Friday, August 30, 2013

Thinking of Starting a Farmers' Market in Your Town? (Part 1)

by Carla Snyder, Extension Educator, Adams County

Are you enthusiastic about local foods but having a hard time finding them in your community?  Perhaps you've considered starting a farmers' market to spur economic development in your downtown, create a social gathering space, or support local growers.  Whether you are a potential farmers' market vendor, active community volunteer, or local government office, a farmers' market may sound like the solution you've been craving.  They offer a vibrant atmosphere that supports local agriculture, fun free entertainment for children and adults alike, and bustling foot traffic wherever they are located.
A farmers' marker vendor at Farmers on The Square

However, it is important to remember, farmers' markets are a unique and complex business structure and for anyone looking to open a market there are many considerations.  Markets are created for a variety of reasons, therefore it is pertinent to investigate why you are looking to open the market to determine its best format.  There are seasonal outdoor markets, indoor markets, market districts, and public markets just to name a few.  Each comes with their own specific set of requirements to establish the market, attract customers and maintain a sustainable business structure.

Top considerations before you begin a market:
  1. Market Research - Who is your customer?  Is there enough demand to support your market?
      • Contact your local borough or municipality where your market is to be located.  If they have a Main Street office, they may be able to use their resources to provide you Claritas demographic data through the PA Downtown Center.  A simple way to use this data is to determine a reasonable driving radius for customers to reach your market and pull data within that given radius.  You can then easily see psychographics of your potential customers to show you shopping habits and customer values. For example, if the majority of the customers within driving radius of your market place emphasis on low cost goods, you'll know you will have to concentrate on educating shoppers as to the true value of local foods, even when some may come at a higher cost than at a larger retailer.  This data is particularly important because it may be able to be combined with additional information to form a clearer view of your potential market customer, and in some cases, may lead you to conclude that the chosen location is not the right spot for you new market.
      • In combination with the use of demographic data it is also pertinent to assess the area in person.  Spend some time at the location of your future market and take note of the amount of foot or vehicle traffic, look for safe and lit walkways, parking lots and public transport stops near your desired location.  All of these details can combine to give you a clearer sense of potential shoppers and the sustainability of your market.
  2. Insurance and Liability - Making sure you and everyone connected to the market is covered.
      • Depending on the location, you may be able to include liability insurance to cover the market under an existing policy associated with its location or market ownership.
      • Be sure to not only insure yourself as a market but that your vendors have adequate insurance as well.  This will protect you in the chain of liability should an accident or other unforeseen situation occur.  Talk with an insurance agent to determine minimum levels of insurance for vendors to carry.  Be sure to have the market named on vendor policies and request a copy of their insurance when they register to become your vendor.  Keeping everyone safe mitigates your risk and helps to ensure a pleasant market environment for everyone involved.
Wondering how to promote your market?  Where the best location lies or how to keep it all safe and legal?  Tune in for a follow-up post for the next three steps to get your farmers' market up and running!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Red, Green, Brown? What Colors Mean for Packaging

by Sarah Cornelisse, Sr. Extension Associate

If you send someone to the store to purchase something for you, how do you describe the product to them?  Brand name, size or shape of package, color?  Color is a critical design component for packaging.  Different colors elicit different meanings, feelings, perceptions on the part of the viewer.  "Color communicates psychologically by creating a mental association.  This mental association with color is what determines an individual's perception of an object or its surroundings" (Climchuk & Krasovec, Packaging Design: Successful Product Branding from Concept to Shelf).

When is comes to food products, color is widely used to illustrate flavors in food products.  We see this exemplified in the image to the left.  Each product, while having the same basic label, is differentiated by the use of a color meant to represent the flavor of the jam/preserve.

Since consumers rely heavily on color to identify products and make purchasing decisions, you should invest considerable effort to determining the color scheme that best and most effectively conveys and elicits the perceptions you intend.  Let's talk about what different colors can mean, or feelings that can be associated with them.
Do Bob's overalls make you hungry?

Red. Red can be associated with numerous meaning or feelings; heat, aggression, danger (Stop signs/light, anyone?), excitement, power, and love (it is the dominant Valentine's Day color!) are just some.  When associated with food, the color red has also been shown to increase appetite, hence the reason it is widely utilized in the fast food industry.

Orange. Falling between red and yellow, orange combines some of the associations from both those colors.  Feeling conveyed via orange include cheerfulness, energy,  and enthusiasm.  Orange can also be seen as a commanding color, as seen by it's use by road crew workers, so it can be useful as an accent color to draw attention.

Yellow.  Yellow is generally perceived as a positive color, conveying happiness, optimism, warmth, and wholesomeness. 

Green.  Green is increasingly being used on food packaging to denote healthiness since the color is closely associated with nature and the environment.  Compare the use of green in the two images below.  In the image on the left, we see very little use of green, while in the image on the right, Smuckers has replaced the traditional flavor-related color on the lid with green, in addition to incorporating a green background scene, in their effort to highlight the "natural" designation of that product line.

