South Centers Synergy: OSU South Centers offers MarketReady™ Producer Training in Cuyahoga County

By Ivory Harlow, Cooperative Development Specialist

Northern Ohio farmers and foodpreneurs gathered in downtown Cleveland to learn how to sell locally produced products direct to consumers, grocers, restaurants, institutions and wholesalers. The OSUE Direct Food and Agriculture Marketing Team and the CFAES Center for Cooperatives provided MarketReady™ Producer Training in collaboration with OSU Extension Cuyahoga County.

MarketReady™ teaches farmers and foodpreneurs how to gain access to profitable markets for their products. The MarketReady™ program was developed by Dr. Tim Woods at the University of Kentucky. The Direct Marketing Team at OSU South Centers began offering MarketReady™ training to Ohio farmers in 2010. Today, cooperative extension services across the United States provide the comprehensive training to help food producers get ready for market.

Direct Marketing Team members Christie Welch and Charissa Gardner kicked off the day-long training with a discussion of current food trends. Christie gave an overview of direct marketing channels, and assisted attendees in identifying target markets for their products. Attendees honed in on specific market segments and created unique customer profiles. Farmers Don and Regenia Lear plan to add a pick-your-own blueberry enterprise to their Hocking County farm. The Lears aim to serve families visiting the acclaimed natural area during summer vacation, which coincides with blueberry season.

Ivory Harlow is a Cooperative Development Specialist at the CFAES Center for Cooperatives. She shared how cooperative marketing facilitates small farms access to larger markets, such as institutions and intermediaries. A farmer who is currently producing local pork saw how the cooperative model can help her expand business beyond farmers’ markets. Aspiring small ruminant farmers considered joining an established livestock marketing cooperative to achieve their business goals.

Cuyahoga County Extension educators offered attendees practical tools to price local food products. Attendees learned the average price margins for restaurants and grocers. They calculated food cost profit margins. The group discovered how best practices for order fulfillment and invoicing improve food business operations.

MarketReady™ Producer Training graduates gained a better understanding of direct marketing opportunities and challenges. A grad commented, “[MarketReady™ is] the best marketing training we’ve ever attended!”