Forget Red Delicious and Macintosh apples. How about munching on a Blue Pearmain, Wolf River, Liberty or a 20-ounce Pippin?
For six weeks in the fall, 55 members of the ‘Out on a Limb’ heirloom apple Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) visit the Rabelais cookbook store to pick up their apples. While they are in the store, many apple-lovers also buy a book about heirloom apples or a book of apple recipes.
“It’s been a fabulous thing,” said Samantha Lindgren, co-owner of the bookstore located in downtown Portland, Maine. “The CSA draws attention to us for something outside of our purview, but it’s a perfect fit. It’s also a great way to bring customers into the store who might not know about us.”
Although she can’t say how much book sales have increased since people have been picking up apples and tomatoes in the store, Lindgren said offering the store as a pick up location has definitely attracted new customers. “This is the second year for the apples and we’ll certainly do the tomatoes again. It’s been so popular. We could have handled triple the (CSA) business.”
Picking up apples and tomatoes in a cookbook store is a great example of how small businesses are cooking up ways to promote each other with low or no-cost joint marketing efforts. It just takes some thought and creativity to come up with something that works for your business. (See tips below).
“The CSA is a really good way to introduce people to new varieties of apples,” said John Bunker, an author and apple expert who has spent the past 30-plus years studying and propagating rare and heirloom apples. In addition to growing about 150 varieties of apples on his Super Chilly Farm in Palermo, Maine and running the CSA, he writes the catalog and does research for Fedco, a major fruit tree supplier in Maine.
Bunker said most people don’t realize that early New Englanders cultivated apples as a major food source for themselves and their livestock.
Growing and eating heirloom apples reflects consumer interest in eating locally raised food and produce.
Local apple lovers, like Stephen Berenson, are paying $120 for about 60 pounds of apples. Some apples he receives in six CSA deliveries are best eaten ‘out of hand,’ others are better suited for jellies, pies and cobblers.
“My wife and I are fans of heirloom apples,” said Benenson, who was interviewed by phone at Rabelais when he arrived at the bookstore to pick up his apples. “We came to an apple tasting last year and tried 30 to 35 varieties of apples. It was amazing.”
Benenson and his wife, Merry Fogg, own a popular Portland music venue called One Longfellow Square. Most of the time, he said they just eat the apples, but this year, they made applesauce for their eight-month-old daughter, Isla, and Merry cooked up a batch of crab apple jelly. They are splitting their CSA share with a friend because 10 pounds is a lot of apples for a small family.
Throughout the summer months, local tomato lovers stopped by Rabelais to collect tomatoes and basil grown by the Small Wonder Organics Farm. The four-acre farm is located in Bowdoinham, Maine, north of Portland. This year, farmers Sarah Trask and Pete Engler grew 30 different kinds of tomatoes, including rare ones like Costaluto Fiorentino and Paul Robeson. Trask said about 25 CSA members paid $100 for six weeks worth of tomatoes.
“This is our first year farming and we planted a ton of tomatoes,” said Trask. “We needed another way to sell these tomatoes, other than selling them at farmer’s markets. It was such a good idea to have people pick them up at the cookbook store.”
The CSA movement is growing every year according to Local Harvest, a group that promotes local agriculture. Tens of thousands of Americans belong to CSAs. While no government agency tracks the number of CSA’s, Local Harvest estimates there are at least 2,500 around the U.S. and the number is increasing every year.
“CSAs in Maine have doubled in the past four years,” said Melissa White Pillsbury, marketing coordinator for the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (MOFGA). She said there about 150 farm CSAs in Maine. She said bringing the apples and tomatoes to a cookbook store makes sense. “Farmers who don’t think they can get enough customers to pick up produce at their farm will often bring shares to be picked up at more populated place.”
Cheryl Wixon, the volunteer chef at the MOFGA office, said she’s a member of Bunker’s rare apple CSA. “It’s a wonderful way to play around with new apples and new ingredients,” said Wixon. “I like to take three or four different varieties of apples to meetings, cut them up and share them.”
Tips for creating your own cross-promotion:
- Look around for business in your area that also serve your customers.
- Contact the business owner to toss around cross-marketing ideas. If you own a clothing boutique, how about offering discount coupons to a local dry cleaner? The dry cleaner can offer discounts for purchases at your store.
- Start small and test your idea before expanding.
- Ask your customers to recommend businesses they think you should connect with.
Jane Applegate is a small business author and keynote speaker. The author of four books on small business management, she is currently working on the third edition of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business, published by John Wiley & Co. The Applegate Group works with companies serving small business owners and produces independent film and promotional video projects.