Blue.  Though not heavily used in food packaging (except for maybe skim milk and fat-free products), blue is the most popular color in the U.S.  Blue is often seen as a calm, cool, relaxing color, but may also denote sadness or solitude.  It is also a color that represents authority, dignity, and wisdom - think of blue suits worn by professionals. 

Purple.  Historically a difficult color to obtain naturally, purple is often associated with royalty, luxury, spirituality, and bravery.  Shades of purple are often used to denote berry flavors in food products.

Brown.  Like green, brown is also often identified with the earth and nature.  It's no wonder we see many products that want to be recognized as natural, organic, healthy, and the like, use these two colors in their packaging or labeling designs.

Black.  Tuxedos, black tie and tails, black pearls...items that symbolize power, wealth, sophistication.  Black is often seen as a reliable color to indicate luxury or high-quality items.  The ice cream in the image to the right most likely would be viewed (from just the packaging) as being higher quality than your typical store brand ice cream.

As noted by the authors of Packaging Design, using black in packaging can enhance the use of other colors, making those colors "pop" out to the consumer.

White.  The last color we'll cover, white, is one that can easily work for you or against you.  Often symbolizing cleanliness, quietness, purity, or freshness, it can also come across as nondescript and generic.  If you're considering white for your primary package or label color, you may want to take into account how often you think the product will be handled or where it will be stored/located.  The last thing you want is for your product to appear dingy or dirty to the consumer.

For more information regarding color check out these resources:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Considerations for Effective Signage

by John Berry, Extension Educator, Lehigh County

"Clarity is an ingredient that leads to greater success in business, and otherwise."
        -- Unknown

Careful consideration of our signs can yield significant results.  Add up all the vertical space available at your business for signage.  Now calculate what that space is worth if you could rent it as a billboard.  Get the idea?  Signs are important and often neglected.  Investment in excellent signage is typically not a huge cost.  However, excellent signage can yield great returns.  From a retail food study, we know roughly 37% of first-time shoppers stop in because they saw a roadside sign.

Signs serve three primary purposes:
  • Communication in a highly mobile society
  • Affect purchasing decisions
  • Brand the business and leverage advertising

15 Tips for effective signage

  1. Keep signs visible and legible.  Place it to be seen.  An attractive and well-designed sign will only be effective if it is placed in a location that optimizes its visibility to passers-by.  Your message competes in a complex environment. A passerby must be able to differentiate your sign from its surrounding environment.Your goal should be to make the sign unavoidable to the passing viewer.
  2. Save the details for the sale.  Don't attempt to sell them with information on an outside sign - save that information until they are in your business.
  3. Keep it simple. The proper design of your sign is critical to its effectiveness.  Crowding the sign with too many words or lines of text makes it impossible to read from a distance.  Use as few words as possible so your signage is legible.  Fewer words are better; and three to five words are optimal for quick readability.
  4. Grab attention.  There should be something about the sign that will reach out and command attention.  Ideally, the first read should be a large pictorial graphic or your company logo, but it can also be large dominating text.
  5. Your sign is your handshake.  Your sign is your handshake with the buying public, and first impressions are lasting impressions.  Your sign must project the image you want the public to have of you.  People will judge the inside of your business by how it looks on the outside.
  6. Use new technologies.  The addition of a time and temperature display or an Electronic Variable Message Center can make your business a landmark in your community.  With today's technology, signs are becoming more effective at delivering their owner's messages while also becoming more cost effective.  The new electronic message centers allow you to change the message on your sign as easily as you change your mind.
  7. Appeal to impulse buyers.  Many owners mistakenly thing of a sign as merely a device that identifies the business.  What they fail to realize is that 55% of all retail sales are a result of impulse buys.  People see, shop, and buy.  If a sign is ineffective, it can actually cost the business owner more in lost sales than the entire cost of a good sign.
  8. Aesthetics and suitability. Your sign must be attractive and appropriate for your type of business.
  9. Avoid obstructions.  Make certain the sign can be viewed without obstruction from any source.  Drive past your business from all directions to help determine the most visible location for your sign.
  10. Use pictures or graphics.  It should have an attractive pictorial graphic or company logo that clearly grabs a viewer's attention first.
    Great use of a sign. Graphics, clear message and lots of white space.

