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Welcome to our new installment of Small Farms’ Recommended Reading! Here you’ll find a variety of articles handpicked each week by the Small Farms team. These include resources, educational articles, and tips — all in one location for a quick browse of news in addition to our bimonthly newsletter.

This week we’re reading about the dangers of ornamental plants and weeds to your pets and livestock, groundbreaking research in the benefits of consuming insects as an alternative form of protein, and tips for storing hay. There may be a future in hybrids of conventional and biological fungicides and there are new prosthetics available which can serve farmers better than traditional prosthetics. Finally, don’t sweat it if you didn’t keep up your summer garden; it’s a great time to plant cool weather vegetables.

Do you have reading recommendations? Share with us using our online form.

Livestock and Pet Owners: Be Wary of Your Backyard

Various weeds and ornamental plants will always be dangerous to animals, but this problem can become especially prominent in the dry months as pastures die and weeds thrive. Additionally, common household ornamentals tend to be toxic. View tips and read more.



Insects as an Alternative Form of Protein

Two billion people throughout the world regularly consume insects. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers studied insect protein consumption and found that gut microbiome health increased, therefore proving that there are benefits beyond being an environmentally friendly alternative protein source. Read more.


Tips for Storing Your Hay

As you store hay cut this summer, consider measuring density — the lower the density, the less spoilage — and removing bales from the field as quickly as possible. Building storage is expensive, but so is the cost of wasted hay. Start to record wasted hay expense to determine if you should consider building storage. Read more.


Future in Mix of Biological and Conventional Chemicals

Traditionally, biological and conventional chemicals were not able to be mixed (and still can’t be combined in the same container), but STK bio-ag technologies may have figured out a way to combine chemicals and leave less residue on crops. Read more.


Prosthetics Created for Farmer-Specific Needs

Farmers require prosthetics that are able to adjust to various terrains, able to withstand dust and chemical residue, and able to adapt for different machinery. Prosthetics are now available with higher sensitivity, components to switch-out with various machinery, and the ability to withstand environmental stresses. Read more.


Cool Weather Crops

Regretting that you didn’t have a garden this summer? It’s not too late! Black Radishes, Rainbow Chard, and Red Russian Kale are some options for cool weather crops that you can plant this August. Read more.

Welcome to our second installment of Small Farms’ Recommended Reading! Here you’ll find a variety of articles handpicked each week by the Small Farms team. These include resources, educational articles, and tips — all in one location for a quick browse of news in addition to our bimonthly newsletter.

This week we’re reading about daylilies — an easy perennial to add to our gardens. We’ve also included a guide to transitioning beef cattle to organic production, recent research on the addition of lime to acidic soils, and why Americans are motivated to purchase convenience food. Additionally, we’ve included resource guides for farmers market managers and local producers, and tips for pork producers to share their story via social media.

Do you have reading recommendations? Share with us using our online form.

Easy Way to Add Color to Your Summer Garden

Due to their 24-hour life span, a large bed of daylilies will greet you with fresh flowers each day. Few diseases and pests affect these flowers and the ability to be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones three through nine make the daylily a practical option for gardeners throughout the northeast. Read more.


Beef Farmer? Considering a switch to organic herd practices?

This NOFA-NY fact sheet allows you to take a quick look at the primary factors in organically produced beef and will help you in making an informed decision regarding whether to transition your herd. Read more.


Plant Phosphorus Uptake: More Complicated Than Just Adding Lime

Lime is often added to acidic soils. However, this “bread and butter” solution alone did not prove significant to phosphorus uptake in plants in an experiment conducted in extremely acidic soils in Western Kenya. Researchers are working to determine whether using lime in quantities necessary for significant difference in plant uptake will result in soil health trade-offs. Read more.


Employment and Time Constraints: Why Americans Continue Choosing Convenience Food

Why are Americans continually choosing “convenience food” (restaurant meals and ready-to-eat meals from grocery stores) rather than preparing home cooked meals? USDA economic researchers found that limited resources, such as time and budget constraints, typically lead people to purchase less nutritious, “convenience food.”  Read more.


Farmers Market Manager? Consider Partnering with Local Faith Communities

This guide for farmers market managers explains the benefit of partnering with communities which typically focus on aiding the food insecure and those in poverty and offers advice on how to approach the partnership to ensure those that need fresh food the most are able to have access. Additionally, the guide provides step-by-step goal planning, an example of creating and working toward goals featuring SNAP benefits, and ends with several case studies for your review. Read more.


