Farms use innovative ways to find customers eager for local foods

The “buy local” experience and the local marketing efforts differ from state to state, which means it is sometimes difficult to find the farm or market that you’d like.

Farmers Market

As Americans were first being told to practice social distancing and shelter-in-place this spring, many farmers were trying to figure out how to reach consumers who used to come to their farms, as well as find new customers.

During a “normal” year, thousands of buyers showed up at Southern Hill Farms near Clermont, Fla., to pick their own blueberries from early April to the end of May. The family grows about 40 acres of blueberries each year, along with peaches, sweet corn, sunflowers and zinnias on another 80 acres.

Owner David Hill said that technically, you-pick operations are allowed to be open for business, but it would have been difficult to safely manage the lines of people who showed up from Tuesday through Sunday. So, the Hill family scrambled to convert from U-Pick to drive-through.

Customers can purchase online and then drive through the farm to pick up their purchases, Hill said.

“It’s only a percentage of the business we would normally do,” Hill says, but the family has witnessed some spikes in traffic.


He says the “support your local farmer” concept caught on big last month.

“We had people pull up in droves” and the wait in their cars was sometimes 2.5 hours long, Hill noted.

“People have been changing the way they shop during this health crisis,” says Doug Goehring, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner. His team recently revised and updated a map that shows where consumers can buy meats, baked goods and fruit. The map also shows farmers markets, on farm sales, roadside stands, community supported agriculture groups, you-picks, vineyards, produce donation sites and more.

But the “buy local” experience and the local marketing efforts differ from state to state, which means it is sometimes difficult to find the farm or market that you’d like.

USDA has a Local Food Directory , which lists thousands of farmers markets, CSAs, food hubs and on-farm markets. Operators can add or update listings, which will then be approved by the agency and published. Potential customers can then search by zip code to find outlets within 5-200 miles of their location.

In addition, several state departments of agriculture have their own directories.

Each state’s local food directory has a different format. Some websites are broken up by type of food category, others have businesses listed, and some are displayed on an interactive map.

“(National Association of State Departments of Agriculture) members are finding unique ways to support local farmers, ranchers, and value-added food producers while strengthening their local economies and communities. From providing guidance to safely keep farmers' markets open, to interactive maps for consumers to find local producers, to online ordering systems, state departments of agriculture are supporting the movement of commodities to consumers who need them the most,” said Barb Glenn, CEO of NASDA.


For example, Missouri’s Food Finder is displayed using an interactive map that showcases different local food businesses around the state, providing contact information, types of food offered, location, type of purchasing options, and a link to the business’ website if applicable. The state’s platform is also set up to allow new registrations of businesses to continue providing access to more local food options.

Tennessee’s local foods website breaks down consumer options based on different sectors of the industry: restaurants/retail, CSAs, farmers markets, agri-tourism, and produce products available.

If you go to the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s website and search for “local foods” and “local farms” you will find zero search results. But that’s because KDA has organized a directory for farms and farmers markets under a totally different website called “ From the Land of Kansas .” Unfortunately, the site does not have the word “local” anywhere on the front of the site so it’s hard to find with traditional search terms on Google or other search engines. The site is not listed as a program on the Kansas Department of Ag website and it is not listed on USDA’s site.

Marketing Manager Janelle Dobbins says the program was first developed in 1978 by the Kansas Department of Agriculture but was moved in later years to the Department of Commerce and renamed “Simply Kansas” before moving back to KDA with an updated look and trademark. She says discussions are underway to provide the program with more visibility on the KDA site and to make it more accessible.

In addition, Kansas writer Rick McNary created a Facebook group in late April called “Shop Kansas Farms” that aims to connect people who want to buy from Kansas businesses with those who are selling. In less than 18 hours, he had more than 800 members and just a couple of weeks later, he has more than 4,400 members.

For your shopping pleasure, Agri-Pulse compiled a list of every state’s local foods directory, click here to see the complete list.

Editor’s note: Wyant is president and founder of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc. For more news, go to Agri-Pulse Associate Editor Hannah Pagel created the local foods directory and contributed to this article.

What To Read Next
Get Local