  11. Make it memorable.  It should make your products or services, and your location, easy to remember.
  12. Make it enticing.  Your sign should make a potential customer want to stop and see what's inside the business.
  13. Consider colors carefully.  Too many colors take away from the quick readability of the sign.  Again, stay simple.  Make sure colors are contrasting. Yellow on white is not readable, whereas black on white is very readable.  If you have several colors in a graphic, stay away from multicolored lines of text or words (with will compete with the colors in your graphic). Black text is better. 
    1. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), "research demonstrates that high color contrast can improve outdoor advertising recall by 38%."
    2. Best color combinations:
      1. Black on yellow
      2. Black on white
      3. Yellow on black
      4. White on black
      5. Blue on white
  14. Consistent visual image.  Ideally, the design and the colors of your building should reinforce the design and colors of your sign (or vice versa).  Color is probably the easiest and most cost-effective device for this coordination of design for business identification.
  15. Avoid clutter. "White space" is the surface area of a sign's face that is left uncovered by either text or graphics.  The proper amount of white space is just as important for quick readability as are graphics, text, and colors.  30% to 40% of the sign's face area should be left as white space for optimal readability.
    Example of a professionally done sign with 
    minimal elements, and a call to action.

 Letter size and readability

Reading Distance Letter Height
100 ft. 1-3/4" to 2" or above
200 ft. 3-1/2" and above
400 ft. 7" and above
600 ft. 10-1/2" and above
800 ft. 14" and above
1000 ft. 17" and above
1300 ft. 22" and above

In Summary

Your sign will do many things for your business, from creating the initial impression to providing the message to new and potential customers about your products and services.  A sign does this through a combination of light, size, text, construction, placement, and more.  Keep these design tips in mind as you design an effective sign for both outside and inside your business.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Special Considerations for Urban Ag Practitioners

by Heather Mikulas, Extension Educator, Allegheny Co.

Starting a seed is the same no matter where that see will be planted.  For urban growers, there can be several considerations to take into account during the development of a production area.  In early July 2013, over twenty faculty, staff, and members of Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NE SARE) traveled to Pittsburgh, PA to learn about some challenges urban growers face.  Land acquisition, zoning constraints, soil contaminants and social justice issues are often incorporated into the business and growing plan, along with traditional concerns such as pests, diseases and too much or too little rain.  Additionally, urban agriculture is one place where new farmers first learn the business of farming, as well as how to grow and manage crops, soil fertility, pests, and pathogens.

There are over a dozen urban farms in Pittsburgh.  The growers use agriculture and social concerns to re-purpose vacant land, in some cases with condemned buildings, into economically viable small scale farms with a split distribution model.  This model typically involves selling specialty crops to high end restaurants at above market prices, with a portion of the harvest used to supply fresh food to neighborhoods classified as a food desert, that is, a neighborhood without a grocery store of farmers' market, and a high percentage of the population living at or below the poverty line.

PSU and NE SARE staff visit Garfield Farms, an urban farm
featuring hugelculture, a food forest, high tunnels,
hope garden, cob oven, and an almost complete bioshelter.
Four of these farms were highlighted for the tour: Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Garfield Community Farm, as well as Grow Pittsburgh who as urban farms at multiple locations, including the Shiloh Peace Garden and Braddock Farms.   These farms have shown that urban farms, done correctly, can have long-lasting positive impacts on low-access communities.

Here are a few points for urban agriculturalists to consider:
  • First, what is the soil quality? These environmental factors come with the territory of living in an urban area, especially one with such a long history of industry.  How good is the soil itself?  Most spaces used for farms were once the site of old buildings or factories, which can mean contamination and low fertility.  The quality of the air also plays a role.  In extreme cases of poor air quality, traces of dangerous residue can appear on the surface of produce.
  • Braddock Farms offerss a low cost SNAP benefit market,
    and a teen internship program, as well as selling through
    Penns Corner Farm Alliance.
  • Second, what zoning and political considerations must be taken into account?  Is the land publicly or privately owned?  Is there a tax lien?  For urban farmers, operating on vacant land or abandoned land may make the most sense.  Securing the title to the land is important to ensure a farm's longevity.  Occasionally, urban farms acting as a land steward instead of land owner have been lost to developers who are drawn to a neighborhood improved by agricultural activities.

Four Best Practices of Urban Farms
  1. Create flexible space.  Urban agriculture is limited by the space that is available.  Because most plots of land are small, it is important to utilize the space effectively.  Keep in mind how the farm will need to operate depending on the weather, time of year, and stage of production (seedlings to harvest).
  2. Create partnerships with other local businesses or groups.  Large-scale farms have the capacity to be self-sufficient, but this is not always the case for small-scale urban agricultural businesses.  There are many organizations that complement each other in both goals and services.  In all cases, reciprocity is the key to successful partnerships.
  3. Identify the key issue.  Poor food access is usually accompanied by a secondary problem.  Many families struggling with food access may not know what to do with the fresh produce once it becomes available.  Consider addressing this problem by providing cooking lessons or recipe cards when selling produce.
  4. Keep in mind the sustainability of your project.  If your operation is funded mainly through foundations and grants, what happens if these funds become unavailable?  Because of this, many urban farms have two customer bases: local restaurant and neighborhood residents.  Finding a good balance between selling to local businesses for profit and serving the nearby residents is critical.