thMarketing the Farm Experience and Diverse ProductsRussell Tronstad
L ike many direct-marketing enterprises, the path for getting into the business of direct marketing at Mother Nature’s Farm started by selling a traditional commodity with consumers the owner, Sam Kelsall, was already in contact with. In the 1970s, Sam typically sold his pigs to a large-order buyer that had a relatively good premium program. But because Sam is a lawyer, he also had a lot of contact with consumers and decided to move into marketing pigs directly to his clients by using the services of a small local butcher plant. Sam employed direct marketing to secure a higher marketing margin for his pigs for a 10-year period until his operationmigrated to more crop activities.
Sam’s partner, John, was the “real farmer” and every time Sam would tell his partner we should grow trees, John would say, “Trees are not the thing.” Then in the late ’80s a neighbor of Sam’s planted several Eldarica pine trees that took three years to reach a marketable size. His neighbor grew 1,000 trees to the acre and sold them in the ground for $40 apiece. Given the revenue potential of $40,000/acre after three years, Sam and John decided to try a new venture that they called Mother Nature’s Christmas Tree Farm. Sam would provide the seedlings and technical production expertise (shearing, etc.) while John did the irrigating and cultivating. The first year they bought bareroot Eldarica pine seedlings from Oregon. Out of the 5,000 they planted, 4,000 died. Rather than plant bareroot the second year, they grew seedlings from seed in a root trainer— which is essentially a deep pot—and lost them to weeds. The third year, they recognized that they had to cultivate more intensely while the seedlings were getting started since the seedlings didn’t have a canopy to shade the weeds like traditional crops of cotton and wheat do. They quickly realized that the…