Festival-goers enjoy local products at the Little Falls Cheese Festival

Collaborative Promotion of Cheese Festival & Trail Boost Cheesemakers in Central New York

Founded in 2008, Jones Family Farm is a small, diversified operation producing value-added products including cheeses and gelato. Suzie Jones, owner of Jones Family Farm, sits on the all-volunteer planning committee for the Little Falls Cheese Festival and is a founding member of the Central New York (CNY) Cheese Trail

Since 2015, cheesemakers and volunteers in Central New York have teamed up to organize the annual Little Falls Cheese Festival to celebrate the area’s unique place in cheesemaking history, the resurgence of artisanal cheesemaking in the region, and the importance of dairy to the area. A group of cheesemakers also launched the Central New York Cheese Trail in 2019 to invite visitors and potential buyers to connect directly with where the cheese is made. In 2021, Jones Family Farm was awarded a $15,000 NE-DBIC Multi-Business Dairy Agritourism Grant to bolster these volunteer-run initiatives with a professional marketing campaign.  

Using their grant funds, Jones Family Farm hired an advertising firm to develop a robust digital marketing campaign to promote the festival and trail. They kicked off the campaign with social media posts across multiple platforms, offering a CNY Cheese Trail branded insulated tote as an incentive for signing up for email promotions. They then shared monthly emails with these contacts to highlight Cheese Trail members, promote the Cheese Festival, and suggest holiday gift ideas from regional producers. The campaign was rounded out with targeted digital ads.

Grant funds also covered the cost of designing and printing a stylish and educational festival booklet highlighting the cheesemakers, processes, the CNY Cheese Trail, and the attributes that make Central New York suited to value-added dairy. Included in the festival booklet were two suggested itineraries for two-day agritourism adventures complete with local attractions, CNY Cheese Trail partners, and nearby dining options. 

The festival took place on a beautiful October day and drew crowds of people sampling cheese, enjoying live music, and buying cheese and other specialty products to bring home. As a result of the marketing campaign, the 2021 festival had a record turnout of over 8,000 people, an increase of 30% over 2019 (the festival was canceled in 2020). Most vendors sold out of their products before the end of the event. Cheese Trail members reported a range of results, depending on their location and core business, with most reporting a 20 to 30% increase in traffic and sales. In addition, a handful of prospective wholesale buyers visited the festival to make connections with cheesemakers. The CNY Cheese Trail provided an avenue to further these relationships, and at least one prospective buyer has become a regular customer of Jones Family Farm.

Photo: Dave Warner, Editor, My Little Falls

The Multi-Business Dairy Agritourism Grant program, offered through Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, supports the development and promotion of agritourism activities to elevate dairy businesses in the Northeast region. Projects engage multiple Northeast dairy farmers or processors in the grant’s agritourism activities and promote awareness and consumption of regionally produced dairy products. 

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