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  A Publication of UVM Extension's Vermont Vegetable and Berry Program

Signs for Your Farm

by Vern Grubinger
Vegetable and Berry Specialist
University of Vermont Extension

My cousins used to have a memorial monument business. In those days they were stilled called gravestones. The sign for the business featured a slogan that resonated. It said, “drive slow, we can wait.”

If you’re a grower that relies on retail sales, signs are important. They are your public personality. Signs can attract new customers, welcome old ones back, and set the tone for marketing at your farm, your roadside stand, or your farmers’ market stall. Good signs are important both indoors and out. Outdoor signs get people to stop. Once they’ve arrived at your place of business smaller signs on displays and packaging provide information, positive messages and reinforce brand loyalty.

Even if you’ve been in business a long time, it’s worth taking a fresh look at the images you are using to promote your farm and its products. If nothing else, signs get old and they need repair or replacement once in while. Faded and peeling is not a message you want to convey, even if you feel that way sometimes!

What’s your image? Your signs should include an attractive logo, or ‘brand image’. Does your farm have one? There are many interests competing for a space in the consumer’s brain. A good logo is one way your business can gain a foothold in the soft tissue that counts.

Ideally, your brand image is easily recognizable and has become a symbol that sets off positive thoughts among your customers, like “fresh!” or “flavorful!” and “friendly!”  Of course, it’s up to you and your staff to provide high quality products and superior service--without fail-- so that your customers do indeed harbor good thoughts about your farm.

Once you have a nice logo, don’t waste it, paste it. Put it on all your signs, all your point of purchase displays, as well all your retail and wholesale containers. Come up with a promotion budget so you can sponsor local events, school uniforms and who-knows-what-else to get your logo out there. Soon enough, it’ll be as recognizable as Coke or Pepsi. Well, almost.

Can I read your roadside sign? The great thing about signs near public roads is they never stop working. They send out a message all day, every day. So it helps if people can read them. Like a lot of consumers, I’m at the age where I need glasses to read even when I’m sitting still. Put me in a car whizzing down the street and your sign had better be easy to see and to the point or I am going to miss what you’re trying to tell me.

Keep your message short, because according to people that study these things, the average person traveling 40 miles per hour can read fewer than a dozen words from 200 feet away even if the letters are 7 inches tall. In my case, although I might be able to read your sign, at that distance and speed I won’t be able to make up my mind about stopping until it’s too late. And once I’ve passed your place it’s doubtful I’ll turn around. Folks like me need almost a quarter of a mile to make up their minds about pulling over, and that means your roadside signs need lettering that’s a foot and a half tall.

Since people of all ages and reading abilities will be looking through their windshields, in good weather and bad, roadside signs must be easy to read. Besides big letters, use as few words as possible to tell a simple message. “Fresh Juicy Strawberries” or “Just-Picked Sweet Corn” work for me. Tell me the rest of the story about varieties, price, or production practices after I’ve stopped.

Leave plenty of white space around the words to enhance their visibility. Stick to dark lettering against a light background. Avoid unusual fonts and or distracting decorations. Place the signs as close to the road as possible without blocking driver visibility or violating local laws.

Small signs can say a lot. OK, your attractive, easy-to-read sign worked like a charm, so now I’m out of the car, examining your products, and I’ve put my reading glasses on before I pull out my wallet. I’m ready for information. The first message I get, even if it’s indirect, is how much you care about your own products. Cheap-looking, hastily-written price cards do not convey a sense of pride and stewardship. You’ve worked hard to grow these wonderful items, and grow them well. Surround them with carefully-made, artful labeling that testifies to the quality of your products rather than denigrating them.

Like a lot of contemporary consumers, I’m a label reader, and I want to know more about the product than just the price. Maybe I’ve got too much time on my hands, but humor me, I’ll but more stuff. Signs are a great way to tell a short story: not just the variety name, but who developed it and where. For example, “This variety was released by USDA over 30 years ago and is still popular today because of its great flavor!” Or, if it’s an unusual product, tell me how to use it. “Great in soups!”, or “Sprinkle with olive oil and garlic, bake for 1 hour at 400 degrees.”

Finally, a sharing a little personal story adds value to a crop in a way that can’t be duplicated by others’, “Asparagus is farmer Smith’s favorite spring crop: tender, tasty and good for you, too. Almost worth the trouble of growing it…”

Published: April 2005
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