Building a Food Movement, One Vine at a Time
At first glance, you wouldn’t cast Janie Burns and Susan Medlin as hell-raising radicals bent on disrupting a market. But that’s exactly what the leaders of the Tomato Independence Project are doing with a little startup of theirs.
Rebels Get Under Your Skin—And Dirt Under Your Nails
Now, we like to get a little dirt underneath our fingernails at Oliver Russell, and we’ve got a history of supporting underdogs and seeking social justice.
When Janie and Susan came into our office, we immediately fell in love with them. They were lively, passionate, smart—and a little bit feisty.
It was a perfect fit.
Rough It Up Just a Little
Tomato Independence project logoWe started with the identity. We wanted to breathe life into something that was simple and approachable, but a little rough, with a grungy flavor—something with attitude that definitely grew from the vine of homemade independence. The logo we created uses the familiar shape of the tomato with distressed type to bring home the idea.
Next, it was time for a rallying cry. The visual image was paired with a one-line manifesto whose distressed type boldly proclaims, “Ending the Tyranny of Tasteless Tomatoes.”
Now who among us who have tortured our taste buds with a winter ‘mater can’t identify with that?
The Ladies Deserve More than a Logo
Tomato shirt & postersJanie and Susan came to us that day asking for a logo to serve as a visual icon for their effort.
We gave them a brand that launched a grassroots movement.
Their brainchild, the Tomato Independence Project, is an initiative of the Treasure Valley Food Coalition, a nonprofit organized to support local farmers and promote a vibrant local food economy. This homegrown endeavor encourages everyday people to grow and eat fresh, locally grown, delicious tomatoes rather than purchase tasteless, industrial tomatoes.
Janie, Susan, and their small, tightknit, tomato-loving posse are generally pretty easygoing people. But when it comes to tomatoes, they become totally agro agrarians railing against the industrial machine.
“It’s a little bit like eating cardboard that’s been soaked in water for two or three days,” says Susan.
“We want people to think about the fact that there is an alternative. Support your local farmers during the months of the year tomatoes are in season. Grow your own and support restaurants that buy tomatoes locally,” says Janie.
No doubt, they had the heart and commitment. What these dissidents needed was a spirited brand identity with incendiary messaging. Then they needed help lighting a fuse to set the movement into motion.
Sounds Like a Great T-Shirt, Right?
Woman holding tomatoesA grassroots effort typically means a grassroots budget—a lot of sweat and smarts fueling the effort—and this was no different.
We started with a T-shirt. This accomplished two things—turned people into walking evangelists and created the opportunity for the project to create revenue.
Stickers and yard signs were created, and t-shirts were sold at Farmer’s Markets and health food co-ops and natural food stores. To provide overall support, a promotional effort began via public relations and social media. We also created an e-commerce site to sell the t-shirts under the banner of “Eat it or Wear it.” We also integrated a fundraising component that raised donations through innovative video storytelling software.
Tomato Love Transcends All
Turns out, people everywhere love tomatoes. They love farmers. They love their hometowns.
There’s a lot of energy to be harvested here, which may be why the campaign succeeded in raising a rather seedy ruckus that, thanks to the t-shirt design and PR effort, went well beyond the Treasure Valley. The outreach effort generated numerous inquires from around the country asking how to spread the cause in their areas, and it turned the heads of a couple of very well known tomato heads.
It grabbed the attention of Barry Estabrook, author of the acclaimed book “Tomatoland,” a scathing portrayal of the industrial tomato industry. He made a special trip to visit our rebels and had this to say on his highly trafficked blog:
“…until I met the dedicated crew at the Treasure Valley Food Coalition in Boise, Idaho, in September, I never realized that that the simple act of tending a few tomatoes in your backyard or on your balcony might also be the best way to break agribusiness’s stranglehold on our food system,” he said.
“And, if you’re looking for the perfect gift for that hard-to-please tomato geek on your list, what could be better than a Tomato Independence t-shirt? Proceeds go to a great cause. And as the owner of one myself, I assure you it will be worn proudly. It’s also quite slimming.”
It also caught the eye of acclaimed food journalist and sustainable agriculture luminary, Ruth Reichl.
Reichl, former editor-in-chief for Gourmet magazine, restaurant critic for the New York Times, and co-producer of PBS’s “Gourmet Diary of a Foodie,” liked the rebellious design and manifesto so well, she included the t-shirt in the “Things I Love” feature on her popular website’s 2013 Holiday Gift-Giving Guide.
Harvesting Social Media
TIP Facebook pageThe grassroots nature of the campaign, with little financial resources, necessitated a big social push. We concentrated our t-shirt campaign over a two-week period to promote this delicious product and created the following social results over 14 days.
Facebook “likes” increased nearly 10%
Post reach increased from an average of 7 viewers per post to 95 viewers/post (organic) and 2,055 viewers/post (paid and organic)
Page visits jumped 1,000%
Preserving the Movement
This summer, Cherokee Purples, Mortgage Lifters, and other heirloom tomatoes will be planted and enjoyed. More t-shirts will be sold, and new people will be converted to the cause. This year the educational focus will shift toward tomato preservation.
“We all know it’s not possible to enjoy local, fresh produce in midwinter, but it is possible to open a jar of summer sunshine to give us a taste of what’s to come,” says Amy Hutchinson, Treasure Valley Food Coalition board member.