Farmers Market Cultivates Customers on Capitol Hill

Aug 9, 2019  | 7 min  | Ep4451

The National Farmers Market Coalition has declared that August 4 through 10 is National Farmers Market Week.

USDA figures show over 41,000 farms made more than $700 million worth of direct sales to consumers in 2015.

Recently, a special farmers market was setup in the nation’s capital where the outcome had less to do with making a profit and more to do with cultivating relationships.

Here’s more in our cover story. Producer contact:

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the typical American consumer is at least three generations removed from the farm. To close the gap, farmers and ranchers have found it all the more vital for rural Americans to “share their story”. 
During the Farm Credit Services annual fly-in event, held just a few short weeks ago in Washington, D.C., producers who use the financial institutions lending services were able to try their hand at engaging folks from both sides of the aisle about their farms and their retail products. 
Todd VanHoose, President and CEO, Farm Credit Services: “Probably the most important thing we're going to try to do is educate people about agriculture. Because if you look at Congress today, very few of them have a direct tie to agriculture. They don't understand the modern realities. A lot of them are supportive of agriculture. They had this good feeling about farmers, but they don't know what the reality of modern agriculture is in. So job one up there for us is explain that.”
The third annual event was hosted in the Library of Congress. More than 80 farmers and ranchers brought everything from pecans to maple syrup to put on display in hopes of spurring a little conversation. 
Todd Van Hoose, President and CEO, Farm Credit Services: “One of the things we try to stress is agriculture is not the same everywhere. And some of its big and some of it's small and some of it's commodities and some of it's really specialty products. And if you embrace all of that, you're going to start to understand agriculture as it exists in the world today. And you get a much clearer picture on what it takes to be successful out there. And that's the message we're trying to bring people.”
Attendees, which ranged from Capitol Hill Staffers to Lobbyists and legislators, were given shopping bags upon their arrival to browse the “marketplace.” They were encouraged to visit with the various vendors about their operations as well as take home a sample of the products on display. 
Lotsee Spradling and her husband Mike own the Flying G Ranch in Oklahoma. They’ve been running Polled Hereford Cattle since 1932. But In 1986, after Lotsee and Mike got married, they began growing Pecans. Their ranch produced nearly 1/10 of Oklahoma’s pecan crop last year. 
Lotsee says there are just two things that consistently impact their family’s operation. 
Lotsee Spradling, Flying G Ranch Sandsprings, Oklahoma: “Mother Nature's the biggest. Um, probably politicians are the next biggest. Um, you have to be careful that you follow all the rules and regulations if they shut down a market. For us, China's been a big market for us with the trade things going on. That market has definitely gone from being booming to a trickle. (4:04)
Part of the objective for the marketplace event is to connect those producers and “give them a face” as VanHoose put it. Another goal is to give the producers a voice by sharing their thoughts and opinions with the folks who guide and create the legislation that impacts them. 
Lotsee Spradling, Flying G Ranch Sandsprings, Oklahoma: “First of all, we appreciate the free market we have. We definitely want to thank them for the country we live in, the marketplace we have that's prime on our list. But we also want to share our concerns about, um, some of the tariffs, both going both ways and also the group where with Farm Credit, um, is instrumental in keeping most of us a float because the local bank, whether even if you're in a rural town, the local banks do not understand agriculture anymore. The people that are renting and most of them are not born and bred rural and so they don't understand. So one of the things is we want to keep farm credit viable and make understand how essential it is to rural America for us to feed the world. 
The 116th Congress, which is currently on their August recess, is the most racially and ethnically diverse group the United States has ever seen. And, as the Urban sprawl continues, many in rural America have said they struggle to find the votes needed to elect leaders who are educated on the policy impacting their rural constituents.
Mark Yeager and his daughter Anna, have started making the transition over the past couple of years to give their business a face. They discovered more consumers wanting to interact with the people behind their products. 
Mark Yeager, Red Land Farms, Moulton, Alabama: “We're telling a story of our cotton that we're growing. ginning, picking the best we got out of what we make and turning it into a, a textile that you can't buy anywhere in America, not where, you know, where the field it was grown in.”
The Yeagers have been farming cotton since the early 80s. It wasn’t until 2015 when Anna moved home full-time, after a stint in the Big Apple, they decided to cut out the middle-man and market their cotton directly to consumers. 
Anna Brakefield, Red Land Farm, Alabama: “I fought like crazy to not come back to the family farm. Um, but my dad approached me in 2015 with this idea of taking the cotton that we're growing and making it into a consumable good that we could sell direct to consumer.” And I thought that that had such huge potential, um, in the day and time that we're living in right now. 
Red Land Cotton, the business under which products from their Red Land Farms are sold, focuses primarily on textiles such as bedding and towels. Customer assessment of the product line, which includes a “Made in America” logo, have found the Yeagers selling their 100% cotton-based products at a premium.  
Over the past three plus years, Anna has focused on sharing those values that Red Land Farms brings into their textiles. She hopes that her fellow agriculturalists will someday be able to join forces to educate a wider swath of the public.
Anna Brakefield, Red Land Farm, Alabama: “I'm personally hoping to go around and meet a bunch of other farmers that are creating products and, and seeing how we might, could work together even, um, and collaborate like that.” (3:11)
Lotsee Spradling would agree that making the connection starts with one conversation at a time. 
Lotsee Spradling, Flying G Ranch, Sandsprings, Oklahoma: “We're face to face with another human being. And I have to eat, we have to make a living. It really is a nice connection” (7:36)

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