Resource Guide to Bring Local Food to Local Institutions

Special events, on-site farmers markets, and employment CSAs are some of the creative ways to bring local food to work and/or educational institutions. Farmers interested in expanding to this form of localized sales can use this guide and reference case studies to explore the option. Read more.


Go Social with Pork Production

Consumers pay attention to social media — a lot of attention. This article gives five reasons and basic tips, such as to keep it simple and “make it a conversation, not just a list of facts,” to become active on social media with your pork production. Read more.

Welcome to our first installment of Small Farms’ Recommended Reading! Here you’ll find a variety of articles handpicked each week by the Small Farms team.  These will include resources, educational articles, and tips — all in one location for a quick browse of news in addition to our bimonthly newsletter.

This week we’re reading about the future of fruits and vegetables: will the supermarkets of the future contain apples with colored flesh? We’ve also included a guide to producing maple syrup in the northeast, a guide to producing and marketing organic grains, and greenhouse alternatives to growing horticultural crops. Additional articles include entomological resources for pulse crop producers, and and tips to keep your flock of chickens happy and healthy this summer.

Do you have reading recommendations? Share with us using our online form.

Fruit and Veggies of the Future: Greater Nutrient Content?

The future of the supermarket could be fruits and vegetables laden with vitamins and minerals. Gene editing via CRISPR-CAS9, without the addition of new genes (as done in genetically modified organisms) allows scientists to tweak genes within fruits and vegetables.For example, rather than the skin of an apple providing most of the nutritional value, a new apple could have colored flesh that contains even more nutrients. Read more.


Sweet Option to Diversify Farms

Maple syrup production is difficult to use as a standalone source of income, but farmers in the Northeast may want to consider it as an option to diversify their farm and draw in potential customers. This guide discusses basic knowledge of production, considerations, financing, and alternate sources of sugaring other than maple trees. Read more.


Potential Solution to Eastern Horticultural Struggles

Eastern producers of horticultural crops face more challenges than Western producers — pests, diseases, and cosmetic issues combine for a less marketable crop. High tunnels could provide a solution for Eastern producers to combat the pests and diseases. Read more.



How to Produce and Market Organic Grains

An increasing demand annually for organic grains, for both human and livestock consumption, has resulted in an increased market. Details such as buyer contracts and grain elevators equipped to deal with organic crops are vital to successfully market and sell organic grains. This guide explains basic steps to take if considering organic grain production. Read more.


Pulse Insect Problems?  Worry No More. 

A new resource for growers of pulse crops worldwide! The July issue of the “Annals of the Entomological Society of America” features nine articles dedicated to pulse crop pests. The knowledge is garnered from the 2017 Meeting of the Entomological Society of America. Read more. 



Summertime Flock Health

Chickens are extremely sensitive to heat and can health concerns and decreases in productivity. Follow these tips to keep your flock happy, healthy, and productive this summer. Read more. 


Cornell Small Farms Program is excited to announce the expansion of our team with two new additions, Nicole and Kacey. Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator, Nicole, supports SFP’s dedication to providing guidance and resources to those entering careers in farming and to those in the formative years of a newly started farms in New York State. She is specifically working with the Labor Ready Farmer project and the Farm Ops: Veterans in Agriculture project. As Communications Specialist, Kacey will be increasing visibility of SFP’s work and telling valuable stories from those that we serve. Her work will include communications, design, multimedia and more as SFP invests further in outreach strategies.

Learn more about Nicole and Kacey below:

Raised locally in Freeville, NY, Nicole joined the Small Farms Program in 2018. Her work focuses on supporting beginning farmer projects throughout the Small Farms Program. A diverse background of experiences enhances her work coordinating efforts to support farm employees and beginning farmers. Post-graduation from SUNY Albany in 2004, Nicole was certified as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in Sevilla, Spain. Upon returning to the U.S., she co-taught English lessons at a dairy farm and took a part-time position at a local winery. The part-time winery position led to a degree in enology and a six-year career as an assistant winemaker in the Finger Lakes region. She has spent the last six years coordinating grant-funded projects and supporting international students seeking graduate degrees. Nicole’s free time is spent with her son, Sawyer, who shares a passion for canoeing, camping and hiking NYS forests.


As the Small Farms Program’s first dedicated communications specialist, Kacey will work to build a storytelling and outreach strategy across the website, social media, this newsletter, and more. Kacey has worked in communications and journalism for a decade, with specialties in science and sustainability. An Upstate New York native, Kacey received her undergraduate degrees in Journalism and Environmental Studies from Ithaca College. She is excited to return to the community she has always called home, and hopes to start a small farm of her own.

