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Free UF courses helping small-scale farmers market on social media

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The bit above from the sketch-comedy show Portlandia may poke fun at the farm-to-table, organic food lifestyle, but there is a growing demand for high-quality, locally produced foods.

The sale of local agricultural products in the United States increased by 26% from 2015 to 2017 totaling $11.8 billion, making up 3% of all agricultural sales.

That’s according to Trent Blare. He’s a professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department of the University of Florida.

This predicts good news for bourgeoning entrepreneurs just getting their small farms, urban garden fields, and cottage food businesses off the ground.

VIDEO: The Harpke Family Farm, a small urban farm in South Florida’s Broward County. It is owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team that grows a variety of microgreens, edible flowers and specialty items for high-end chefs and other niche businesses. One item, for example, is a finger lime project that Trent Blare, an assistant professor in food and resource economics at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, is connected with.

Blare is part of a team of experts with the University’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who are offering a free series called How to Market in a Digital Era. The program features webinars, followed by in-person training sessions in both English and Spanish.

Blare says IFAS decided to launch the program after hearing directly from Florida growers about their business challenges.

“They know how to grow the foods that we have and make these great products, but they weren’t sure about how to connect with the consumers and get their products out there,” said Blare.

UF/IFAS received a $50,000 grant to use over 18 months to make the free business development courses possible. UF/IFAS experts will take participants through a step-by-step process to create marketing plans, explain best practices for various social media platforms, and set up online and electronic sales.

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According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the number of farmers’ markets increased by 180% between 2007 and 2014 and the number of regional food hubs surged by more than 288%. Blare explains that consumers are turning to Instagram and TikTok to find these outdoor markets and food hubs.

For small-scale ag operations in Florida, a region-specific marketing strategy could be especially ineffective, given the ever-increasing tourism industry.

“We have a lot of tourists and a lot of visitors, especially in the winter," said Blare "A lot of those people don't know about the great products we have in Florida, so we have to keep reintroducing ourselves about these products to the people that come to Florida, so they can learn about the really cool things we have here.”

All the virtual courses can be found online in English and Spanish. All courses can be viewed online after the class. In-person training begins May 18, 2022.

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