Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Production Research
Alberta farm marketing conference


March 13, 2008
By Kathy Birt

Topics

Putting your name on your product is part and parcel of producing quality.   
This was just one of the many ideas Kelly Hughes of Kelly’s Cross,
Prince Edward Island, brought back from the North American Farm Direct
Marketing Association’s annual conference.

hughes_kelly
This year’s North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA) annual conference, hosted by Alberta, provided organic vegetable producer Kelly Hughes of Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, with plenty of new ideas and information she can use on her farm this season. Photo by Kathy Birt 

introduces P.E.I. farmer to agri-marketing

Putting your name on your product is part and parcel of producing quality.   

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This was just one of the many ideas Kelly Hughes of Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, brought back from the North American Farm Direct Marketing Association’s (NAFDMA) annual conference, hosted by Canada.

Held in Calgary, Alberta, in mid-February, the conference tours and speakers provided Hughes and her husband, Gary, plenty of new ideas and information they will benefit them as they move toward agri-tourism on their farm this year.

On top of owning a beef and hog operation, the Hughes grow organic vegetables and market their produce at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market. With new value-added products, such as pickles and jams, available and the recent purchase of an older farmhouse near their property, the couple decided to become members of the P.E.I. Agri-Tourism Club. It was through this organization that Kelly learned of the NAFDMA conference. With the help of the Future Farmers and the Canadian Agriculture Skills Services programs, the couple raised enough funding to attend.

The five-day conference offered ample opportunity for Hughes to travel to various farm operations plus converse with farm marketers from across North America.

“We were able to visit several operations and see how they were set up and the techniques they used to market their product,” explains Hughes.  “Everyone was free to share their knowledge because they are not direct competitors.”

During the conference’s three-day tours, Hughes visited various farm marketing operations, including the Miller’s  Farmers’ Market, one of the biggest in Calgary. She also attended the Calgary Farmer’s Market, which she describes as being well laid-out to offer a wide variety of products, food vendors and many value-added (products).

“Miller’s Farmers’ Market is only seasonal, but they were set up to meet and greet us with products available,” adds Hughes.

With numerous information sessions available during the conference, Hughes chose to attend a presentation on marketing featuring Lori Colborne of LSL Marketing Consultants in Edmonton, Alberta.

“She is a very energetic speaker who captivated her audience,” describes Hughes. “She pointed out that a business is made up of three parts – operations, marketing and credibility.”

Hughes adds that Colborne stressed creating a lasting impression was essential to any business and that a solid marketing tool, like a well-designed business card, can do that.

“We were told to get a logo and have it on our business cards and also to focus on branding,” says Hughes. “Putting our brand/logo on our product helps people to recognize us. Describing our operation on our labels and cards are all things that we will be developing in operating our agri-tourism
business.”

Hughes plans to get busy with her operation right away, including renovating her new property’s old farmhouse.

“With our multi-vegetable garden, an acre of potatoes, and free-range hens, we feel the people who rent our house will be able to see a working farm in operation,” says Hughes, adding people staying with them will be able to enjoy organic vegetables, watch the cows being milked, feed the calves and enjoy the scenic 53 acres that make up the new property.

Other Islanders attending the conference included Krista Schurman from Spring Valley Direct Farm Market in Kensington; Ian Simmons, a partner with Kool Breeze, a greenhouse and beef farm operation in Summerside, and Jessica terBeek, who is involved with the Cheese Lady business in North Winsloe.

“There was a variety to people to meet and greet,” says Dan Doyle, an information officer with the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture who also attended, adding it was a great opportunity to network and bring back new ideas to his department’s farm members. 

“Some of the people were extremely experienced while some were newcomers,” says Doyle. “The people just getting started were able to learn a great deal from each other. It was a good chance to network with people who were also passionate about direct farm marketing.”

Sandra MacKinnon, another information officer with the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture, says the feedback she received from the Islanders who attended the
NAFDMA conference has all been positive.

“Everyone was super at sharing ideas of new innovations and concepts for direct farm marketing,” she says, adding from-the-farm marketing may be the way of the future for some farmers. And, while getting tourists from large cities to take in the rural experience is what P.E.I. operators want, she believes it’s just as essential to get Islanders out to on the farms as well.

“With the build-up of urbanization, we are getting away from being so much a rural province (in P.E.I.),” MacKinnon says. “It used to be that at least one family member had farming in their background. That is not always the case today.”

From condiment to agricultural innovation
You may have used it to top a hot dog or flavour an egg roll, but researchers are using mustard in a whole new way. Sieglinde Snapp, Michigan State University soils and cropping systems ecologist, has committed more than two decades to research on and application of biologically friendly farming.  Now in her final year of a three-year grant, Snapp has assembled a multidisciplinary team to address an emerging trend in commercial agriculture – using Oriental mustard as a cover crop.

Reduced yield potential is often the result of lesions, root hair pruning, fungal invasion and parasitic nematodes in a wide variety of crops, Snapp says. Frequent fumigation improves crop health, but the process is both a financial and environmental burden on farmers and their fields.  Producers across the world have been “spicing up” their farms by planting Oriental mustard as a cover crop. Also known as brassica, Oriental mustard is processed into the spicy brown mustard commonly found in restaurants. More than 100,000 acres in the western U.S. and some regions of Europe utilize Oriental mustard as a cover crop.  “The spiciness that people can taste in the mustard is the same element that kills disease-causing organisms,” Snapp says.  “If a plant tastes hot, it’s probably a good biofumigant.” Although mustard has been utilized by some Michigan farmers, the state’s diverse climate and soils demanded further research before adoption became widespread.  Snapp and colleagues conducted three bioassays and one greenhouse experiment in 2004 and are currently monitoring progress on two field experiments and two on-farm demonstrations. “The mustard crop experiments, both in the field and under controlled conditions, have consistently found similar results, indicating that fungal growth and disease symptoms can be suppressed by biofumigant cover crops,” says Snapp.