NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

Keep Truckin'
Stop! Put that plastic truck (or other piece of marketing swag) down and back away. Think smart promotion to keep your small farm in the public eye.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm

Location: Land in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king; Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España, foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head vegetable packer
Range of crops: greens, root crops, tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year

Posted July 2, 2004: I am the last guy to argue that marketing isn’t important for small businesses, including farms. Small farms sometimes fall victim to focusing on growing crops to the detriment of paying attention to how they will sell their harvest. To compensate for my lack of education in marketing, I pay close attention to how other companies market their products to see if there is anything I can learn. This week I learned what not to do from the merchandisers of PyGanic, an OMRI-listed crop protection product.

Marketing is key but, of course, I need to have something to sell, so I study the product literature and I even scan the relevant advertisements that pass by my desk. Coming into the home office the other day, I encountered my wife Julia in an edgy mood. There was a small toy truck parked in my in-box.

“Oh, what’s this?” I inquired innocently.

“A toy truck,” she replied sourly.

I could see that. When I looked closely I could see the truck had a PyGanic label with the iconic pyrethrum flower on the side. The tiny toy had been sent to us by the Mclaughlin Gormley King Company, manufacturers of PyGanic, to attract our attention to their product. The truck was a replica of an old 50's era truck; the perfect vehicle to transport a potential customer to the land of good old-timey feelings.

Unfortunately, it is my wife who picks up the mail. The toy truck came in an oversized package that wouldn’t fit in our mailbox, so she received a note to pick a delivery up at the post office desk. That required a long wait in a long line for a busy woman with a business to run, kids to attend to, and an answering machine back home picking up messages that required responses. Did I mention that the e-mail box was stuffed, too? If our son was a couple of years younger, he might play with the truck, but, her look said, I’d better not.

Some advertising whiz probably got a promotion for the toy truck idea.

Those of us who actually pay to market our businesses have to think more economically and we have to know our public better. This weekend at Mariquita Farm we are going to have a fava bean u-pic-nic as our current promotional effort. Here is our strategy:

The fava beans have already been grown and we’ve already sold what we can, so to invite people to harvest some themselves for a very low price costs us nothing. True, not many people will want to pick favas but every last person on our 3000 person-strong e-mailing list will like to be invited. Some folks will come just to stroll around the farm. Experience has taught me that when people know where I farm they become more personally invested in my business and are likely to support us again.

Almost nobody ever hosts a fava bean u-pic-nic. Odd events like this attract attention with sympathetic fellow travelers like Slow Food convivia members, restauranteurs, and gourmets. Plus, it'll give the handfuls of real fava freaks out there something to talk about with their friends. Word of mouth is the cheapest advertising there is, but, with such an unusual event, we might even get some real press from a newspaper food section editor hungry for a new story.

And I’ll have fun. I”m too old to play with trucks and I don’t need anymore useless doodads in my life. But an afternoon around a fire drinking beer and grilling favas while talking up my farm with appreciative visitors will be time - not money - well spent. And smart promotion is what will help this small farm keep truckin'.

Previous Journal Entries

June 2, 2004
Kinky Carrots It's astounding to what uses Andy Griffin's farmers' market customers will put his kinky, crooked carrot culls. Every carrot has a home.

May 11, 2004
Ain't I smart? Carelessness, poor planning and neglect leads Mariquita's Andy Griffin to discover the true value of a strange old heirloom crop--black Spanish radish.

April 20, 2004
Hats off to the many sombreros of a farmer Quack lawyer, truck driver, fake chef, and borderline carnival barker: all in a day’s work for a farmer like Andy Griffin … and once in a while he gets to contemplate nature.

April 2, 2004
The watermelon radish: Conspiracy from the left or the right … or just a darned good heirloom daikon? Those were among the suspicions raised by this ancient veggie at a recent event in Santa Cruz designed to introduce consumers to local food producers.

March 4, 2004
Guerilla garlic
Battling the influx of cheap Chinese garlic—even in to Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World”—Mariquita Farm grows green spring garlic, and banks its garlic dollars long before the garlic festival in July.

February 13, 2004
New riders of the purple goosefoot In Watsonville, California, the founders of Mariquita CSA discover the value of this antique cousin to spinach.

March 23, 2004
NOW is the time for shameless self-promotion He can't plant, cultivate or harvest--the fields are a swamp--but Mariquita's Andy Griffin can sell shares and hustle publicity.