As smaller local farms look for ways to add income, many have opened their own retail shops to sell their crops or related wares.
Examples could be a vineyard selling their wine out of tasting rooms on its property, an orchard selling fruit by the basket or an alpaca farm selling alpaca-wool made products.
Tanya Lamo, entrepreneurship and marketing educator for Penn State Extension, said while these are great opportunities, farmers may not be utilizing their retail space to their greatest advantage.
“Just because you’re great at growing grapes, doesn’t mean you’re necessarily great at running a wine-tasting room,” she said.
That is why Penn State Extension is beginning a 19-county pilot paid subscription program aimed at helping farmers assist each other to improve their retail and marketing efforts.
The program is called Under the Ground and Lamo has just begun signing up participants, she hopes to gather between 30 and 75 businesses in the agricultural field in Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton, Monroe, Montgomery, Schuylkill, Lancaster, Lebanon, York, Adams, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Perry and Philadelphia counties.
“We’re going to form a peer network,” Lamo said.
Those who participate will act as a sort of secret shopper for their fellow agri-retailers. They will agree to shop in each other’s retail locations anonymously, as will Lamo and extension staffers, to see how different farm retail shops operate.
Lamo said members can give advice on better practices and borrow the best ideas from each other.
Part of the goal is also networking. For example, someone who has an apiary may connect with a winery or fruit stand to sell honey at their locations. That could extend the apiary’s sales reach and expand the other retailer’s offerings.
Besides the peer networking, Lamo said subscribers will get a quarterly newsletter, an annual report as well as confidential reports specific to findings and recommendations at each retail location.
She also plans to have workshops and educational programs on such topics as social media trends.
Subscriptions to Under the Ground are $100 for the year for those who sign up before March.
For more information go to https://extension.psu.edu/under-the-ground.