Ask most farmers what they grow and sell, and they’ll enumerate a list of fruits and vegetables. Ask Warren Abbott of Abbott Farms, and the answer is “Fun.”
Of course, the farm also sells other products, and lots of them—including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, sweet cherries, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, pumpkins, Italian prunes, and apples, as well as beef, hard cider, and wine. But what Abbott Farms—located in Baldwinsville and in operation, in the same family, since 1866—focuses on most of all is the customer. “We really sell an experience,” Warren explains, noting that the farm has up to 85 employees seasonally each year, most of them in customer service–related roles.
Prior to 1964, Abbott Farms was a small subsistence dairy. They added grain and potatoes at that time, and a small store for some retail sales by the early ’70s. In 1993, with the addition of a new store, they shifted their focus toward retail, and by 2007 had left the grain market entirely. These days, under the management of their fifth generation of farmers, they sell wholesale only if there’s extra supply. Recently, they added hard cider and wine, to satisfy the customer demand for quality local products and the in-person touch.
Over the years, the Abbotts have found that in order to sell in volume, customers require that the products be grown right on the farm. “Every time we decide to grow an item we sell, we triple sales of that item instantly,” Warren says. “I would have never guessed it would be so dramatic. We would have made that change sooner [if we had known].”
Crop losses from SWD encouraged the Abbotts to walk away from growing fall raspberries and day-neutral strawberries, though Warren says they may restart those crops “if control methods are available and economical.” As a business, Abbott Farms’ bigger challenges have been expanding frequently to maintain income; labor rates and regulation; and finding, training, and keeping good employees in seasonal positions.
For now, they’re focusing on frequent shake-ups to their strategy to maintain consumer interest. “The cidery will take some time to dial in, but it’s the most exciting and promising change since 2007,” Warren says, adding that they’ll be introducing a hard-cider tasting room soon. Besides the many varieties of fruit and sweet ciders available for tasting, they also offer happy-making products like 10 flavors of fudge and more than 20 flavors of ice cream. And they try to emphasize to customers that they select berry varieties for flavor, and pick for flavor and sugar content—not shipping and storage hardiness—to bring audience back week after week.
On-farm events—such as foot races, berry festivals, pancake breakfasts, a weekly festival in the fall, weekly farmers’ markets, and birthday parties—have been a big success. These events keep Abbott Farms top of mind—and tops in word-of-mouth referrals—for customers, as does maintaining a regular e-mail and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter presence. They also advertise on billboards and in family and leisure guides in season.
Even though Abbott Farms is tech- and marketing-savvy, they still make sure the personal touch comes across in everything they do. Warren says, “We will continue to offer educational, family fun, while picking fruit and relaxing around the farm.” Maybe even for another 150 years.