1. Collective Bulk Purchasing
Obtaining discount bulk prices isn’t easy for small farms—unless you band together. At one Guild they taped up pieces of butcher paper for each month and asked folks to write down what they’d likely purchase, how much and from what source. Whether it’s chicken feed, drip tape or compost, you’ll soon see the overlaps and the opportunities to all save money.
2. Inter-Generational Outreach
Most Guilds lean toward the youthful side, but a few have reached out to their agrarian elders to bridge the divide. Compile a list of all the experienced farmers and ranchers in your region and personally invite them to attend a special Guild gathering to pass down their wisdom, share stories and be honored. Reserve the head of each table for those farming the longest.
3. Show Your Pride
Last summer, the Sonoma Valley Farmers Guild went home with the 1st place trophy at the annual 4th of July parade. Each farm helped decorate a tractor-drawn float and passed out vegetables and seed packets to the crowds. For a region dominated by vineyards, this band of proud farmers showed their neighbors that more than wine is growing in their community.
4. Cross-Industry Mixers
Because farming is an increasingly multi-faceted profession, why not use your Guild to build bridges? This month, the Sebastopol Guild teams up with another guild-like group of web-developers. Farmers will learn how to build websites for their farms, market their products online, and discuss how internet technology can more generally help build the localized food system we family farmers need. Consider other advantageous groups: mechanics, marketers, etc.
5. Build a Brand, Self-Regulate
After members of one Guild noticed how their local markets were getting crowded with far-flung vendors claiming to grow “local”, they explored how their Guild could bring awareness. Their idea: create a series of signs including their own farm’s biography, their Guild’s logo, and the distance they drove to market. Such campaigns are far more effective when done in collaboration.
6. Negotiate Discounts
Your Guild already has tons of supporters. Find out if local businesses will publicly show that support through their actions. One Guild negotiated a discount at a local farm supply store, while on the statewide level, CCOF now offers certification fee-waivers to any guild member anywhere. Show them how their support will instill loyalty and how you’ll publicly acknowledge that support.
7. Speak Out On Important Issues
Just over a year ago, we sent in one enormous, jam-packed envelope to the FDA containing dozens of letters written by farmers from various Guilds insisting that their newly proposed food safety rules considered the needs of small, diversified farms like ours. And they listened. Because of those letter-writing parties, many of those recommendations helped shape policy that will affect farmers in years to come. Use your Guild to stay informed and rally the troops.
8. Collaborative Apprenticeships
For many farms, interns are key to their philosophy and a necessary first-step for many new, aspiring famers. But regulation and reliability are constant challenges. A few Guilds are now exploring ways to collaborate with local educational programs to coordinate apprenticeships available to multiple farms, keeping it legal as well as more effective for both the farmers and the apprentices.
9. Invite the Market
Like we do at the annual Farmers Guild-Raising, consider hosting a local “speed-dating” event in which you invite food buyers to casually meet their local farming community: grocers, restaurateurs, food co-ops, caterers, school cafeterias, and newer buyers such as Good Eggs. For the more established farmers, this provides an opportunity to find new contracts; for the newer famers, it provides a chance to better understand the landscape and prepare accordingly.
10. Peer-To-Peer Farm Visits
Much can be done around the potluck table, but sometimes you just gotta see it in person. Several Guilds arrange occasional meet-ups at each other’s farms. Allow the host to share specific accomplishments as well as their current challenges and then give the group the chance to collectively explore or offer solutions.
11. Scholarship Fundraiser
With the help of members of various Guilds, last year we raised and distributed thousands of dollars in educational scholarships to new farmers. With your help, we can keep that fund going. Consider co-hosting a fundraiser in your own region. We can help and all proceeds will go directly to the next round of scholarships as determined by representatives from each Guild.
12. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask (Or Have Fun)
For nearly a year, the Yolo Farmers Guild has hosted a guest chef as part of their regular monthly gatherings, most from local restaurants and catering companies. Prior to the meet-up, farmers provide the chef their produce and products and the chef cooks up a main-course (sometimes more) to enhance the potluck. All of this is on a volunteer basis. Why? Because people love farmers and they want to contribute to what you’re doing. Don’t forget that. Just remember to say thank you.