Evaluation of NCR SARE’s
Prepared by Lisa Bauer, March 2000
Table of Contents
Introduction Page 1
Evaluation Pages 2-6
Summary Page 6
Evaluation form Attachment A
Conference brochure Attachment B
Conference schedule Attachment C
Successful Farming article Attachment D
On November 19-20, 1999, the North Central Region (NCR) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
(SARE) program sponsored an alternative marketing conference. Alternative Agricultural Marketing: Developing Skills for
the New Millennium brought 360 people from 18 states (including the entire North Central region) to the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. The goals of the conference were to help regional farmers and ranchers develop skills and
supportive relationships with others that would assist them in creating and sustaining profitable, sustainable
agricultural marketing ventures. A second goal was to help make more direct connections between food buyers and
food producers in the North Central region. Farmers and ranchers were the target audience. We awarded about 40
producer scholarships to buffer their expenses. Secondary audiences included farm service providers, farm educators,
food industry representatives (e.g. restaurateurs, food processors), state and federal agency representatives, nonprofit
food and farm group representatives and general consumers.
The conference offered two days of workshops, exhibit sessions, panel discussions, keynote speakers, a special video
production, locally grown meals and entertainment from a Kansas folk singer. Keynote speakers Diana Endicott and
Richard DeWilde – both farmers – shared their practical experiences and knowledge on direct marketing beef to retail
markets and direct marketing vegetables through CSA and other avenues, respectively. Fifteen different workshops in
four concurrent sessions featured farmers and others sharing information on a wide array of topics. Each conference
participant received a marketing notebook, containing abstracts from speakers and presenters as well as a
bibliography of resources, and the Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketers, by Neil Hamilton. The Legal Guide was
produced in part with SARE funds. After the conference, each participant received a follow-up letter and list of
conference attendees. An alternative marketing listerve was created to continue momentum started at the conference.
The conference resulted from years of work in alternative marketing by NCR SARE's Administrative Council,
including targeted calls for marketing grants, as well as meetings of a special Marketing Committee. The conference
was organized by a Marketing Conference Committee: John Allen, Molly Bartlett, Jim Goodman, Mary Hanks, Jerry
Jost, Ron Macher, Fred Madison and Lisa Bauer. Thirteen co-sponsors contributed funds for the conference.
The evaluation was designed using conference goals. The goals of the evaluation were to measure our progress
toward providing marketing information and training and also to identify areas that need more attention in order to
create and sustain successful local food systems. Evaluation forms were handed out to participants at the end of the
marketing conference. Of the 360 conference participants, 138 (38 percent) filled out an evaluation. The
following pages summarize evaluation comments from those respondents.
QUESTION 1: List which group you are representing at this conference, e.g. farmer, Extension educator, consultant, restaurant
20 Nonprofit organization representatives
9 Others (NRCS, University, State agencies, USDA)
Note: Some respondents listed more than one affiliation.
QUESTION 2: The information I gained at this conference will be useful in my work, 5 = strongly agree, 1 = strongly disagree.
The average from all respondents was 4.36.
QUESTION 3: The conference provided opportunities for participants to network and share experiences, 5 = strongly agree, 1 =
The average from all respondents was 4.42.
QUESTION 4: List two things that you learned that you will incorporate into your work.
"I learned the importance of human relationships in marketing."
The most common theme among respondents was the benefit of developing relationships with others to
enhance direct marketing and build local food systems. Participants said they realized that ties must be forged
with retail food establishments, with institutions, with organizations and – perhaps most importantly – with
other farmers. Participants learned about forming producer cooperatives, building relationships with
businesses and specific ways to tap into institutional markets, restaurants and grocery stores. Conference
attendees were exposed to tips on educating and developing relationships with consumers, although they
expressed the need for more help. They learned about designing newsletters, surveys and brochures to entice
consumers. Participants also learned about community development and involving a variety of diverse
"I learned to make sure that I know and understand regulations and laws that apply to my
Many participants found answers in Neil Hamilton's Legal Guide and workshop on legal issues in direct
marketing. Participants learned about labeling, insurance policies, liability and much more. They gained
knowledge about marketing meat, such as poultry and beef, and gained confidence to plow ahead with direct
marketing of meats. Many also mentioned the information on processing – both on-farm and at facilities.
"I took away the importance and function of business plans in marketing ventures."
