On this podcast, Troy and I discussed on how he manages his farm’s open days. He shared the techniques and methods he used for his farm’s open days.
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Daniel: Daniel OBrien here, welcome back to Green Grass Egg Farming. Today I’m talking with Troy Blackman from Waterfall Produce and we’re talking about farm open days, welcome to the call.
Troy: Hello everyone.
Daniel: Ok so farm open days, basically it’s an opportunity where your customers and consumers can come and see your farm and what you do and you run quite a few of these. Do you want to tell me how you do it and some of the benefits to your farm?
Troy: So I guess I’ll probably start with some of the basic reasons why we do it to begin with. The main reasons that we do them quite often, we started doing them monthly and then we actually went doing them every two months to now we were actually doing it quarterly – because I guess for the main customer base, majority of people have seen the farms now and it’s a little inefficient for us to do them more often than quarterly, so we’re doing them every three months now.
And the main reason why we started doing them was because we made a decision earlier on to farm organically but due to a number of reasons we decided not to get certified and so a big part of – claiming that we’re doing certain things. We needed to be transparent and completely transparent. So by getting people at on the farms showing them every aspect that they wanted to see, from anything to where the animals live to inside the Chicken Caravans looking at feed specs and all that sort of stuff. That was a great way to do that.
Daniel: Yeah right, so you run them quarterly. So how do you advertise the market and tell people about this?
Troy: So we have three main areas that we distribute and produce so we attend three farmers markets within 150 kilometres of our farm, so we just simply hand printed brochures at the markets and chat about it with our customers there and then we also service cafes and restaurants. Mainly the cafes, because the restaurants are living more high end – we do a newsletters so we put information of the open days in the newsletter and we also have little flyers with specific details on the actual open days themselves.
We also actually market our produce online and sell it directly on our website and then home delivered it as well and so through social media and to those parts. We just get all the information we need to get people on the farms.
Daniel: So run me through how one of these open days would work and what time did it start and what do you use for the cover?
Troy: So the day is usually on the Sunday. We started doing them on Saturday and we tried them on Sundays as well and we just found that the biggest issue with the Saturday was families doing sporting events on the Saturday morning. So that conflicted quite badly with those so we decided “Yeah, we switch on the Sunday” and that was way more effective.
We try to time them on school holidays and events like that but steering clear of your main holidays like Easter and your warm holidays because chances are people have plans on those times and so if you stick to your school holidays but not on times where maybe it’s a long weekend – chances are you will get the most success on having people on the farm on those dates and the farms open days themselves – started about 10 o’clock in the morning and what happens is the people arrive at the farm and before this even happens, we actually pre-sell most of our tickets from the website or over at the market stalls and we actually sell them for five dollars a ticket.
The main reason that we chose to sell them for that much, it’s not really the cover any sort of costs per say but it’s more just for accountability sake because we’ll end up giving out a lot of information in a form of flyers and spending a lot of time marketing it and we find that if people make the commitment with just a small amount, chances are they’ll going to show up. We tend to do things like give families for example – large discounts to the point where they basically pay five dollars for their family and the things like that because the whole reason we do the farm open days is purely marketing exercise so it’s not a means of actually make income of those dates. Basically starting off with that five dollars per person mark and we judge it by its own merit depending on the family types and their income because you have reasonably good relationship with your customer base.
We pre-sell the tickets on the website and our market stall and then from there basically I use my little nieces and nephews – they are the ticket holders at the front of the gate of the farm and we still have a little gazebos there and we’re going to list those people’s names and the people park in the paddock which is adjacent to our farm house there and then we have an area on our farm, it’s kind of dedicated to – when we have a large group of people because we’re doing a number of different types of events from hosting schools and Uni’s and things like that. We really needed to create that space that was safe and also we could house those people in a safe way as well. As people are making their way to this area, they tick of a list or they’ll purchase the tickets at the farm gate themselves. We found that it was really important just to offer that opportunity because a couple of times we didn’t and the numbers drop back considerably, so our average kind of numbers turn out started around 40 to 50 mark and they sit around the 150-170 mark nowadays.
People will turn up and they’ll grab their ticket and walk into the area and it’s really important that we have things to do there in that area because with that amount of people and I’m only one person and usually I’m the person who’s taking the farm tour and I can’t get and talk to everyone and everyone has a million questions, so it’s important to have things with people to do while you are getting around and saying good day to everyone and answering as many questions as you can. So the main reason, the ways that we counteract that issue there is we will get a mobile coffee then that comes out to the farms and that’s pretty easy for us because we live in the area that has a high tourist focus and so there’s a number of them in the area but we tend to use one that we have a good relationship with them.
