Workshops help local producers market, sell food
By Jamison Cocklin
Local farmers and other food producers in Ohio trying to navigate the complexities of marketing and selling products across retail and wholesale platforms have an ally in an Ohio State University extension program.
The program, MarketReady Workshops, provides its participants with the know-how on getting a variety of foods to buyers in the restaurant and grocery industries. It started in 2010 at the University of Kansas with Ohio as its pilot state.
Since then, the program has been an immense success, according to its coordinators and participants.
“We serve any type of food producers, from specialty crop growers and regular farmers, to those who grow only fresh foods and those that deal in processed foods,” said Julie Moose, an information associate with the OSU extension office in Piketon. She works closely in coordinating the workshops statewide.
“We outline all the different strategies for them depending on which way they want to go,” she said.
In the Mahoning Valley, where OSU extension educator Eric Barrett works with food producers, the program has been a boon for the locally grown food movement.
“In the Valley, we’ve been trying to push local foods by giving sellers more access to our products and growers,” Barrett said. “We’ve been helping a lot of folks get off the ground.”
Selling food products across multiple markets is challenging because of the unique demands that come with serving completely different segments, such as restaurants that purchase wholesale, or grocery stores that require specific packaging, storage temperatures and pricing.
For Sophia Buggs of Youngstown, who works as an apprentice at the Goodness Grows garden in North Lima and has crops at the Youngstown Community Gardens, the skills she has learned at the workshops have prepared her for the future, when she plans on having “her own farms and space.”
“They offer insight on the unique experiences that all these different growers have in trying to sell their product,” Buggs said. “I feel more prepared for what I want to do.”
Typically, the workshops take place monthly at points across the state. The last was in June in Canfield, but there won’t be another until after the peak of growing season ends in the fall.
Moose said the workshops last all day. Participants are introduced to food trends and receive training in a multitude of marketing strategies. A panel discussion that includes chefs, retailers and local buyers concludes the workshops.
“These panels allow those at the workshop to hear what these buyers are looking for,” Moose said. “It also provides good networking opportunities and follow-up with potential customers.”
The OSU extension signs up groups of between 20 and 40 participants so the sessions are more “personalized and interactive,” Moose said.
The cost is $75 per individual, plus another $25 for any additional participants in the same group. For information on the workshops go to http://go.osu.edu/MarketReady.