Advanced learning and on-farm networking with NAFDMA

C4-MR-3-NAFDMA 3by 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.’
Missouri provided an expansive setting for the 300 members who attended this year. A variety of farms played host to buses of attendees, who scoped out their farm to learn what the agritainment industry in the Midwest looks like. After every stop, each bus 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.

One stop along the bus tour was Shatto Milk Company, in Osborn, MO. Shatto began as a family farm in the late 1800s, becoming a dairy in the early 1900s. When low milk prices caused many neighbors close down their dairies, owners Barb and Leroy Shatto decided to get creative in order to save the farm. They added a bottling plant and renamed the farm Shatto Milk Company in 2003. NAFDMA members got to tour the entire facility, where Shatto is already accustomed to hosting tours, letting the public see and learn the entire cow-to-store process. The farm also treated attendees to taste tests of their delicious flavored milks, from coffee- to root beer- to cotton candy-flavored beverages, all stored in glass bottles.

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, from Washingtion, PA, attended this year’s conference, as well. She said that the sessions gave her a way of “thinking about things from a new perspective.”

To learn more about NAFDMA and get details for next year’s convention, go to

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