We actually pay them to come out to the farm and we actually pay them $150 per visit and pretty much the main reason for that is in their normal day to day operations – that also to make most of their money of sales and they actually do charge on the day but they need to have a cover-fee as well it so that’s incorporated to our costs and ticket sales. So we’ll have the coffee van there and we’ll also have two stall holders that we deal with at our local farmers markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables and they will also have our stalls set up there so people can buy our own beef and eggs as well so it gives them a chance to purchase the produce that they normally purchasing or maybe looking to purchase there on the day and then obviously have our advertising and different things like that that’s displayed there and then surrounding that area we also have a number of activities for the kids so we have things from quoits and a hand ball set ups to smaller games as well like large chess and jenga and these are cost effective, like giant jenga sets that you can make yourself. These are great way to keep the kids occupied and keep them having a little bit of fun and then you can talk to the parents and people that are asking questions.
Daniel: So when they come to this area – they can get themselves a coffee, they have got stalls, the kids are playing games. Is that area set up next to your chickens and your cattle or do you go for a farm walk after that?
Troy: The chickens and the cattle are moving every three or four days so they could be anywhere by that stage. This areas is central to where animals potentially could be so the longest that we’ve ever walk from there is probably around the 700 metre mark and we found that was the limit, if we push any further than that – which I would say our property is bigger than that – yeah with the small children and the prams, it just makes it really difficult but we found people willing to go that 700 metre mark and we didn’t really have to adjust on where the chickens were, where the cattle were, based on our farm open days – it just fits well which is great.
So they start to arrive about 10am, everyone knows that the farm tour will start at 12:30pm – that’s part of the advertising, so if some people might come on the last minute – ready for the tour and others might come for the day and bring picnics some things like that as well. So around 12:15 – we start rounding everyone up at the egg room which is where we pack and process all our eggs and the central point of that area. Then from there we basically start heading down to where the chickens and the cattle are.
The way our property is set up is we have a number of smaller paddocks on this property where the chickens and the cattle are – we have another properties with just cattle but this property is all about our weaning and also our stud bull property – there’s a diverse mobs of cattle that we can show them just to make it a little bit more interesting and explain from start to finish the different components of a cattle operation – cow and calf and also stud bull operation and also the chickens as well. In within our paddocks, we have lane ways that we can walk up and down and that keeps it safe because the big part of the day is insurances. We did some open day tours earlier on without them and very quickly, not that anything happened but we just realised that we are definitely running a professional enterprise here – it’s very important that you do have those insurances that cover you because who knows what can happen and even though you are not going in with the cattle but you are going into the chickens in our circumstance, anything can happen so it’s very important that you’re covered from the people that are coming into your property.
From there what we’ll do is we will walk down to where the main paddock start and then select maybe three and four different cattle mobs out of a total of 10 or 15 – that will do. What we’ll do is we’ll walk down to the main section of our property where our paddock starts and in between all those paddocks we have lane ways set up and so we can walk through four or five main paddocks that have all the different cattle mobs there and we’ll actually talk about everything from the start which will be the cow and calf operation and usually we have cows with calves on them in that area so we can explain when they calved, in the autumn or the spring depending on the time that we’re at and what the destination is, because we have a dedicated stud cattle and also beef cattle herds and then we also have our dedicated heifer mobs which could be potentially for beef or for joining and also bull mobs and steer mobs for beef.
So we go through them and talk about the cattle and also the pasture that they’re on and then as you’re going in between the different mobs – I tend to talk a little bit about the seasons and how they work, for example on where we are at sub-tropical – so we obviously have a little bit of rain during the middle of the year but most of it happens over the Christmas period and heading into autumn and we do things like cut silage and store that for the winter time and we talk a little bit about that and how it works and we also talk about our soil health program from a biodynamic point of view from compost teas and compost itself and going through that process systems.
Daniel: So with these field days how many people are returned customers meaning they’ve turned up to a field day a few months ago and then do they come to multiple or they only turn up to one, how does that work?
Troy: Yes, so I guess at least every single open day there’s probably one person or like a group of people that have been there before. To be honest I find quite interesting because I never thought I ever see that happening, but it’s great, we actually do a pretty major event in the middle of the year called Orara Valley Fair which is on one of our properties and that attracts about 3500 people each year and then from there we do a little bit around that property but then bus them back to the property that I’ve been talking about which has that chickens and cattle and then we start our tours from there on those days which on those days we have had about 10 – 15 people that are return clients which I find again really interesting but it’s great to see them there because that event attracts a lot of people from places like Sydney and Melbourne that are coming up over the long weekend in June so it’s great to see them again.
Daniel: With your open days when you’re talking about when they first turn up and they’ve got stalls and coffee. It’s actually a lot more than just “he’s a farm tour” where we just walk down the paddock and I think as you said if people can bring picnic and they can really make a day out of it. So, you provide a lot of value for them there.
Troy: Yeah I definitely wouldn’t suggest that you – unless you got things for them to do for the period of time – have them there for a long period of time because people definitely doing at restless and bored so you wanna keep everyone occupied while they doing a quite interesting things.
