Farmers, growers, and residential growers and home gardeners provide the donations necessary for the Society of Saint Andrew to function. SoSA’s top priority is to offer amazing customer service to every food provider and reassure them that hungry Americans receive their food donations. Donor relations can be broken down into the following categories: identify, recruit, and maintain. As a means of sustainability, engaging with new growers, particularly outside SoSA’s traditional central Florida sphere, is critical. Techniques and venues that have shown for future new donor relations include:
Farmers’ Markets: Mingling with growers and local distributors at the market is one of the easiest ways to find new donors in the immediate vicinity. Some growers may be interested in time and dollars saved by not transporting produce back to their businesses, others in a tax incentive. Organizers and managers of farmers’ markets are key allies as well, as they tend to be highly motivated to provide additional services to vendors and the positive publicity associated with philanthropy.
Conferences and Expos: These gatherings, such as the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit and the South Eastern Produce Counsel’s (SEPC) annual produce show often have thousands of growers in attendance. Contact with sponsoring farms or organizations can open doors to free passes to events for SoSA staff and volunteers also new tabling opportunities to market. This being said, building relationships at these events has proven invaluable in grower outreach.
Stakeholder/Activist Meetings: Churches, nonprofits, clubs, Master Gardeners, advocacy and political groups are all excellent grower outreach platforms. Often they are engaged in one or more of these groups, and members have a close-knit connection with the food security situation in their community.
Newspaper and Online Listings: In the spring of each year, papers will often run listings of U-Pick farms in the area. These farms are great for gleaning, as they are accustomed to having lay people in the field. State websites and local newspapers also may have online lists or maps of farms in the area. The offer of bringing local volunteers to glean their produce for free publicity and potential business is also a major draw for these growers.
After a grower has been identified, approaching them with an ‘elevator pitch’ is to follow. This pitch varies based on the environment. Generally, farmers don’t respond well to email. This is particularly true of older and more rural demographics. Calling on the phone or talking in person has been met with the greatest amount of success. Either way, the pitch should begin with a brief explanation as to who you are, why you are calling, and the question if the farmer would like to learn more. Some farmers prefer physical materials and respond positively when they are mailed out. In order to convince farmers, the following selling points are vital to mention: they can not sell the food (it would cost more to harvest than it could be sold for), the food may have some aesthetic damage, the complete liability coverage, tax deductions, and in certain cases gleaning will help their plants to keep producing (e.g., blueberries, strawberries). For u-picks, if they are not having customers, it will help their plants to keep producing if they are picked (e.g., peaches).
If the farmer agrees, the next step is to ask for and record data on the following; What crops do they grow? When do they harvest and when might gleaning be possible? How many acres do they grow? Where are their fields located? Is it an organic farm? Are children under 18 allowed in the field under supervision?
Tracking all of the above data in a spreadsheet is critical. Records of contact, dates to follow up, location, and any personalized farmer information. Once a grower is onboard, maintaining this relationship is the next priority. Some farmers like SoSA to keep in contact with them year round—even when they are not growing or SoSA is not actively gleaning with them. Contact can be established during the growing season by checking in often about how the crops are progressing, the variety of crops, and the rate of harvest. Outside of gleaning, SoSA sends out two thank you notes, one during the holidays, and the second with their tax letter at the end of the fiscal year. Additionally, contact is maintained at the start and conclusion of the harvest seasons.