Selling Biocontrol and IPM Practices

Farm Stand Marketing

You Need to Make a Living

If you have your heart set on going through the bother of earning your organic certification, as I wrote in the first “Transition” page, you should be sure you have a market at hand that’s willing to pay a premium for goods which can be labeled Organic. If that’s not your ambition — although you can still grow as organically as any certified entity — you won’t have the organic advantage, with or without a specialized marketplace, to fuel your checkbook. Moreover, you’ll be competing in the free-for-all world of the open market, be it flowers, or fruits, or herbs and vegetables, plants, trees or, even services — whatever. It doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t get something out of it, you know, besides satisfaction, environmental do-goodiness, or any of the Green Methods’ other advantages. Money is important too; after all, you’ll probably be spending more of it at first.

Marketing

Okay, you’re not Certified Organic and can’t legally say so, but you are Chemical-Free and you do exercise Environmentally-Friendly Practices and you can say it. Chemical-Free and other such royalty-free jargon, if it’s true, is okay to say. If it’s true, and you’re committed and savvy of its ways, tell your customers about it. Brag. Tell a friend. Get on television. Call your local paper, if that’s where your market is, and tell them to get their best reporter’s butt to your facility pronto: it’s where something big is happening! Make signs, print little labels or plant tags-but watch your costs while doing it. Ease into this. At first simply start a never-ending chain of word-of-mouth advertising by telling as many people about it as possible — it’s free.

Don’t Hesitate

Oh, you’re afraid to boast? I see, you once told someone you were quitting smoking forever and found yourself lighting up later the same day? I understand. Here’s your solution: Reduced Pesticide Usage or We Use IPM or Good Bugs Rule! Or whatever. The Green Methods Are In Use, even if the rare, as-soft-as-possible chemical comes into play to bail yourself out of a transitional jam, and you should say so. You won’t stick your neck out and get it lopped off the way you did when you started smoking again. People will know you’re honestly trying your best and that you care. It’s not the right time to hold that press conference you were thinking about, but it’s a start.

It’s not just your customers who’ll think it’s wicked cool that you’re doing this. Your employees may be pleased about it, too. They might like the idea of fewer hazards from a bunch of smelly pesticides. They may think those predators and parasitoids are neat. Heck, mom and dad may even pat you on the back (unless they, too, are growers; then, if they’re not leading you, they’ll probably think you’re nuts).

Be a Teacher

Your customers may learn, if you’re willing to teach them, to appreciate a few good guys on the plants. They’re going to like the idea of eating untainted vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts and grains. Who wouldn’t? (If it could be fresh-picked, too, you’d really get them excited.) How about your interiorscape clients? The banker or mall manager? They might get excited as well. I’ve heard many interiorscapers say they didn’t want their clients to find out about their foray into the greener ways of maintaining the greenery. But I’ve never understood this logic. When asked, I’ve offered quite the opposite: “Tell them everything,” I say. The interiorscaper contractor’s worry is usually that their account contacts may object to having bugs in the building. But that’s an easy objection to overcome. The biocontrol agents employed in interiorscapes don’t sting or bite or swarm or act in any annoying way. They’re on a mission, a mission from Gawd. They’re not into computers or people’s ears. You can’t even see most of them. And don’t think for a minute that people will actually notice them, anyway, even if they are more than a speck; most people just aren’t that observant. They barely even see the plants in the first place (except in malls where planting beds may resemble ashtrays or trash cans). Spray something oily or stinky though and they’ll know. Oh, yeah. Most people won’t notice pests on the plants until the plants begin to really look awful — and then it’s not the pests they see, it’s the damage they cause or the honeydew they poop. Tell your clients this stuff, especially the stinky chemical thing. They’ll probably agree after hearing your lucid and logical argument and consider your ideas. You’ll be in. They may even become one of your greatest assets in your little war against pests. The banker may do a little scouting for you when he or she is not flirting with one of the tellers or wheeling and dealing a second mortgage. The mall manager, when not bellowing to the mall-kids to quit doing grinders on the steps with their damn skateboards, may turn out to be your ally too. The manager may actually bend down to rescue a little beetle who strayed away from the potted oasis centered in the mall’s thoroughfare. This stuff doesn’t just happen, though, you have to tell them, convince them and teach them. Who’s in charge of taking care of these plants, anyway? Who’s responsible? Who gets sued if a little old lady wipes out and breaks her hip because you forgot to clean up the oily residue left on the tiled floors after your midnight spray party? You both do; tell them that!

Succeed at It

Excepting the rare person who sniffs the propellants out of aerosol cans, most people, if they decide to stop and think about it, would rather not have to come into contact with so many chemicals on any given day. If growers can get by — and stay in business — most would rather not spray. I know this because I’ve heard it from many growers, all with stripes of a different color, even those who’ve never tried doing it another way. Even those who’ve never heard of the Green Methods.

When the habit is formed and the customers are taught, if you haven’t gotten great press and the resultant swelling of your customer base, you may still be in a better position to charge a little more for the goods you produce or the services you perform. If you’ve made your case and have been a good educator, the customers should be willing, ready and, hopefully, able to deal with a small increase. And it may even go further than that. It may be even more justifiable. Your plants may be healthier and look more vibrant than ever. In one heavily-sprayed conservatory plant-collection I know of, approximately six months after the sprays stopped, people started to talk: “Your plants look so much… uh, greener. Yeah. What’d you do to get them that way?”

Make it pay. Aim to get the most out of it. Your heart and mind are certainly in it if you’ve been doing it the way I’ve been telling you — or are planning to — so make it pay for itself in every way you can imagine.