For example we’ve done a number of them now and we’ve been doing them for the past four years and it’s like clockwork now – we start at 10am, The farm tour is at 12:30pm we’re back at the same area by 1-1:30pm and then most people are out of the farm vicinity by 2pm and it just work really well that model because everyone is doing something that is really interesting the whole time and I get a set of a little bit of a break at the end with a picnic with the family and just relax but then from there everyone heads off and they’re not left in a position where they’re bored looking for things to do.
Daniel: Yes, do you find people turned up to your event where they haven’t bought any of your produce, before they’re like “we’ve heard about it through social media or a friend they come out and now they’re raving fan because they’ve seen you, they’ve seen everything of how it runs, how do people respond to your transparency?
Troy: I guess there is a portion of our customers that have come from those means which again I find quite surprising but it’s obviously great and they’ll come out and I guess most of those people start out being quite skeptical because they may have a understanding as to what the food industry could be like in various terms from what is free ranging and what is grass fed and finished, what is organic for example and then when I see it in the flesh – I think all they’re assumption are put to one side and they can really understand that we do “walk the talk” and we are doing what we say we’re doing and that transparency being open for example people can actually access our farms and drive past on any day in the week see the chickens any day of the week from actual main road, we is another level of transparency but yeah for open days being so regular – it’s a great part of that.
Daniel: Yes, so you mention early on that this is really is a marketing tool opposed to a money making venture. How do you think this has affected your brand on your farm by doing these open days?
Troy: Yeah, it’s definitely a positive thing otherwise we won’t be doing it. I guess we have divide our brand awareness into a few different components and this is a strong part of that. Another part of that is I guess form of that sort of grass roots type mentality – attending farmers markets, because I know there’s a lot viewpoints on them and sometimes they aren’t the most successful thing but I guess we tend to view them from the point of view of maybe information stalls on the days that they are not as successful and where we started out simply just doing farmer’s market stalls where we’ve diversified and done a few different avenues from the online marketing and delivering to ramping up our wholesale as well. So each level sector plays a part and the farm tours is definitely part of that whole enterprise coming together there.
So we have a mentality when we start that every single thing that we did had the “survive on its own merit” and it did so for a little bit of time but then, very quickly a specially when you are in a low season because Coffs Harbour is a tourism town and so it will have a large number of people over the summer months and it’ll quieten right off and so it’s very hard to give value to things in the off season but, yeah, absolutely the farm tours and the open days in the colder months are great thing for people to do when they can’t obviously go to the beach.
Daniel: Yeah fantastic, well anyway, you’ve provided so much value and I think for someone that has got a farm and they’ve got livestock and they’re building their brand, I think you’ve provided an amazing amount of value and a real life case study of what to do and I think the main point that you said very early on is transparency like, “to market with transparency” because there’s almost none in the food industry so just to turn out with transparency and say “hi we’re happy to show you around” yeah I think it does wonders for anyone’s brand.
Troy: Yeah sure, I guess one for other thing I’ll say too is when they finally get down to area where the Chicken Caravans are, people are quite surprised that we actually let them inside with the chickens and that’s something I find really important from the start and obviously there’s potentials there with bio-security risk and things like that but because our animals are moved so often anyway – that’s not really a big problem and so when people consider to get inside and we definitely take them through from start to finish on the Chicken Caravans, the different components on the Caravans and how that plays into aspects of animal welfare and pasture improvement and all of those sort of things, and people are really interested in the actual nuts and bolts of the caravan itself – they find that really interesting and so if you can talk about from the start of where obviously the water is going through, the man room, the nesting box as themselves, how the water collected off of the roof, how the solar doors open and shut in night time, all those different components, people are very interested that and it definitely plays in the welfare and other components as well.
Daniel: Sometimes we take things for granted because we’re on the farm everyday but when you get someone that’s never experienced that – just a curiosity of how does that work? how does this play at all? what happens when it’s raining? And all of these questions and things that, yeah I can know a lot of other farmers you go. Why would I take a lot of photo of that and put on social media like “who cares I see that everyday” but to be able to give that transparency to your customers and consumers, it just gives them more ownership and connection with their food producer and you being the farmer, so it’s fantastic.
Troy: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head exactly right there, these people don’t see this everyday and obviously we as farmers do, it’s very important if you definitely providing produce to your different avenues – is put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about what they would like to see and yeah Coffs Harbour has a lot of travelers from place like Sydney and Melbourne and half of them have never been seen a farm before, so this is their first experience of a farm itself and if you can be one that actually encompasses all of the aspects of animal welfare and sustainability and environmentally conscious components. It’s going to be a very positive one for them and then they going to bring it back their community as well, so not only could it be a positive experience for you and your marketing but it could be selling positive for the food industry as a whole.
Daniel: Yeah, that’s a very good point, well thank you so much for your time, if you want to check out waterfall produce they can check out your website or your facebook page and maybe even get along to one of Troy’s farm open days so thank you so much for your time today troy.
Troy: Great, thank you.