Direct Marketing team helps producers, consumers adjust to doing business amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Christie Welch
Direct Marketing Program Manager

While 2020 has been a challenge for us all, the Ohio State University Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing Program has continued to help Ohio’s direct marketers continue to serve their customers and run their businesses. Ohio’s farmers are still farming, and Ohio’s consumers are still accessing the locally produced foods they have come to love and expect, but how they go about that, in many ways, has changed.  

The team was awarded funding from North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program to help producers evaluate and adopt online sales platforms.  This project allowed Ohio producers to learn from their peers about online sales platforms that have been successfully adopted by these producers. In addition, while some producers had adopted online sales platforms prior to the pandemic, the change brought about by COVID-19 has accelerated the need for many more to do so. If you are interested in these online platforms you can view the recorded presentations here: go.osu.edu/sareonlinesales.

During the busy fall season, as people were looking for safe activities and events in which to take part, our team worked with other Extension experts to develop a bulletin to assist these operators develop a plan to offer on-farm activities to Ohioans in a safe manner.  Many agritourism operations put plans in place to limit the number of persons on the farm at a single time to allow for social distancing.  In addition, they modified some of their activities to ensure safety.  While things continue to be impacted by the pandemic, Ohio’s farmers are still offering the opportunity to take part in family traditions that many have come to love, such as sunflower picking, apple picking, pumpkin picking, and shopping at farms and farmers markets.

The team also collaborated with the OSU Farm to School program to create a video about how Ohio apples are grown, picked, packed, and distributed to consumers to enjoy.  The video was part of the Midwest Apple Crunch, which encourages people to eat apples as part of a healthy diet. You can view the video by visiting farmtoschool.osu.edu/2020/09/28/apple-crunch-virtual-event-2020/.

And as we continue to adjust to life amid the pandemic, we continue to work with our producers to adapt their businesses.  The Direct Marketing Program is collaborating with the Farmers Market Coalition and the Ohio Farmers Market Network to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Ohio farmers markets’ work in data collection, and training managers and Extension educators on the suite of available tools and appropriate methodologies to help create a culture of shared data collection and use to increase the sustainability and success of farmers markets. The first phase of the project is to create a database of farmers markets that collect data, and understand how they use that data for decision-making. This three-year project is funded by USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Over the course of the project, the hope is to help create a culture of data collection and use among Ohio farmers markets in an effort to help them with decision-making and planning to increase this important market channel for Ohio’s direct marketing farmers and food producers.

If you would like to learn more, contact Christie Welch via email to welch.183@osu.edu.