AmericanFarm.com

Calvert Co. hires Pettko as marketing specialist

By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Associate Editor

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. (June 27, 2017) — For years, farmers across Calvert County have been asking for full-time marketing assistance from local government.
In 2017, they got what they wanted.
The county hired Jennifer Pettko in January as its new agricultural marketing specialist charged with networking the peninsular county’s increasingly diversified farming community and promoting its products to the public.
It’s part of larger, regional push to promote local agriculture to a public hungry for local, transparently produced food. (Next door, Charles County also announced in January its intentions to hire an ag marketer.)
“What I’ve heard most is the marketing help they need. Someone to reach out to the public and let them know they’re there. Because a lot of our farms are small. We’ve got some small meat producers who produce beef and pork and chicken and lamb. It’s just a matter of informing the public that they’re there,” she said. “And the buy local movement is huge now, so I think as we put this plan together and come up with increased marketing and advertising aspects to get out to the public, I think that would be a big benefit to the farmers and something that they’re asking for.”
Pettko was an internal hire with experience in advertising. She grew up on one of the county’s few remaining tobacco farms, and her father continues to grow about three acres of the crop. The state’s buyout of most tobacco growers in the 1990s has spurred farmers to diversify their operations, making her new job more critical as farmers deal more directly with consumers, she said.
Earlier, this month, Pettko was assembling a presentation for the county’s board of commissioners that reviews what she’s accomplished in her first six months.
Among them: assessing the county’s agricultural community, reaching out to farmers and other stakeholders and recommending improvements to the county’s agricultural marketing program.
“I’ve had a chance to speak with some other ag marking specialists in other counties, and they said start small because I think ag encompasses so much, and there’s so much diversity,” she said.
She started with farmers’ markets. First by working with the county’s market association to better connect it to farmers and also by notifying homeowners’ associations in the county about those markets, urging them to mention them to residents in e-mail newsletters. There’s also more typical advertising and social media outreach as well and a fledgling website, calvertag.com, for consumers and growers to find resources for local food purchasing and production.
But the largest improvement may be Pettko’s position. There’s never been a person within county government dedicated to representing agriculture. Sometimes, local officials need to be reminded of what agriculture represents: industry.
“I think agriculture has been around for so long that sometimes even the public takes that for granted,” she said. “Most people nowadays don’t necessarily know where their food comes from.”
Looking ahead, the view for marketing in the county gets more ambitious. The county plans to offer more seminars and workshops for farmers and research additional outlets for their products, such as food hubs and additional markets. The county may also need to look at regulations related to agriculture. Regulations have been an issue across the state, sometimes making it difficult for value-added ag businesses to operate.
“Farmers are great at growing stuff, they’re great at growing animals, but their strong suit isn’t necessarily marketing in reaching out to the public to sell their products,” Pettko said. “So that’s the piece of getting the word out there to the public and letting them know we’ve got these meat producers, we’ve got these produce producers, watermen, you know. Go get your fresh, local items.”