Update #2 Yugma is not the platform for us, since it is not possible to share voice through the Internet -- they wanted us to call through a regular phone line to voice chat. Strange. I'll look around for another software package and we'll try again next week. Send a message if you would like updates about future web conferences.
Updated, Wednesday 3/18 12:30pm EST: Click the following link to access the conference after you have downloaded the software: https://www.yugma.com/app/loading.php?user=&role=0&collsession=307729831
After last week's post, I heard back from a number of people that thought a weekly open forum for farm web topics would be a useful.
So, let's do the first one this week.
1pm EST, Wednesday March 18th 2009
Physically, anywhere. Digitally, the Yugma conference network
Download the Software
If you are waiting for Obama's rural broadband stimulus, you may want to sit these meetings out for now. I think it will require a higher speed connection. We can explore the possibility of "calling in" via a normal phone next week.
We will be using Yugma, which requires a download. Visit https://www.yugma.com/download/allproducts-jvm.php and choose the product that suits your operating system. This was about a 34 MB download, so it does take some time to download and install. You may want to do this ahead of time.
Email if Interested
If you are interested in this web meeting, please email me a quick note with your interest and email address. I will send you an invite about half an hour before the meeting starts with an invite link and we'll go from there.
Bring questions, your ideas, and a critical eye for other farm websites and marketing plans. Let's see how this develops!
Hearing some of the great questions during the Web Session that I helped give at the Organicology conference gave me the idea of setting up a weekly web meeting/conference on web marketing issues for farmers.
There is a lot of interest in how the web can be used for farm marketing and communication between farms, but there are so many tools and the web is a confusing place.
There is low-cost software that we can use to stream video and voice to many participants right through your friendly web browser. We can talk about anything you like at the intersection of the web and farms:
Talk among yourselves, ask me questions, or we'll look at your website and give you suggestions. This should not necessarily focus on Small Farm Central (there a lot of tools out there) nor does it have to be directed by me. I would just like to provide a forum for discussion where web marketing concerns agriculture.
So I am thinking about scheduling an hour a week to talk on a regular basis - stop by once to chat about a specific issue or put it on your weekly calendar. No cost, just communication.
Is this something you would be interested in? Please leave your thoughts in comments. Hopefully there is enough interest to make it worth starting up something like this!
The design team really look it up a notch -- you'll definitely be proud to show off your farm with this new template. We plan to have a new template out every 4-6 weeks throughout the Spring and early Summer until we have 6-8 premium templates.
Contact us for information on how to get started with this premium template.
Most farmers I talk to are already convinced that the web is an important part of their marketing. This is part self-selection (staunch Luddite farmers will just ignore me) and part osmosis from hearing about the importantance of the web at farming conferences and from other farmers.
I can think of three reasons why the web is important to farmers as a marketing tool. Perhaps you can think of others? Leave them in comments.
Though the web is a perfect medium for marketing a farm, it is not in any way automatic. A good website takes time and energy and the results will not be paid back in a few weeks or months -- it will likely take years of consistent effort to build a good readership on a farm website. In this way, it is no different than building soil, refining herd genetics, or reducing weed load. It may take only a few seconds to send an email, but don't let that fool you: web marketing is as slow as anything else you do for your farm or your business.
Good luck with your farm website this Spring. We are seeing lots of new sign-ups and farmers with existing sites are excited about energizing their web presence.
Can you think of any other reasons to add to three above? Leave them in comments.
Our design team has been busy working on new templates for Small Farm Central. These templates will be designated as "premium" meaning they will have more distinctive designs and will be limited in distribution, so only a set number of farms can claim each template.
Here is a mockup of the first template:
Each premium template will still have the customization options to make it look like your own. Don't think only goat farms can use this template!
We hope to have the first premium template out by the middle of March and then a new template every 4-6 weeks throughout the summer.
That's a lot of new looks for your farm website!
What do you think of this first premium template?
On my way back to Pittsburgh from Chattanooga, I stopped in on a Small Farm Central farm, Broadened Horizons Organic Farm, in Rockwood, Tennessee. I have gotten to know Leaf and Cielo quite well since they started a website with us.
Leaf and Cielo run this small farm with the ideal of teaching their rural corner of Tennessee how to live more sustainably from rain-water collection to solar cooking to less obvious steps, such as using a gas range instead of electric for cooking. Over the last five years the farm has blossomed into a community resource of not just eggs, honey, and summer veggies, but also of learning. The workshops Leaf puts on are becoming increasingly popular.
With the state of the macro-economy, Leaf expects an markedly increased attendance to his organic gardening workshops this Spring. The goal of this farm is not to produce all the food for the community, but to help the community produce for itself. I know this is a tough row to hoe and it is not an ideal that many more production-oriented farms have, but it is a very worthy goal.
Leaf keeps a meticulous website that records monthly rainwater totals, an extensive weekly blog, and much more. Cielo is the farm photographer and keeps the photo gallery well stocked. She also creates beautiful farm-inspired postcards and has them for order at the website. They credit their work on the website to their on-going "mind-share" growth in their local community. I think it has given them a voice, a way to talk about their farm, and a confidence in their mission at that same time as they have reached out to their customers.
Leaf writes, "The website has been a successful outreach tool beyond what I had imagined it could do. A lot of the ideas we are presenting to the community are fresh, bold and innovative. Living in a rural area where people are socially reserved, the website gives people an opportunity to initially check us out from a safe and discreet distance. We have been pleasantly surprised and quite gratified by the numbers of people viewing our website content and then spreading the word by posting links to our site."
