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The Minnesota Project Gives Hmong Farmers Some Marketing Tips

December 14, 2011
Boua Phan Lor completes a demonstration

On a brisk fall night in the midst of the upcoming Hmong New Years’ celebrations, local farmers gathered at the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota’s (AAHWM) Maplewood office to gain marketing skills for selling their products to local vendors and at farmers’ markets. The group consisted of farmers who sell to co-ops, have stalls at farmers’ markets, and a market manager came to hear Theresa Heiland, The Minnesota Project’s Local Foods Coordinator, speak on solutions to the issues they face selling their products.

While the produce the farmers raise is nutrient rich, some of the obstacles Hmong farmers have selling their products results in their labor being a cash poor endeavor. Some my not realize that succeeding as a local farmer requires an immensely dynamic skill set. Not only do farmers have to possess the extensive knowledge, wisdom and strength to plant, maintain and harvest a variety of different crops at the right times, but they also have to understand how to sell their harvest to earn a living. In fact, marketing can be the hardest part of farming. In a few situations the crops might sell themselves, but in farmers’ markets with numerous vendors selling the same, sometimes unfamiliar products to Minnesotans, these farmers have to stand out as salesmen and women. This is no easy task for those who have limited English skills and sales experience.

In addition to the language barriers, Heiland knows that not all Hmong farmers think of farming as a business so they may not know what the customer is looking for. This is especially important at the vendor packed farmers’ markets. Aside from arranging their produce in an attractive and eye-catching way, Heiland suggested that farmers not only market their products, but market themselves too. Farmers were shown that they can stand out from other vendors by personalizing the customers’ shopping experiences by creating attractive, informative signs, wearing name tags and posting their own personal stories highlighting their backgrounds and where they harvest their crops.

A farmer reads the vegetable cards to help educate customers

The farmers take great pride in the fact that they sell healthy products to those who buy from them, but many customers may not know the nutritional value or how to prepare the products they sell. Without a populations’ understanding of what a product is or how it can be used can dramatically limit sales opportunities. Heiland suggested farmers could educate their customers by showcasing a weekly “vegetable to know” with additional information, sampling, and recipes for the featured product. To aid in customer education, The Minnesota Project teamed up with The Minnesota Department of Agriculture to provide farmers with vegetable cards they can hand to the customers that explain some of the Hmong produce with a recipe to prepare it with.

Farmers contributed some of their own ideas to attract customers, such as having conversations with customers, giving a customer a small sample of an unfamiliar vegetable to take home and try, and maintaining cleanliness.

The next training will focus on business development where the farmers will be able to design their own business cards. The farmers also expressed interest in future trainings with topics such as sustainable practices, soil health, organic growing, talking points with customers, and how to find more markets for the upcoming year.

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