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Should Farmers Tweet? Program Helps Farmers Market Their Business

Holly Gowdy_0.jpg
Melanie Plenda

It used to be all farmers needed was some land, some seed, a little luck and a lot of hard work to be successful. Today's farmer needs all of that plus social media skills, marketing savvy and a business plan.Holly and Christian Gowdy are first generation farmers. They started out 16 years ago on their Walpole farm with grassfed Angus beef cows.

"That whole grassfeed local food thing about 10 years ago just took right off. And we found that customers who had been buying meat from us, had the wherewithal and the land space that they bought some cows and started raising grass fed meats themselves. And so it became sort of oversaturated everybody is selling beef."

So the Gowdy's adapted. They sold off their beef cows and bought dairy, eventually diversifying to include goats for meat.

"It's still a challenge, but we really felt like we had invested our future here. And we could either move and go somewhere else, or figure out a way to make it work here."

In the same way they switched gears for a changing market, the Gowdys and other farmers like them are having to adapt to a more technological marketplace.

"You used to just be a farmer and that was all you did. You sold your produce and your livestock to people who would buy it and you made your living and you got by. But now, it's like a little business."

That's Jillian Garcia, program coordinator for the Hannah Grimes Center, a business incubator in Keene. She’s part of a partnership that’s working to get farmers up to speed on marketing skills.

Hannah Grimes along with the Cheshire County Conservation District, a governmental sub-division of the state, Antioch New England and a local marketing firm are teaming up to help area farmers increase their direct sales through marketing. 

Though there is great momentum for buying local in this region, there are still large segments of the community in the dark about  how to do it, says farmer Holly Gowdy.

"We need to reach out to the customers and consumers. We now have a really good, solid core of the population in Cheshire County who are savvy enough to understand a local economy and the importance of buying direct from a farmer. We need for that to continue to grow and we need to reach into other segments of the population."

Amanda Costello is the District Manager for the Conservation District.  She says the time has never been better for local farmers to reach customers.

"The business end of farming is a challenge, and marketing is a big part of that. So we figured this was an opportunity to really help support the farms in that way."

For the next two years, through a $62,000 US Department of Agriculture grant, Costello and others will attack the problem in three ways.

The first is a "Buy Local" campaign, says David Deziel, president of Nebesek Marketing and Communication of Manchester, who is developing the campaign.  He says a big challenge is getting over the idea that eating locally is always more expensive.

"In many many cases, if you eat seasonally, and if you are a little more thoughtful in putting together your recipes, I think that it's a matter of pennies. And for those pennies you're getting taste, you're getting nutrition.And you are keeping the money in the community."

Deziel says they hope to have the campaign up and running by early Spring.

The Hannah Grimes Center  also offer workshops to farmers so they can better  sell themselves. That means more talk about web sites, social media and marketing basics.  Skills that people like Jillian Garcia think will help local farmers build their business now and keep it growing in the future.

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