As farmer's markets fly into full swing with the summer months, I'm reprising a post from several years ago when we lived in Alaska and frequented the neighborhood farmer's markets. The strategies of our favorite farmer, Mark Rempel, still apply to farmers and small businesses today. Plus I love the nursery rhyme. Read on to see how Mark's farm developed a reliable and loyal customer base that returns every weekend.
The old nursery rhyme always comes to mind when I head to Anchorage's farmer's market...not to buy a fat pig...but I probably could. Just as locally-grown products are popular in the Lower 48, so grows the family farm in Southcentral Alaska.
Growing up in Oregon, we regularly visited u-pick farms, and my brother now owns a farm in Western Washington. I appreciate the difference in quality and flavor, and I’m willing to pay for it.
Each Saturday I join the throngs to stock up on fresh vegetables at the South Anchorage Farmer’s Market. Things are a tad more expensive but they more than make up for the expense by being LOTS more flavorful. I am a fan of one particular farmer...who doesn't really even realize all the things he's doing correctly from a marketing perspective.
Mark Rempel is the head of Rempel's Family Farm and has been for years. He was one of the Mat-Su Valley farmers who invited people from Anchorage to tour his farm in 2009 as part of “Meet your Alaska Farmers.” I spoke with him a week or so ago as he walked among the stacked plastic bins filled with his clean and fresh vegetables offering samples of snow apples and cooking tips for unfamiliar vegetables. He walks naturally among the bins offering suggestions to customers who every few minutes called,
“Mark. How do I…?,” “What do you suggest for…” and other questions.
Mark looks like a farmer and said he wasn't as at ease talking with customers as he appeared. He said it's hard because he builds relationships between the end of May and October, and then many of us go away before the next summer. He seemed surprised when I said I've been coming every weekend for three years and so had many others. His success comes from a ton of hard work and a natural gift for marketing.
His produce is top quality
I feel like I know him and his other family members
His produce is clean and well packaged
His family is friendly and obviously hard-working
So, how do I know it’s a family? They wear cool nametags that tell me where they fit into the family.
"Lorie farmer’s daughter" and “Mark head farmer.”
Their very nature and the name tags seem to invite customers to chat with them.
Each week I receive a newsletter from the market describing what will be there and Rempel's list seems the most complete to me...although Alaska strawberries from Glacier Valley were out of this world as well.
Mark's marketing is natural but it's also part of his personality. That's what makes me go back every Saturday until winter is upon us and it’s just too cold for fresh veggies. Then, we’ll reluctantly return to the grocery store’s less flavorful items, knowing that spring will bring yet another season of freshness. At least Alaska is starting to have more fresh produce like the rest of the country.
Have you had similar experiences with small businesses? Why do you choose one over another? What else could Mark, and farmers like him, do?
And, in case you forgot the nursery rhyme...