Register here

Ranch Management Consultants (RMC) are currently gauging interest to hold the business school of ranching in New England. If interested, take this four question survey:

Information on the school:


RMC has a long, successful track record of equipping ranchers like you with the tools and insights to transform your ranch into a sustainable business.

The Ranching For Profit School has been recognized internationally for 35 years as THE business school of ranching. In less than a week they cover more topics more effectively than any other program in agriculture. You’ll learn how to apply economic and financial principles to increase your profit, manage debt and improve cash flow. You’ll learn how to manage grazing to improve soil health and increase carrying capacity without increasing labor or input costs. You’ll take home tools to manage drought and build a resilient business that can withstand risk. You’ll learn how to increase personal effectiveness, build a cohesive team and draft a succession plan to successfully transition your ranch to future generations. More info found here.

by Meg Grzeskiewicz, On Pasture

Strong, written contracts can prevent some of the Boneheaded Business Blunders I made in my early years of ranching. My previous two articles have covered every brutally specific detail that I should have included in my former land lease contracts. This month I’m running down everything that needs to be in a custom grazing contract.

In the past I have made contracts too short and simple, in an effort to avoid overwhelming potential partners. I wanted them to think that working with me would be stress-free and easy. But in the years that followed, those contracts proved ineffective at solving disputes and protecting us from one another. Now I don’t hesitate to hand people 5-page contracts. The kind of people I want to work with will welcome the security of a strong contract and respect me for making sure my bases are covered.

These are just my thoughts and I am not a lawyer.

Before signing a lease contract, you should have your lawyer look it over and ask them if you have forgotten anything important! The legal fees are worth avoiding potentially expensive future issues. If you have not worked with an agricultural lawyer up to this point, definitely make contact with one. Using other people’s land and/or caring for other people’s livestock is legally risky! Even if you think you’re getting along really well with your potential partner right now, and you trust them to be fair to you, a lot can change over the length of a multi-year contract.


Here’s a sample contract you can download and work off to build your own.

My custom grazing contract starts out with an introduction that includes an effective date for the contract, and the names and contact information for both parties (individuals or legal entities).  It states that the Grazier, as an independent contractor, will utilize land that they lease or own to graze and care for cattle owned by the Owner.

1. Terms of the Agreement – Starting, Duration and Ending

My contract begins on the delivery date of the Owner’s cattle to the Grazier’s land and remains valid for one year from that date. You can change this to whatever length of time that you want. Some contracts just continue until someone decides to terminate it. This is nice for flexibility reasons, but it’s hard to make future plans for your business if your source of income could simply disappear at any time.

For a custom grazing contract, I like a one-year or one growing season deal that can be renewed annually. Land leases need to be a little longer, because it takes a lot more time and work to switch farms than it does to buy or sell or move livestock. You need more security when it comes to your land base, so I prefer a 3-year land lease.

If you’re starting a new deal with a new partner, be careful about committing for too long a term. If they turn out to be a nightmare to work with, or if you realize you need to switch gears in your operation, you don’t want to be trapped for another five years.

The contract must state procedures for renewal or termination. I require a written renewal to be signed no less than 90 days before the end of the current contract, or it will terminate at the end of the current term. This gives me time to make plans for switching groups of cattle, managing cash flow, and making new deals.

See 1.5 in this section? The contract includes, as an appendix, a listing of ear tag numbers for each animal of the Owner’s that is on the Grazier’s land. Any time animals are born, delivered or removed, this listing must be updated within 30 days.

Why this extra detail? I heard of a case a few years ago in which a dishonest custom grazier was secretly taking an owner’s cattle to the sale barn and pocketing the money. The owner caught on when a significant number of cattle in his inventory records could not be located.

Herd inventory is especially important with large herds. Putting color, age, sex, breed and other distinguishing traits on the listing helps ensure that no switching of ear tags takes place. Theft and fraud can also be combatted by requiring proof when a grazier reports an animal as dead. The owner can either require a photograph showing the ear tag or may elect to visit the grazier to inspect the carcass.

2. Compensation

Here’s my compensation language:

The owner will be responsible for paying the grazier:

Husbandry fees of $1.25 per head per day (a “head” being defined as a bovine over one year of age) on days when no hay is fed, and $1.00 per head per day on days when hay is fed. The owner must also reimburse the Grazier for all direct livestock expenses, which include but aren’t limited to hay, hay transport, mineral, salt, ear tags, medication, veterinary bills, livestock trucking, breeding expenses and pregnancy checks.

