fresh ideas

Fresh Ideas for Spring Ledge Farm from a New Crop of Advertising Experts

Not many towns can boast both a four-year college and a working farm on its Main Street, but New London, N.H., can, and on Nov. 19, 2008, the short distance between Colby-Sawyer College and Spring Ledge Farm was bridged as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Business Administration John Ferries' advertising class presented campaign recommendations and suggestions for web site updates to farm owner Greg Berger and farm manager Tasha Dunning. Also present to hear the students' findings were Colby-Sawyer President Tom Galligan and five members of the Colby-Sawyer Board of Trustees.

“With one exception, all these junior and senior students are Business Administration majors. Until now they have been studying advertising from the standpoint of strategies – identifying target groups, which is difficult, and then tailoring a message to each one so that they resonate,” says Professor Ferries. “The students did that, and then they did the fun part of getting creative with this project. For the seniors, the time to find a job is coming near and this was a real project to work on – that's important.”

Divided into four teams represented by Amber Richardson (Shelburne Falls, Mass.), Gabrielle Boulay, Greg Wacker (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Dan Mahoney (Wilmington, Vt.) – plus Doug Currie (Harvard, Mass.), Sean Carr (New London, N.H.) and Mary Francis (Steuben, Maine) addressing Spring Ledge Farm's current advertising and ways to improve its web presence – the suit-clad class moved briskly through its PowerPoint presentations.

A Farm with Deep Roots in New London

Astrid and Greg Berger bought Spring Ledge from its original owners of 30 years, John and Sue Clough of New London, in 2005. A year-round enterprise closed only for brief respites, the farm sells its own ornamental plants, 230 varieties of cut-your-own flowers, and fresh vegetables in season, along with fresh baked goods and dairy products from local suppliers. Thirteen greenhouses shelter thriving fruits and vegetables that end up on menus both residential and commercial.

Berger, who started working at Spring Ledge as a high school sophomore and graduated from Cornell University's College of Agriculture with a degree in plant science, first hosted the advertising students in October at the farm he now calls home. His briefing identified the farm's goal as increasing sales of the farm's products among its key consumer groups (affluent senior women and mothers of young children), and charged the class with developing an advertising campaign that would achieve that goal

With a farm stand close to the road, and beautiful displays that keep customers' attention focused on the goods at hand, it's easy to overlook that there are actually 60 acres of land devoted to growing the farm's own produce. This was a concern for the advertising teams, who worried the community doesn't fully appreciate that Spring Ledge grows 90 percent of the products it sells. Other obstacles they believe the farm faces is competition from a nearby chain supermarket, and the slightly higher prices the farm charges for produce that is picked fresh daily.

Fresh, Local … What's Not to Love?

It's the “fresh” part of Spring Ledge Farm life – the idea that the produce goes directly from the growers' and pickers' hands to the consumer's – that the advertising students focused on when building their campaigns. Working with that idea, the teams offered slogans including “Fresh from our Hands to Yours,” “The Fresh Choice, the Local Choice,” “Freshness Delivered from our Hands to Yours,” and “We Know Freshness.”Another idea was to place signs next to produce in the farm stand to indicate who had picked it fresh that day, reminding consumers that they were choosing food that grew in a local field or greenhouse and didn't arrive in town on a tractor trailer after a cross-country journey.

While disagreeing on whether or not the farm should continue its radio advertisements, every team offered an impressive array of ideas for promotions, brochures, newsletters, rewards cards, and even mock advertisements pasted into the local Kearsarge Shopper to highlight suggested changes. Many ideas put a new twist on existing strategies that Spring Ledge employs, such as improving the loyalty card and building on the farm's traditional open houses. Already, spring, summer and fall open houses offer opportunities to learn about farming methods, take a tour, enter the annual apple pie contest, take a hay ride or explore a corn maze, enjoy old-fashioned cider pressing or paint pumpkins.

Ideas for Growth

“They had a lot of good ideas,” says Berger. “Now we just have to decide which ones we can make work, and put them into place. The students didn't have much time to do this project, but they certainly did a good job.”

For Professor Ferries, this collaboration with a local business can be added to others he has organized, including last year with New London Hospital. “They did this project as teams and were graded along the way. The presentation itself was not graded,” he says, but added that the exercise benefits the students and the business partnering with the class, and provides a chance for college administrators to see students in action.

“Trustees get briefings of what goes on in classes, but this is a chance to make it come alive,” says Professor Ferries. For Spring Ledge Farm, the seeds of a new marketing campaign have been sown, and as with any crop, only time will tell what that campaign yields.

-Kate Dunlop Seamans