This is a great farm website and a perfect example of how these techniques work in the long term rather than the short term. Their website has been up and consistently updated for almost two years and now they are really starting to see the long-term impacts of increased readership and awareness. This is not something that happened magically or overnight for Leaf and Cielo.
I enjoy watching their farm vision grow and I think they have enjoyed watching Small Farm Central grow along with them.
Photos in farm blogs and websites are very important in making that visual connection to your customers. Your visitors skim text that finely worded web-prose you wrote; photos help break text up into more manageable and memorable chunks. This is a concept that most farmers I work with understand already.
The next step is taking engaging photos. I think a big part of the trick is simply having a camera around during photo worthy moments. I have suggested some strategies in the past such as:
All of these are still valid, but one farmer I was talking to a few weeks ago suggested using the cell phone as the camera of choice for farm photography. City folk think farmers are behind-the-times as far as technology is concerned, but most farmers I know are constantly on their cell phones even if it is to "holler" down to the other end of the field.
So, if you have a cell-phone in the field, you probably also have a camera. The photos that all semi-modern cell phones take are suitable quality for the web. The barrier here may be getting the photo from your cell phone to your computer, but I am sure a quick look at help files or a Google search will help you with that problem.
So, now that you have a camera with you everywhere you go, what kind of photos will you take and what story will those photos tell on your farm website?
But don't get too tied to your cell phone or you might end up like this poor soul:
When I was helping run a farm, I had a half-serious remark about finding new employees: "Two hands? You're hired."
That may be true at the height of harvest, but I am sure we would rather find people that have skills beyond physical dexterity. Other qualities, like genuine interest in farming and critical thinking skills go a long way toward making a more fun and productive farm.
So why not use the Internet to attract the most qualified and hard-working employees? The more resumes and interest you can generate will create a wider pool of people to choose from. Then you should be able to find the perfect fit for the position and the farm.
I would add "prospective employees" to the types of people you are trying to "market" to on your website. There is competition for the best farm workers, so you should put your best foot forward. Great photos and engaging content will not only bring new customers, but will also impress the best applicants.
Creating a specific page on your site to market your farm to potential employees is a first step. I like this one from Village Acres Farm because it is descriptive but also uses photos to great effect.
Now, how do employees find this page? There are several listing services for these types of employees. These are mainly for "internship" track type of workers who are coming to work and learn from anywhere in the country.
You will create a profile on these sites with your farm information and a description of the type of person you need. When you are asked for a link to your website, make sure you link directly to your employment page on your site instead of the front page. This will make sure the prospective employee gets the information right away instead of having to wade through the rest of your site first.
Another upside to creating these profiles is that it is another link to your website which helps out with Search Engine Optimization.
Congratulations - it's a great time to be in local food, despite the rapid deterioration of the rest of the economy.
I've heard this sentiment whispered, but one of Pittsburgh's prominent organic farmers, Don Kretschmann, shouts "We're Booming" with a column in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"The local food business is thriving -- despite the "real economy."
Demand for locally produced food is far outstripping supply. In my 30 years farming and marketing locally, this was our best year ever. More telling is that there has been no big "bubble" but just steady growth over that entire time. And throughout this fall there was a steady drumbeat -- like never before -- from those wishing to buy our local produce next season. I hear from other farmers around the state and other regions the very same thing.
What is making it thrive are some really fundamental factors and certainly these would lead one to think it isn't some flash-in-the-pan phenomenon but a truly sustainable movement.
This is exactly what I am hearing from farmers across the country as well.
It is time to tell your story even louder. Food lies at the center of health, environment, economy and energy; that is a great place to be right now. Food is impossible to ignore and the "main stream" is starting to recognize that.
Despite the macroeconomy, I suspect this year and many to come will be good to farmers producing authentic food.
Small Farm Central's "Member Assembler" integrates online CSA member sign-up, payment processing, and member management tools to create a package that will save CSAs numerous Spring hours, ease the sign-up process for members, and reduce data-entry errors.
We Love CSAs
I love the Community Supported Agriculture concept. It is a win-win situation for the eater and the producer and the relationships it creates are what will sustain the small farm in the long-term.
I have helped build a CSA: marketing, seed ordering, greenhouse seeding, member spreadsheets, lost checks, planting, weeding, and harvest. I know how difficult and rewarding the CSA model is from a producer's standpoint and member's point of view; I have done both. That's why we developed this management platform that solves some of the fundamental problems of managing members in CSA-type programs.
How it Works
Farmers configure the Member Assembler to model their CSA through an online control panel that does not require technical skill. Easily program pickup locations, custom forms, multiple member types, and checkout procedure. A detailed "get started" document guides this process.
Members come to a publicly accessible URL (such as www.yourfarm.com) and submit their information and options. The system easily hooks up to a credit card processor (or farmers have the option of no online payment processing), records payments, and tracks balances.
Other tools like printable pick-up lists, downloadable excel spreadsheets of member data, weekly reminder emails to users, payment requests and mailing lists are also integrated into this package.
This system can be used in conjunction with a full Small Farm Central website or as a stand-alone tool.
Try it for yourself! A sample sign-up form is available at:
30-day Free Trial
If this seems like something your farm would be interested in, make sure that it will work for you by requesting a 30-day free trial. This is a fully functional Member Assembler site that you can configure and start accepting sign ups. If you find that it fits your needs, you can easily transfer this trial to a full Member Assembler subscription.
Request the trial here:
You may also be interested in...
How Does it Work?
Full Information is available at:
Small Farm Central, Lead Developer