Respondents realized that business planning, including financial analysis and marketing research, is a
necessary step in developing sustainable marketing programs. Extension educators and marketing consultants
remarked that the session on business planning was especially helpful, and many requested opportunities to
take John Allen's business planning course to help their clients. Participants stated the advantages of charting
a business course, having specific strategies and measuring progress.
"A key point was that we have to have hope and courage and tackle our challenges!"
Participants made general comments about leaving the conference with a feeling that opportunities for direct
marketing are endless. By talking with other farmers, educators and business leaders, participants said they
had courage to take the next step and pursue their marketing ideas.
Other participants said that they would use conference information on using the Internet, selling "organic"
vs. "natural" products, pricing, agritourism, handling grain, selling a farmers markets, quality control, local
food systems, and resources for more information. Several participants said that the most important thing
they learned was that direct marketing takes much time and effort and that it is a long-term investment.
QUESTION 5: Which Networking contacts have you made that will help you in your work (person or organization)?
"Thanks for names and contact information of presenters. Speakers will be good resources for the
Most survey respondents said that workshop and exhibit sessions gave them time to meet the marketing
"experts" and tap into their knowledge. Participants mentioned many speakers by name, such as Herman
Beck-Chenoweth (poultry producer), Neil Hamilton (author of the Legal Guide) and Jennifer Hobbs (Internet
marketing consultant). Many people noted that they would contact conference exhibitors and speakers for
more information and future speaking engagements.
"I met lots of growers with great ideas!"
Survey respondents applauded the abundance of farmer/rancher knowledge at the conference. They
appreciated the many farmer speakers and presenters, as well as farmer attendees from across the region.
They stated specific names of farmers and the innovative ideas they learned from people "in the field."
Participants even forged relationships between farmers for future marketing ventures.
"I learned about organizations, agencies and institutions to partner with on marketing projects."
Survey respondents said they benefitted from meeting Extension agents and representatives of nonprofit
groups and other agencies and organizations. Participants specifically mentioned many organizations and
institutions, such as North Dakota State University, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, and the
Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota. Extension participants were pleased to find colleagues
interested in alternative marketing with whom they could share information and resources. Many participants
noted collaborative project ideas started at the marketing conference.
Participants also made contacts with businesses, farmer cooperatives, and organic certification agencies.
Many respondents said they will take advantage of contacts in the SARE program, such as Ken Schneider, as
well as SARE information and grant programs. As one respondent said, "SARE is really a core of ideas."
QUESTION 6: What information do you still need?
“What we need is more of the same and more in-depth information.”
Reviewing responses to this question led to the conclusion that participants were hungry for any and all
marketing information because it is difficult to find and not detailed enough for their needs. Respondents
confirmed that much of the information presented at the conference was helpful and appropriate, but they
wanted more time in workshops, more details and more opportunities to network. Participants requested
such things as specific fact sheets, detailed processing information and in-depth case studies.
“We need financial data about what is working, why and how farmers can do appropriate business
planning for profitable enterprises.”
Another emerging theme was the need for more business planning, pricing and economic information about
alternative marketing. Because direct marketing allows farmers to have more control in their enterprises, they
need more information about financial planning and selling their products at appropriate prices. Many
farmers indicated that they did not have enough experience in this arena. They also need help in developing
competitive prices. To make alternative marketing attractive, respondents want to see the bottom line –
what’s been profitable for other farmers and what has not. Many respondents said they need funding
assistance, such as SARE grants, to get projects started or move them to the next level.
“More information on building a customer base would be very helpful.”
Respondents stated that they need help raising public awareness about buying food directly from farmers and
about local food systems. They said that consumers need to be informed and educated, and that they need
assistance in building communities of people interested in supporting their local farmers. Participants wanted
to hear from and talk directly with consumers about what they are looking for in food products They also
wanted more information about identifying customers and customer surveys. Respondents suggested the
need for public relations skills so that they could better communicate with businesses, universities, groceries
and private and public organizations.
“We could use information from USDA and state inspectors.”
There is a need for more information on rules and regulations affecting small farmers. Participants expressed
frustration in dealing with processing and sales laws regarding direct-marketed food products. They
requested meetings with regulators, as well as the chance to develop cooperative approaches at the federal,
state and local level to overcome regulatory obstacles. These concerns were especially true for selling meat
Many respondents suggested that while they needed much more information, the conference gave them an
excellent base: “I have the tools to build my ladder,” said one person.
QUESTION 7: What barriers still exist for marketing sustainably produced products?
“There is a general public apathy about food and a desire for low prices. There’s also a lack of
contact between people and their food systems.”
