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Successful branding program continues to grow

When consumers are looking for experiences rather than things, a visit to a pumpkin farm, an apple orchard, or a Christmas tree farm is a fun activity.

Returning home, their prized souvenir might be festive gourds, a bag of crisp apples, or a fresh-cut Christmas tree.

Those items could all have Minnesota Grown stickers!

Smaller than a postage stamp, the white sticker features a blazing yellow sun, a curvy Minnesota, and the words Minnesota Grown written in all caps.

It’s the trademark sticker of an over 30-year program organized by local farmers to promote their products.

The little sticker is just one part of the Minnesota Grown program, which has experienced success this year.

In 2022, traffic at the website minnesotagrown.com is up 15 percent from 2021 – with an estimated 350,000 unique visitors, said Paul Hugunin, Minnesota Grown lead.

“The biggest thing people are going to see is the stickers, the logo, the branding, and also you have the directory, which is a great place to locate items,” Hugunin said.

Wolcyn Tree Farms, Cambridge, Minn.

Minnesota Grown members Wolcyn Tree Farms offer a diverse line of trees suitable for the Upper Midwest climate.

“We basically grow and provide trees as small as 6- to 12-inch transplants – whether it be evergreens or deciduous trees that people can plant. We grow as large as 25-foot trees that we can spade/plant for people,” Manager Nick Wolcyn said.

He added they sell a lot with landscaping trees from 6-15 feet tall.

The core of their business is raising spruce and pine trees of many sizes. These nursery trees are either balled and burlapped or raised in a container for consumers to take home and transplant.

Trees provide important environmental and aesthetic benefits that are only now being recognized by society at large.

They also raise Christmas trees – Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, Canaan Fir, Korean Fir, White Pine and Scotch Pine. These trees are shipped to 15 states.

For nearby consumers, Wolcyn Tree Farms has a popular cut-your-own Christmas tree business at the farm. People ride out to the tree farm in a hay wagon, and after they select their very own tree, they return to the barn for cookies and hot apple cider.

“Minnesota Grown has been huge for that (the success of the cut-your-own Christmas tree),” Nick said. “We’re very thankful for what Minnesota Grown has done.”

He added that currently, the Wolcyn tree wrapping material doesn’t have the Minnesota Grown logo, but he knows other Christmas tree growers who do. The Minnesota Grown logo is displayed at wolcyntreefarms.com – along with logos for Minnesota Christmas Tree Association, Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association, and Trees for Troops.

Thirty-five years strong

Minnesota Grown began when a group of farmers asked the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for help establishing a local produce brand in the mid-1980s. Some funding was passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 1987.

“Farmers said they needed a tool that would differentiate what they grew here from what comes in from California,” Hugunin said. “They sat down, put their heads together, put their wallets together, and approached the Commissioner of Agriculture.”

That led to the creation of Minnesota Grown.

The logo has changed only once in 35 years, and that was in 1998.

The largest change has been the number of participants and an online presence rather than publication of a less-nimble hard copy.

“I really believe one of the keys to its success is that it has a very simple meaning that is easy for consumers to understand and anyone who wants to participate as a grower to understand. It means it was grown or raised on a farm in Minnesota,” he said.

The program includes farmers and producers of all types: small, large, organic, sustainable, conventional, flowers, livestock, agrotourism and more.

Helping the Minnesota Grown program is consumer interest in farmers markets. For many years, the directory listed about 40 farmers markets. Today, 178 farmers markets are listed.

“That is a function of people demanding local products and wanting more convenience and wanting to have it right in their neighborhood, their city,” he said. “The growth has been statewide.”

The experiential part of visiting a farmers market – seeing neighbors or friends, possibly getting a treat – is popular. The quality at farmers markets tends to be very high, and a great value, too.

Eating local does make sense for high nutrition and quality of life.

That same principle even applies to local nurseries, Nick said. In recent years, he’s noticed that consumers want to purchase trees that are native to the region. Those trees can sometimes fight invasive insects and thrive despite changing weather patterns.

Even locally-produced Christmas trees will hold their needles better than a tree that arrived from the East or West Coast. Trees raised elsewhere can’t always hang on to their needles as well in cold northern temperatures.

Minnesotagrown.com

More than 1,030 locations are listed on the popular Minnesota Grown website.

It’s a great deal to join this group. The yearly membership for Minnesota Grown is just $20, Hugunin said. Membership provides free stickers, rubber bands, twist ties and more.

For an additional $40, members are listed in the minnesotagrown.com directory. Originally a published book, the Minnesota Grown directory is now online-only.

Designed for adventurers, the website is easy to “drill down” and find many sites within a county or two offering products for sale. Users can also filter Minnesota Grown members by products – such as garlic or microbrews or industrial hemp.

The website has many fun articles and recipes, plus its interactive map.

The most recent addition to the website is location of Minnesota Grown sites by route, Hugunin said.

You can type in your starting and ending locations in the online directory, and the map will show you routes, as well as Minnesota Grown members, within 5-10 miles of the route.

That just might make it possible to pick up a Minnesota Grown pie on the way!

“Minnesota Grown means knowing where your food was grown, and how it was grown, and knowing that your dollars stay in the community. It’s being able to see, touch, and smell the freshness of the product you are buying,” Hugunin said. “There is value there.”

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