The Owner must ensure that the Grazier receives the full balance of the outstanding bill within 15 days after receiving an invoice from the Grazier. If/when the contract is terminated, the Owner must remove all livestock prior to the last day of the contract.

3. Insurance

Insurance is another important topic. The Grazier needs to have a general liability policy, and needs to list the Owner as an additional insured party. The Grazier does not provide livestock insurance on the Owner’s cattle. If the Owner wants livestock loss coverage, they must purchase their own. Both parties need to make sure that their insurance agents understand the deal and are able to provide effective coverage.

4. Liability and Risk of Loss

This section is about making sure the Owner knows about problems with stock. Specify what kind of communication are acceptable for “giving notice” of things required in the contract. Is texting or e-mail okay, or does written notice have to be mailed? Do verbal phone agreements stand, or must everything be written? I definitely recommend that everything be recorded in some written form. I save text messages, Facebook messages and e-mails from my contract partners. Not doing this in the past has caused me monumental headaches in “he said she said” situations.

Rights and Responsibilities

This part of the contract outlines what each party agrees to do as part of the contract. The first paragraph in this section is important because it provides an “escape clause” should one of the parties not hold up his/her end of the bargain.

5. Owner’s responsibilities

The primary responsibility of the owner is to promptly pay invoices.

6. Owner’s Rights

With responsibilities come rights. In my contract I’ve listed the owner’s right to visit the property where livestock are housed to make sure that the grazier is in compliance with the terms of the contract.

7. Grazier Responsibilities

The Grazier has a long list of responsibilities to fulfill primarily based on the management section. Check out my sample contract to see what I include.

Not that in 7.12 I include the kinds of records I will keep, including grazing charts, medical records and herd records. Be sure you are clear on what kinds of records must be kept to avoid any disagreements.

8. Livestock Management

I start by being clear that the Grazier has the right to make all livestock management decisions. This is another really important statement! Graziers should cooperate with Owners to decide on production practices that both parties are happy with, but not let the Owner dictate how the Grazier’s farm or business is run. That would make it more of a partnership or boss-employee relationship. The Grazier must have the ability to change management practices at any time whenever needed.

Next in this section, I lay out specifically how the cattle on my operation will be managed, and state that my adherence to these practices cannot be interpreted as negligence and cannot be considered grounds for termination of the contract. I describe my practices and rules for things like castration, breeding, antibiotic use, grazing, diet, calving, night checks, culling, and more.

Laying out this detail is important. Just because you think something is normal and acceptable does not guarantee that the cattle owner will think so too. For example, I do not mechanically wean calves. I allow them to stay with their mothers and they stop nursing when their mothers dry off. I don’t even think about it anymore. But for a lot of cattle producers, the thought of not weaning calves is insane. They might freak out if I tell them seven months after calving that I’m not weaning their calves.

If you are the Owner and are selling livestock or livestock products into a marketing program with production rules, make sure the contract requires your custom grazier to keep your herd in compliance with the program. Be sure to include that you have the right to visit your livestock

Don’t ever assume the other party in your deal is going to do something a certain way. Even if you don’t record every painstaking detail in writing, make sure you discuss everything before signing anything.

9. Relationship of Parties

In this section we agree once more on the relationship between Owner and Grazier.

The “independent contractor” part of the contract is important. During my ill-fated year of custom grazing without a contract, the owner of the cattle did not recognize my custom grazing activities as being separate from my work as an employee of a beef company they owned. As a result, the owner wanted a lot more control over my business and my production practices than I was willing to grant.

I learned that your contract needs to say that the Owner has no right to control, direct or supervise you, the Grazier, in carrying out the contract terms. The contract does not create any partnership, employment or joint venture.

10. Waiver

This section says, in fancy legal terms, that just because somebody doesn’t enforce some certain provision or exercise some right they have under the contract, that doesn’t void all or part of the contract. Changes can be made to the contract during a term, by way of both parties signing an amended contract. The written contract in question comprises the entirety of the agreement between the Owner and Grazier and supersedes all prior oral or written deals concerning the subject of the agreement.

What I Forgot

One thing that should have been in my last contract is that the Grazier has no obligation to market the Owner’s livestock. I was willing to help my herd owner find buyers for cattle on my farm that he wanted to sell, but I did not want sole responsibility for that task. The owner saw marketing as one of my duties as the custom grazier. This was a topic that we hadn’t discussed and the contract was not clear about whose job it was.

