Revamped web presence aids growth on young farmers’ beef operation
LUSBY, Md. — When James Ritter first began working on his father-in-law’s farm about a decade ago, it was a small cow-calf operation that sold a few animals to regional butchers and feed lots each year.
It wasn’t profitable, but Ritter, 35, said he sniffed the emerging local food movement and began slowly transitioning Milling Ritter Meat into a direct retail operation. He tripled the size of the farm’s herd of Hereford-Angus cross cattle to about 30 head and convinced the family to move toward a grass-fed product that was more likely to entice locals.
The retail operation, launched in 2012, did decently, Ritter and his 30-year-old wife, Barbie, said. They slaughter a small handful of animals every year.
But it’s the farm’s recent internet and social media strategies that seem to have given it the biggest boost.
A year ago, James Ritter decided to redesign the farm’s website with a focus on changes that would snag more potential customers looking for local food through search engines. Barbie Ritter also began to grow the farm’s presence on Facebook. It’s had a noticeable a near-immediate impact on business, they said.
“We were just trying to make some money,” Barbie Ritter said.
When James Ritter redesigned the site, he said he focused on making sure it prominently included keywords that would lure customers searching the web for local food — words and phrases like “grass-fed”, “Lusby”, and “local.” The site also advertises their “free-range eggs” and the beef’s “pasture-raised” quality.
“We’ve been trying to ask, ‘How did you find us?’ or ‘What led you to us?’ to try and figure out what we’re doing and how it’s working and bringing in more customers,” said James, who works full time for Calvert County’s water and sewerage division.
The couple also regularly began posting pastoral images of the farm and its products on the Facebook page, which can reach up to 1,000 people or more. Those postings also grew the page’s number of friends, which boosted sales over the last year, the couple said.
It’s a successful strategy that many other farmers are using. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York organized a social media training for its farmers two years ago that made similar recommendations.
Farmers should create a social media calendar, detailing scheduled posts for all social media channels, which could include other outlets such as Twitter or Instagram. It also suggested interacting with commenters on the page and communicating with other farms with Facebook pages by commenting or sharing their posts.
“The golden rule of social media? Be helpful,” the training said. “By helping others in the social media space, you’ll receive help in return.”
Barbie Ritter also organized a giveaway on Facebook in March, offering two dozen farm-fresh eggs, 2 pounds of ground beef, two sirloin steaks and a rump roast to Facebook friends who shared their post featuring their products.
“I think we were at a slow point and stuff wasn’t really moving, so this was a way to get our name out there more,” she said. “That brought in a lot of people.”
But social media hasn’t been the only way they’ve improved their marketing efforts. The farm has also sponsored a silent auction at their church, which lured more people to the farm.
For the first time, perhaps in a long time, the farm’s making a small profit.
“I think we’re finally at the point where we’ll be able to start making some money and kind of reinvest that,” he said. “We’re definitely moving more animals right now.”
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