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Penn State Greater Allegheny business students present analysis to reality TV farmer

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 4:21 a.m.
submitted photo
Joe King from the reality TV show 'Farm Kings,' right, speaks with with Penn State Greater Allegheny associate professor Michelle Hough and business science program students James Hiles.

Nobody ever said farm life is easy. It's commonly associated with long days of hard labor and a profit margin tied to the whims of Mother Nature and fickle consumers.

The reality TV show “Farm Kings,” which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on the Great American Country network, offers viewers some insight into the challenges of running such an enterprise through its examination of Freedom Farms, a family-run business in Butler.

Business science students at Penn State Greater Allegheny are avid watchers of the show but their knowledge of the farm in question extends far beyond that of the casual viewer. For the past semester, the business program's graduating seniors have been conducting a detailed business analysis on Freedom Farms.

On Tuesday, Joe King, who runs the farm and its associated markets with his nine younger siblings, visited the campus to learn about the students' findings.

“You're wearing nice shirts,” King joked to the 14 students who greeted him wearing T-shirts promoting his farm with pro-agriculture slogans.

King, 29, was impressed with the scope of the report prepared by the class.

“Sixty-five pages?” he said, thumbing through the booklet.

Instructor Michelle Hough nodded and said, “That's single spaced.”

The report includes graphs, charts and maps related to the structure of the business, its finances and areas for potential growth.

Student presenter Steven Pro said he and his classmates focused on increasing sales and marketing. Inventory bar codes and customer loyalty cards were among the items considered in the report.

“This is modern retail,” said Pro, who noted farming is not an enterprise he'll likely go into after graduation. “It's a tough business.”

The marketing potential of the “Farm Kings” program was discussed. Students noted that with a potential audience of 59 million viewers, it lagged behind other popular reality shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “19 Kids and Counting,” and the Pittsburgh-based “Dance Moms,” all of which have about 40 million more viewers.

King talked about his experience with the show. He said he pitched and sold the idea to Stage 3 Productions because he believed the idea would succeed.

“It's huge for marketing,” said King, but added direct financial income from the show isn't as great as it might appear on paper when considering the interruptions it creates. He said the first season took 50 days to shoot. Production for the second season began in February and runs through July with crews visiting the farm every other week.

“We're trying to get our story out there,” said King. While viewers who tune in won't see the “reality” of farm life in the strictest sense, they will get an idea of what goes into running such a business.

“This is stuff we actually do all the time,” he said.

King hopes to open a one-stop shopping outlet for all the farm's products, including produce, baked goods and café items next spring. He said the students' report would helpful in planning future business strategy.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or