It didn’t end up being a problem, but it was still a concerning oversight that could have become a problem between different people. To avoid these situations in the future my contracts will include this sentence something like this: “This contract covers everything that the grazier agrees to do. Anything not written down here is not the responsibility of the grazier.”


At the end of the contract, both parties sign above their printed names and roles in their legal entities. You may also have a witness sign if desired. For extra protection, you may want to sign in the presence of a notary, and/or put the contract on public record with your county clerk.



As Northern New York farmers scout corn and soybean fields for any diseases that may impact crop health and yield, they can use five years’ worth of survey results as a guide to newly-emerging and common crop pathogens in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

The corn and soybean disease survey project is funded by the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. In addition to identifying current areas of concern and trends, the project provides regional farmers with the expertise of Cornell Cooperative Extension specialists who scout 12 sentinel fields of corn and 21 sentinel fields of soybeans. These fields on Northern New York Farms represent different soils and growing conditions, and a variety of cropping practices.

Fields are assessed at various stages of crop growth. The Bergstrom Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has cultured and analyzed field samples since 2013.

“Multi-year surveys better capture variations in weather from year-to-year, from a wet spring to drought in the past five years. The data helps farmers make more informed corn and soybean variety selections, evaluate soil and crop debris for potential problems, and plan management strategy,” said project leader and Cornell plant pathologist Dr. Gary C. Bergstrom, Ithaca, N.Y.

This disease survey project was started in 2013 as the first systematic assessment of corn and soybean diseases conducted in Northern New York in recent decades.

Results of the most recent NNY corn disease survey by county is online at

A statewide soybean disease survey is online at

For more information, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Field Crop Specialists Kitty O’Neil, 315-854-1218, and Mike Hunter, 315-788-8450.

By Marie Anselm

Many farms have considered hosting special events on-site as a marketing strategy to attract new and existing customers. Any kind of farm can host an on-farm event, not just those that have regularly scheduled agritourism activities. A special event could include a farm that is usually closed to the public hosting a harvest dinner, or a Community Supported Agriculture operation opening to non-members.From a marketing perspective, farms may find on-farm special events an appealing way of reaching out to large amounts of people. On-farm special events can potentially increase farm sales the day of the event, make new customers to drive future sales, and build relationships with existing customers. However, beyond anecdotal evidence, there is little information on how, if at all, these events help farms gain and retain customers. Hosting an on-farm special event requires a significant amount of time and planning for it to be successful. Before hosting such an event it is helpful for farms to have an understanding of how customers will respond so they can decide if an on-farm special event is a good fit for their marketing goals.  

Mosher Farms LLC in Bouckville, NY ready to welcome Open Farm Day visitors.
Photographer: Mosher Farms LLC

Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Madison County coordinates a large on-farm special event every year: Open Farm Day. Open Farm Day is a collaborative event where around 30 farms across Madison County, NY open to the public for the same hours on the same Saturday in July. Farms of all types and all sizes participate, and for many it is the only event that they host at their farm. Open Farm Day draws almost 4,000 people, many of whom are children and families. Event attendees are able to visit as many farms as they want and receive a free giveaway prize for visiting at least three farms.  

To learn more about customer attraction and retention from on-farm special events, CCE Madison County surveyed Open Farm Day visitors via two electronic surveys in 2015 and 2016. To gather visitors’ email addresses, every participating Open Farm Day farm signed-in guests with a form that allowed visitors to leave their email address if they were willing to be contacted to take a survey on their experience with the event. CCE Madison also made a link to take the survey online public. The first survey was sent out to Open Farm Day guests in 2015 and 2016 to a total of 1,125 unique Open Farm Day visitors that attended the event those years. Results from this survey in 2015 and 2016 were aggregated for a total of 366 responses representing a response rate of approximately 35.5 percent. The second survey was a visitor follow-up survey sent in 2016 a year after Open Farm Day only to respondents who took the first survey in 2015. The second survey was sent to 196 individuals who responded to the first survey in 2015 and garnered a total of 65 responses for a response rate of 33.2 percent.  Survey responses were tracked by name and email address to ensure there were no duplicate responses.  

To isolate how attending Open Farm Day affected customers, these surveys asked visitors if they were a first-time Open Farm Day attendee or a repeat attendee. Results from the survey were analyzed by comparing “first-time attendees”, those that attended Open Farm Day for the first time when they took the survey, to “repeat attendees”. Standard means difference tests were used to analyze differences between these two groups. Results reported below that are “statistically significant” indicate that differences in data are unlikely to be due to chance.   

