Getting Students Through The Farm Gate

A taste of something special awaits shoppers at the UBC Farm’s weekly farmer’s market. In addition to a diversity of local foods at your fingertips, you can also uncover your local food economy firsthand; on any given visit, customers can tour the campus’ working farm, meet farmers-in-training, learn about indigenous food sovereignty, and explore on-site innovative agricultural research.

“The UBC Farm Farmers’ Markets are part of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, a unique research, teaching and community engagement centre,” explains sales manager Matthew Delumpa. “We view the market as a venue to inspire, educate and nourish consumers while supporting the health and competitiveness of BC’s sustainable ag sectors.”

Offering local, farm-fresh seasonal produce and eggs from the UBC Farm and other local farms, as well as local meat, baked goods and prepared foods from Lower Mainland producers and processors, there are nearly 60 different local vendors participating in the market each year. And for those seeking a festival experience, the Saturday market also offers food trucks, alcohol and crafts, while local musicians entertain the crowd.

But despite a bounty of appealing options, one element was curiously absent considering the market’s location within a school – students!

According to Matthew, while the market commands a loyal following from the surrounding community, on-campus awareness among the student population has been surprisingly but consistently low (at least outside of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems).

“This was the main gap that we identified, where we have students just down the road that have no idea they have a farm in their backyard,” he says. “We also wanted to promote the new discount available through the Alma Mater student society’s coupon program to help students access fresh, local food.”

But with help from the Buy BC program the UBC Farm was ready to give it the old college try. With project funding to support a dedicated project coordinator and marketing specialist, they launched a targeted campaign to increase student recognition and drive on-campus visitors and sales.

“Our two posters reached students in 443 campus locations, promoted Facebook posts reached 1,440 people over 19 days, six digital signs appeared on more than 50 campus screens and our 5,000-subscriber newsletter has seen an increased unique click-rate since publishing the redesigned template,” reports Matthew.

So far this has translated into a 20 percent increase in market customers (including a 50 percent increase in customers identifying as Millennials/UBC students).

“Our recent promotional efforts have increased on-campus exposure and as a result our sales figures have risen and the UBC Farm produce subsidy is used widely, 1,845 times to be exact,” shares Matthew, adding that their farmers’ market team has received numerous student testimonials noting that they heard about the UBC Farm produce subsidy through Buy BC communication material.

And with the significant turnover every new semester brings, the UBC Farm team is especially grateful to have all the marketing tools in place to attract new arrivals each time.

For those graduating or leaving campus, Matthew is hopeful the buy local message continues to hit home.

“Beyond the immediate impacts to the market, we believe that the increased promotional effort supported by Buy BC will lead to positive changes in purchasing behavior and attitudes towards the local food economy,” he says.

Funding: $9,035 through the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program. (BBC021)