Many local farmers report a lack of visibility.
Word-of-mouth marketing was enough for Matt Applehanz, who co-owns M & M Produce with his wife Mary in Anchor Point, until they began expanding their business. Now it’s not quite enough to get by.
“We need more support. I struggle marketing my stuff,” Matt Applehanz said. “If we could develop that market capability, it just gives me the opportunity to grow, I’m hindered by the inability to market.”
Up until a few years ago, Applehanz said he could sell what they grew right out of the front yard. Now the surplus spills over into weekly farmers markets.
Stagnancy is what Heidi Chay, district manager for the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, tries to prevent through campaigns like the Central Kenai Peninsula Local Food Directory. The list supports suppliers of produce, livestock, meats, eggs, honey, herbs and value-added products. Chay first began to build the directory nearly five years ago, adding more and more names and numbers each year. In 2016, she redesigned the handout to better reflect the different platforms where the farmers will primarily have their products for sale — online, at home, at farmers markets or retail outlets.
Chay often makes the cold calls that connect many to the previously unknown option for free publicity. Sarah Superman, owner of Totally Raddish in Soldotna, has been listed in the two years since receiving an invite from Chay. She keeps the directory on hand at the store, and regularly runs out of copies.
“It was free advertisement, that was the main reason (I wanted to be on the list),” Superman said. “I like people to know that I use local stuff. People are surprised to that I am an all-natural deli, a lot of people just don’t know.”
Superman said she took over the business for the previous owner and changed the name from Gourmet Garden. That’s when she also started eliminated products that had artificial ingredients and started to cook clean, organic and gluten-free products, the kind of foods she will use herself.
“Some people don’t care — most people don’t care,” Superman said. “I want to feed everybody good, wholesome food.”
Sarah Souders, owner of Sarah’s Alaska Honey in Kenai, also said product education is a challenge for her business.
“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t realize local honey is even an option,” Souders said. “I think a lot of people are just uninformed about bees and local honey and especially the difference between real honey and the stuff you get at the store.”
She said most of her customers wander in after making stops at nearby shops. About 30 percent of her customer base finds her Facebook page after searching for fireweed honey online, she said.
Ideally, Souders said, the food directory may eventually establish a presence on social media, which is one area of advertising she has found to be effective.
Julie Wendt, owner of Karluk Acres, said she has connected with a few customers who called after they found her on the directory. It may take some time before people are more aware of the resource, however, she said.
“We have come a long ways in recent years with different ways to sell through farmers markets and the local food list,” Wendt said. She, like most other producers, said she needs a steady customer base to maintain or grow her operation. Applehanz said he believes more people would be eager to take advantage of local products if they knew more about the health and economic benefits of buying fresh food farmed in Alaska.
“If we can get some communication going and start advertising more, I know a lot of people who are smart enough people to jump on this way of life and start helping us out,” Applehanz said. “I would love to be able to farm several hundred acres up here. I just can’t market that right now.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.