. In the coming days I plan to write several posts on my experiences at The National Heirloom Expo. This post is about trying to market your product to a group of very aware and very conscious people, but yet not understanding this market of people who would attend The National Heirloom Expo.
As I was walking around the The National Heirloom Expo, I was nearly on over-load with all the incredible focus on organic, heirloom, and bio-dynamic farming practices being presented. It was very comforting and reassuring that I was not the only one carrying the torch for healthy food grown with non-GMO seeds, a healthy respect for the soil, and practicing appropriate stewardship for the land that I have a responsibility for. Organic and bio-diverse farming practices are the direct response to the over-whelming greed, lack of principles, and ill-behavior in which extracting resources is seemingly the most valued action. As a farmer and a person that has taken the time to read voraciously, study nutrition, and learn about food, food production, and cooking, I have become aware in a new way that causes me to notice subtle actions taken to market and sell food; moreover, this awareness is fueled by a learned general skepticism and distrust of large food companies. Large food companies have changed, re-arranged, and altered our food through processing and then exaggerated the nutritional claims of processed food. Many people in society and culture grew up and were taught to be trusting of authority whether it came from our parents, community leaders and by extension large food companies due to their apparent expertise and authority in producing food and food products. This means that over time, many in our society and culture have chosen to blindly trust whatever corporate food companies tell us without verifying claims and approaching said claims with an appropriate skepticism. Even “local” companies that produce some organic foods and are generally great community members sometimes misunderstand their markets demonstrating an apparent lack of understanding, poor research, and lack of due care for which food conscious people who are aware are obligated to question.
All of the aforementioned background information is important so that the reader better understands that as a new farm just starting out, I am trying to notice marketing ideas done well and also mistakes for which I never want to repeat. This leads me to the biggest marketing gaffe that I saw while walking around the The National Heirloom Expo when I walked up to a booth of a “local” dairy giving away free small cartons of milk. The booth was nicely decorated and the people working the booth were very friendly and engaging and the person dressed up in the cow costume was the main reason I walked over their booth. What can I say, adults dressed up as barnyard animals is funny on so many levels. When I walked over to inquire what sample they were offering, can you imagine or guess what they were offering? Because its worth repeating, remember the entire crowd gathered at The National Heirloom Expo are present to learn and be in community with other people involved in growing and producing organic food, bio-diverse farming, and nutritionally dense foods. What do you suppose I was offered?
Upon my approach, the happy shiny marketing person behind the counter of the booth said, “hello sir would like a free sample of chocolate milk?” Although not my preferred method of engagement, I answered her question with a question by inquiring if the “free” chocolate milk was organic? “No sir, it is not organic, just regular chocolate milk.” I followed my first inquiry up with a second, “do you have any of your organic products to sample today? How about organic milk flavored milk?” The dairy vendor said, “no sir, we only brought regular non-organic chocolate milk.” I felt a bit amazed that I was hearing that this company, a fairy large regional dairy producer who has an extensive line of organic products, purposely chose to bring non-organic chocolate milk to The National Heirloom Expo and not even offer regular milk at all. I just stood there in amazement, in silence for a while, staring at the woman. I must have made her a bit uncomfortable, but I was uncomfortable at what was going through my head. What the hell?
Please understand, I love all things chocolate: chocolate milk, chocolate cake, and chocolate anything, but food and beverage within a context is important to me. Why would this medium-sized regional dairy producer purposely choose to NOT offer any of their organic products to people who go out of their way to purposely seek out organic and or minimally processed foods? To coin an old phrase with my twist on it, marketing organic food at The National Heirloom Expo would be like shooting fish in a barrel. So why would anyone try to market junk food at The National Heirloom Expo? I believe it comes down to money, lack of care, and not knowing or not caring about your markets.
In summary, even at shows like The National Heirloom Expo, where you feel like you might be able to relax, let down your guard a bit, and exhale, you can’t. The lesson that I took away from this experience is that food companies large and small will try constantly to market junk food and processed garbage to you at every opportunity, so please stay aware and always stay conscious.