Food for Thought Conference Reinforces Niche Marketing

Producers share ideas about more than corn and soybeans.

Published on: Nov 24, 2009
Give Indiana Farm Bureau an 'E' for effort in preparing an excellent, innovative one day conference ahead of its annual convention last week. Title 'Food for Thought,' the intricate program held at Ft. Wayne before the annual Farm Bureau state convention dealt with issues related to producing food or offering other services on a local level. It was all about niche marketing of everything from honey to specialty beef.

The only downside was that weather issues leading up to the event, primarily a late, wet fall, likely cut attendance. While organizers hoped for more attendees, it didn't stop those who could attend form gleaning valuable information from speakers and other producers. Part of the value of any event such as this is social networking, the old-fashioned way.

Social networking may mean Facebook and Twitter if you're under 30. You're even out-of-date amongst those 20 and younger if you talk about emailing someone instead of just sending them a text message. But the type of social networking that happened at the event last week has a proven track record. It's interacting with someone one-on-one, face-to-face, then later keeping track with phone calls or, yes, email messages or text messages.

Brittany Kelsay, a Purdue University student and intern for Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., was involved in planning and publicizing the one-day event. While slow registration forced cancellation of tours to niche marketing gurus, the rest of the program went on as planned, she notes.

One speaker, her sister-in-law, Amy Kelsay, told about the possible rewards and pitfalls of starting an agri-tourism business on your farm. Kelsay and her husband, Joe, open the farm to school tours at a nominal fee per student at various times during the year. Their biggest push is for weekends on the farm in the fall, where they charge guests to tour a corn maze, take tours of the milking parlor and engage in other activities deigned to be fun for the entire family.

They tie promotion of their industry into the effort. One of the products they sell during the event is a home-made milkshake. The Kelsays purchased a used commercial machine to be able to serve the quality and quantity needed during these weekend events. They also hire local high school students, many of them 4-H and FFA members, to work during the weekends, doing everything from collecting admission to making and serving milkshakes.

Weather can be a hazard of outdoor events. Weekend weather, especially in October, wasn't particularly cooperative this year. Many weekends featured either rain during the weekend, or enough rain during the week that soils and fields were soggy. It's part of doing business.

Look for more updates from the conference coming soon.