The most frequently mentioned barrier to alternative marketing was consumer education and public
awareness about local, sustainably produced food. Participants suggested the need for a far-reaching
educational campaign to enhance the public understanding of “cheap” food and the policies associated with
it. Respondents said people need to know why they should pay more for local and/or organic food. And
consumers need more education about where food comes from because they are so far removed from
agriculture. Participants also expressed the need for education of producers in dealing with consumers and
explaining the benefits of sustainable production and marketing systems. They pointed out the barrier of
competing with mass marketers in the conventional food system.
“There are many concerns about product liability and about adhering to rules and regulations.”
Respondents suggested that lack of conformity and knowledge about processing – particularly meat products
– was a barrier. Participants also said that they need to develop better relationships with government
inspectors and food safety officers. Inspectors’ lack of knowledge about small farming was noted as another
barrier. Participants mentioned the general lack of custom processors and the packing and processing
advantages of larger producers. They said state and federal laws were unclear and not necessarily small-
farmer friendly. Comments suggested that labeling and other legal issues can hinder successful alternative
“Current market structures have made food a ‘commodity.’ We need to shift paradigms and develop
a new food distribution system.”
Many said that infrastructure of our conventional food system is a major barrier to setting up alternatives.
There is currently a high cost of transportation associated with local foods. Along these same lines, there is
often no infrastructure for accessing new markets, particularly in rural areas far from population centers.
Participants were asking, “How can we get our products to our customers economically, consistently and
“Any product can be successfully marketed with enough money. Where does the money come
Another major barrier was lack of capital. Whether transitioning from conventional to alternative marketing
and production or adding a new marketing venture, financial support is crucial to success. Participants noted
the challenge of surviving financially while a market was being established. They expressed the need to fund
small agricultural businesses.
Other themes in this section were the lack of cooperation between farmers, the need for more marketing
education for farmers and the amount of time and energy it takes to start a marketing project. As one person
said, “I think the largest barrier is motivation. The more motivation a producer has, the more likely s/he will
“This was an extremely well-organized conference with time to network and things to carry away.
People were engaged, and speakers were highly motivated and articulate. Good job!”
“Excellent! I have been to a lot of conferences, and this is one of the best!”
“This is the most practical conference I have ever attended. The emphasis on producer experiences
was different and crucial.”
The majority of comments about the conference were positive. People appreciated hearing from producers
and their partners with marketing success stories. They noted the utility of the workshops and the benefits of
networking. Participants appreciated the information in the marketing notebook, as well as the Legal Guide.
Respondents liked hearing from SARE marketing grant recipients and learning from their trials and triumphs.
Many conference goers praised the food and entertainment. The Friday dinner and Saturday lunch of local
foods showed participants that fresh, delicious meals from local farmers can be served at institutions and
meetings, even with 360 people! Entertainment from folk singer Ann Zimmerman added a special touch to
the meeting. Participants were also inspired by Jerry DeWitt and Cynthia Vagnetti’s artistic video production
on direct marketing.
Participants also gave constructive criticism about the conference that could assist planners of future
marketing meetings. Respondents suggested: more time for networking, more in-depth sessions, a bulletin
board for connecting producers and others with specific requests, more panel discussions and time for
interaction, more concurrent sessions, more emphasis on marketing in rural areas away from population
centers, and the addition of a group outing or farm tour.
From all evaluations, it is clear that we met the goals of the alternative agricultural marketing conference: to help
regional farmers and ranchers develop skills and supportive relationships with others that would assist them in
creating and sustaining profitable, sustainable agricultural marketing ventures and to help make more direct
connections between food buyers and food producers in the North Central region.
Participants learned that while the road to developing and sustaining alternative markets is long, a successful venture
can be extremely rewarding for farmers, families and communities. As they met others involved in local food systems,
many participants dispelled the myth that they are alone and found kindred souls with whom to work and share ideas.
Marketing skills – from on-farm processing to consumer education – were identified and shared. Participants also
discussed barriers to alternative marketing and began to address them.
This conference provided a wealth of marketing information to farmers, ranchers, educators, organizations and
institutions, as well as business and others involved in the food system. The conference also confirmed a need for
more information in order to sustain our small farmers and promote healthy food systems.
The marketing meeting was a result of shared leadership. Thanks to the conference planning committee, the NCR
SARE Administrative Council, Heidi Carter, Ken Schneider, Courteney Schroeppel, Tom Graf, conference
co-sponsors and many others, organizations and agencies working toward sustainable agriculture.