Eight years ago, Grow Benzie started with an abandoned plant nursery, an old greenhouse, and an empty retail building. The non-profit now boasts a community center, an incubator kitchen, community garden, flourishing greenhouse, sewing studio, business center, and a food truck. Grow Benzie helps agriculture and culinary businesses expand and get started, hosts classes to teach the public about nutrition and hobby farming, and makes fresh, local produce available to low-income families. Nestled in a rural corner of Benzie County, Grow Benzie is using online marketing to expand its reach and help local farmers do the same.
“We are connecting people to resources and education that will help them with jobs and life skills, or just connect them to each other,” said Josh Stoltz, Director of Grow Benzie. In recent years, Grow Benzie has become an integral part of its hometown of Benzonia, Benzie County, and neighboring counties. The rental space attracts seasonal vacationers and retirees and brings in local residents for parties and events. The incubator kitchen and gardens bring in business owners and entrepreneurs, as well as classes on beekeeping, mushroom growing, crafting, and other topics. The farmers market helps low-income families get nutritious food. Grow Benzie seeks to expand to reach more people in every group, and assist other, similar programs in doing the same.
“We’re based in Benzie County, but people come from surrounding counties; they come here to use the facilities or attend our programs,” said Stoltz. “We’ve had people call from around the country when they hear about our community center. They want to know what steps we’ve gone through.”
Grow Benzie is reaching a wider audience with a creative, strategic physical and online marketing approach. In addition to traditional newspaper and magazine ads, Grow Benzie has advertised through bus wraps to create a buzz around town. This draws more people to their revamped website, inviting visitors to take an interactive, virtual tour, while Facebook and e-mail marketing make it easy for new fans to learn more and spread the word.
“Ultimately, it’s about exposure for us as an organization. You’d see our building and our four acres, but unless you pull in, you’d wonder what we’re doing,” said Stoltz. Using a USDA grant to increase marketing, Stoltz says he’s noticed a difference in the level of exposure. “Besides Facebook friends and likes, we’ve also seen an increase in inquiries for rentals.” Marketing success, however, does not happen overnight. “It’s been a long haul to get that attention.”
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