In the first survey of aggregated responses from 2015 and 2016, 49.7 percent of respondents were first-time attendees and 50.3 percent were repeat attendees. Both first-time and repeat attendees showed strong support for local food with 86.3 and 88.6 percent respectively, reporting that they currently purchase local food. This difference was not statistically significant. There was also not a statistically significant difference between first-time and repeat attendees with the number of farms they purchased product from on Open Farm Day; on average, first-time attendees purchased product from 2.6 farms compared to 2.8 for repeat attendees. However, there was a statistically significant difference between the average number of farms that first-time and repeat attendees visited on Open farm Day, which was 4.4 and 5.1, respectively.  

There were other ways in which differences between first-time and repeat attendees were statistically significant. First-time attendees were statistically less likely to be familiar with farms they visited at Open Farm Day prior to the event with 58.8 percent reporting some familiarity with farms and 40.7 percent reporting no familiarity, compared to 83.7 percent and 14.7 percent of repeat attendees, respectively. First-time attendees also differed significantly from repeat attendees in purchasing product at Open Farm Day; 87.4 percent of first-time attendees purchased product from farms they visited compared to 93.5 percent of repeat attendees.  

Visitors who made purchases at Open Farm Day are a critical group of customers contributing to event sales. Of the total visitors that purchased product at Open Farm Day, 40.1 percent reported that it was their first time making a purchase from at least one of the farms they visited. Examining those visitors that did make purchases at Open Farm Day, 66.4 percent were first-time attendees and 54.2 percent reported no familiarity with the farms they purchased product from prior to the event. Overall, 55.4 percent of first-time attendees that purchased product did so for the first time from a farm versus 25.8 percent of repeat attendees. This means that 43.9 percent of first-time attendees and 74.1 percent of repeat attendees that purchased product were repeat customers to farms. These differences were statistically significant.    

First-time and repeat attendees reported similar levels of satisfaction with Open Farm Day. In ranking their experience with Open Farm Day on a scale from one to five with one being “strongly disagree” and five being “strongly agree”, first-time and repeat attendees rated their experience a 4.76 and 4.74, respectively. However, there was a statistically significant different between first-time and repeat attendees when asked if they intended to return to Open Farm Day the following year. Only 86.3 percent of first-time attendees reported they intended to attend Open Farm Day next year versus 95.6 percent of repeat attendees.  

Available Data:

More information on this study, including a fact sheet with full result charts and recorded presentation are available at  

The follow-up survey sent out in 2016 to respondents of the 2015 survey did not yield a representative population sample, but its results shed more light on visitors who were repeat attendees in 2015, which made up 64.6 percent of respondents. In total, 78.5 percent of follow-up survey respondents reported buying product from farms they visited at Open Farm Day in the year after the event versus 78.3 percent of first-time attendees and 78.6 of repeat attendees. After attending Open Farm Day in 2015, 56.5 percent of those that were first-time attendees went to Open Farm Day again in 2016 compared to 69 percent of repeat attendees. Of those respondents that did attend Open Farm Day 2016, 100 percent of those that were first-time attendees in 2015 and 97.5 percent of repeat attendees in 2015 said they learned about new farms and farm products at the event in 2016.  

These surveys show that there are significant differences between first-time and repeat customers who attend on-farm special events. Repeat attendees are more likely to purchase product, more likely to already be familiar with farms and have purchased product from them, and are more likely to report they will attend the same on-farm special event again. First-time customers reported high satisfaction with the event, reported visiting farms they were not previously familiar with, and were more likely than repeat customers to make first-time purchases at the event. However, first-time attendees were less likely than repeat attendees to report intent to attend Open Farm Day in the following year. Overall, both repeat and first-time customers said they learned about new farms and farms products at Open Farm Day, demonstrating that on-farm events are a good marketing tactic for farms to increase awareness about their products.  

Based on customer responses, on-farm special events also have great sales potential. Farms that offer product for sale at these events can see strong day-of sales, as evidenced by around 90 percent of survey respondents reporting buying product at Open Farm Day. Also, Open Farm Day gained farms many new customers the day of the event considering that first-time attendees that also purchased product for the first time, which was 55.4 percent of first-time attendees, represent a group of truly new customers. On-farm special events can encourage repeat customers to increase purchases that they otherwise may not have made if not for the event, which makes on-farm

Visitors tour Fruit of the Fungi in Lebanon, NY on Open Farm Day.
Photographer: Fruit of the Fungi

special events a great way to retain the interest of loyal customers. It should also be noted that 25.8 percent of repeat Open Farm Day attendees made purchases from a farm at the event for the first time, showing that attendees do not always make purchases their first time to an event but that they can be convinced to do so in the future.  

