by Emily Enger
They’re farmers. They’re growers. They’re businesspeople. They’re entertainers. When your job includes doing everything, often the vocabulary at your disposal is limiting. So now, they’re writers as well, having coined a new term to describe what they do.
“We’re trying to train ourselves to say ‘entrepeneurial farmers,’” explained NAFDMA’s Director of Membership and Resources Virginia Schwarzenbach.
These newly-dubbed ‘entrepeneurial farmers’ make up the membership of the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA), a 501(c)3 Membership Association reaching throughout the United States and Canada. And when these busy folks are in the so-called “off-season” — the petting farms and corn mazes are shut down and the orchard is under frost — they get together for a lengthy, indepth, six day annual convention. This year it was held Jan. 31-Feb. 5 in Kansas City, MO and was titled “Makin’ Hey in the Heartland.”
There are many purposes to this convention: to learn from the variety of expert presenters brought in, to shop at their tradeshow (recently renamed the Business Exchange), and to visit local members’ farms to learn from each other’s systems. As they say: ‘NAFDMA members get together to cross-pollinate.’
This year’s keynote speaker was Author and Business Growth Consultant Joe Calhoon, who offered both practical and inspirational advice to the 300 or so members who attended the conference.
“Most business people have the wrong notion of what constitutes success in life,” Calhoon told attendees. “Success in farming is a good harvest. But if that’s true, what did we miss? We missed all the labor of love, joy and satisfaction that is in the heart of everything that makes harvest possible.”
Calhoon wants the industry to view success differently.
“Success in business,” he said, “is achieved when enlightened leaders bring out the best in their employees. When business owners are making the best of their employees’ talents, they ﬁnd that there is as much enjoyment in the work as in the harvest.”
He was preaching to the choir. In fact, Calhoon’s nontraditional view of success left him particularly impressed with the NAFDMA members he met at the conference.
“What inspires me about this group,” he told Country Folks Grower, “is that they have an appreciation for the laws of nature: spring planting, fall harvest, winter rest. This helps us enjoy the whole year, not just the harvest.”
Those laws of nature created a brisk, chilly setting as conference attendees went on bus tours to scope out area members’ farms and see what the agritainment industry in the Midwest looks like. After every stop, each of the six buses engaged in formal, group discussions about what worked well or could be improved at the farms. Everything was examined, from traffic flow, crowd dispersion, age-appropriate options and safety questions.
Steve and Cindy Frey hosted one of the stops at their Weston Red Barn Farm in Weston, MO. Their farm is an educational farm with a pumpkin patch and orchard and their signature red barn is a popular venue for wedding receptions. Besides this year’s role as host, the Freys got to be on the learning side of things, as well, networking at the Business Exchange and attending the educational sessions.
“We enjoy coming to NAFDMA,” said Cindy. “It’s always nice to talk to other farmers.”
Educational sessions this year included everything from budgeting and insurance to social media and employee management.
Early in the conference, the Freys learned what their farm’s focus for 2014 will be.
“We need to be more organized,” Steve said. They plan to focus on organization and attitude this coming year.
Marcia Opp traveled from Washington, PA to attend this year’s conference. She enjoyed going on the bus tours and said that the sessions gave her a way of “thinking about things from a new perspective.”
To learn more about NAFDMA or to watch for upcoming details on next year’s convention, go to www.farmersinspired.com
Advanced learning and on-farm networking with NAFDMA
by Emily Enger