It is difficult to tell if these events offer farms long-term customers. The follow-up survey did not yield many responses, but of those that did respond many said they bought product from Open Farm Day farms after the event. Farms may be able to gain first time sales from on-farm special events, but there is no guarantee that these customers will return to become more frequent customers. Recalling that first-time Open Farm Day attendees reported high event satisfaction and frequently bought product but still showed a lower intent to attend the next year, farms can do more hook new customers.   

Farms looking to gain long-term customers from hosting on-farm special events should have clear plans in advance as to how they use their event to convert first-time customers into repeat customers. One way farms can do this is by offering incentives to event attendees to visit again, such as discounts on future purchases. Farms should also promote their sales channels at events so that attendees know where to buy product in the future event if they do not live close to the farm. This could include farmers markets, local farm stores, or online sales. Any farm hosting an on-farm event should use them as an opportunity to collect customer email addresses to have a way to market to customers in the future. Staying in contact with attendees is critical to maintaining their interest in the farm post-event.  

Hosting on-farm events are an excellent marketing tool for farms, but farms should have realistic expectations about how they contribute to customer attraction and retention. From a marketing perspective, gaining and retaining customers are two different objectives. Gaining customers typically requires more resources than retaining existing customers. On-farm events can be a way to keep loyal customers and encourage them to increase their farm purchases. Farms can gain new customers at on-farm events from day-of sales, but to keep them coming back as long-term customers farms should view on-farm events as part of a larger marketing strategy.  

This research is based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under subaward number ONE15-229. 


Marie Anselm is the Agriculture Economic Development Specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension Ontario County where she can be reached at She enjoys being able to meet and work with so many diverse farm operations as part of her work supporting New York state agriculture.   

By Lisa Waterman Gray

Inside an antique farmhouse at the Ganondagan State Historic Site just east of Rochester, New York, a stainless steel coffee roaster hums as it parches Iroquois White Corn with heat, increasing its digestibility. Once the process is complete, after about 20 minutes, Iroquois Corn Project volunteers and staff will use a stone grinder to create corn flour they then sell to the public. 

This is the home of the Iroquois White Corn Project, whose mission is to preserve and promote an indigenous strain of corn that has been prized by local Iroquois for 1,000 years. With three products—Iroquois hulled corn, corn flour, and roasted corn flour—the project operates out of the nonprofit at Ganondagan, where the Seneca, a community of Iroquoian-speaking peoples, thrived more than 350 years ago. 

“The mission of the Iroquois White Corn Project is to encourage Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] farmers to grow the corn and to eat it for more than just special occasions or ceremonial use—[making it] something they eat every day,” said Jeanette Miller, program director for Friends of Ganondaganand a member of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy. Once hulled, the indigenous corn can be used in soups, stews, salads, and more, and the flour can be used to make breading, mush, cornbread, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. 

“We started playing with the corn and trying different recipes… and everyone started to really enjoy it,” Miller said. “[We encourage people to] grow their own gardens and get Iroquois White Corn back on their tables for their families.” 

Processing white corn. Photo courtesy of Amy Blum.

Founded in its current location in 2011 by G. Peter Jemison, Ganondagan Historic Site manager and a member of the Heron Clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Iroquois White Corn Project currently yields an average of 5,000 pounds per year, and they expect to grow that number considerably in the coming years. Project managers sell the corn to grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and individuals, and they hope to one day break into the market of chefs who focus on using indigenous ingredients. 

Across the country, a number of individuals and groups, from Louisiana to Nebraska and New England to Arizona, are also working to propagate native corn in hopes of preserving history and tradition and taking advantage of the plants’ nutritional value. 

“There are [many Native] people raising, picking, and storing corn, and they’re also eating it,” Jemison said. “We were supplying the Seneca Nation with white corn [but] after our talks and demonstrations, they now are setting up their own project and will be processing their own corn,” he said. “This was our goal.” 

Nutritionally, the corn variety is gluten free; low in sugar; high in fiber, protein, and slow-releasing carbohydrates; it’s also packed with amino acids that help to build healthy cells. Jemison hopes it can start to improve the health of the Iroquois people, who face a number of diet-related health issues. According to the American Diabetes Association, Native peoples throughout the U.S. have the highest rate of diabetes of any ethnic group, with nearly 16 percent of tribal members affected. Limited access to healthy, fresh food has exacerbated the problem. 

“The sincere hope of [the project’s original founder], John Mohawk, was that by putting Native food back on our tables, we might grow healthier,” Jemison said. “Could it be possible that if we return to a more Native diet, we could really combat diabetes?” 

History in the Making 

Traditional “sweet corn” sold at grocery stores across the U.S. is usually yellow in color, edible directly from the cob, and features high sugar content and a completely digestible hull. Iroquois White Corn, however, is a flour corn with a subtle, slightly nutty flavor and ears that are longer, wider, and heavier than sweet corn. 

Historically, Iroquois women raised, planted, weeded, protected, harvested, braided, dried, shelled, and cooked the dietary staple. When the French army and its allies attacked what is now Ganondagan and three other Seneca towns in 1687, however, they destroyed nearly 1.3 million bushels of corn. Later, during the Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered Army troops to devastate and destroy Seneca settlements, ruining planted crops including 350,000 bushels of corn. 

Although the Seneca continued farming, their constant need to move and reestablish their communities was devastating. Simultaneously, white ministers and educators insisted that Seneca men become the farmers, rather than Seneca women, further disrupting their traditional way of life. 

Although Jemison has run the project out of Ganondagan for the last seven years, Dr. John Mohawk and his wife, Dr. Yvonne Dion Buffalo, originally founded it in the 1990s on the Cattaraugus Reservation, approximately two hours’ drive from Ganondagan. Jemison became involved with the project as John and Yvonne were establishing it, but when they died in 2005 and 2006, everything came to a screeching halt. Three to four years after their deaths, Jemison decided to re-start the project at Ganondagan, providing a stream of income for the Friends of Ganondagan group that supports the park. 

“At a site like ours, you’re at the actual location where our people lived in the 1700s,” Jemison said. “You’ll see one of our traditional houses and our traditional plants, [and] the Iroquois White Corn Project is part of the total. Unfortunately, most Americans know very little about Native Americans. There’s not a whole of information about [us] in textbooks.” 

Today, the project operates cooperatively with the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. Interns and volunteer Friends of Ganondagan support the small staff that runs the project. As noted on its website, and true to the cultural roots that surround growing and use of this sacred corn, project organizers request that those who work with it today do so with a good mind, “bringing love and good intentions to the process while acknowledging the Creator and Mother Earth.” 

A Labor-Intensive Process 

Growing and processing Iroquois white corn takes considerable time and effort. Native American or First Nations’ farmers, who buy seed directly from the Project, must hand-plant and hand-pick the crop. The harvest occurs in October or early November. 

Planting Iroquois White Corn. Photo credit: Friends of Ganondagan

Jemison also had to find individuals who could learn the entire process of preparing the corn, which has to be de-hulled, roasted, ground, and packaged in small batches. He sought out young people entering the job market and grant money enabled him to provide them with a decent wage. 

Project leaders adapted the traditional cooking process to cut down on the amount of work. “We took away the time-consuming part of cooking and processing of the corn [traditionally, which used] hard wood ash to remove the hull from each kernel,” he said. Instead, the project workers use culinary lime, which accomplishes the same results.  Washing the corn helps to remove the rest of the hull. 

“We then hold a husking bee and braid the ears of corn together 30-plus at a time,” Jemison said. “We hang the corn to dry until April or May, and then it is hand-shelled from the cob, [washed, and sorted]. “This is ideally a community-based effort,” Jemison continued. And like all farming, it is subject to the uncertainty of weather. 

Because Iroquois white corn products are so labor-intensive, they’re costly to make. “Farmers who grow the corn don’t see this as a get-rich-quick scheme,” Jemison said. “But because we provide markets for them, it encourages them to do this.” 

 Jemison says the process is worth the effort. “I think it’s important to keep growing food that has an ancient history, originates in the Americas, and is native to the area you come from,” he said. 

He hopes that ultimately, the Iroquois White Corn Project will sustain itself; the Iroquois people will be able to raise more of their own corn and support farmers; and health outcomes will improve. 

“This is the food that our Creator provided us with,” Jemison said. “Because so much corn was destroyed at Ganondagan, we believe it is very important to grow it and sell it here. [Food opens doors], especially when you sit down and eat together.” 


Lisa Waterman Gray has written about food and food producers for,,, the Kansas City Star, and many other outlets. She also serves on the Board for Slow Food Kansas City.

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