We hope you are having a productive high harvest season! It feels like things are turning just slightly towards Autumn, so it's time to start thinking about your 2012 CSA sign-up.
When possible, it is smart to capture your CSA customers commitment for 2012 while the taste of ripe tomatoes are still fresh in their mouths. It may be tempting to not think about CSA sign-up until February or March, but if you can get that deposit now you are in a much better position to retain more of your membership from year-to-year.
Member Assembler (our CSA membership management tool) has the concept of "seasons" so each time it is time to start a new sign-up period you will create a new "season" that holds all of the information for those shares. This archives older data (which you can access when needed), allows you to create new pickup locations, new prices, and allows returning members to sign up again.
For a full explanation on how to create seasons, go here: http://www.smallfarmcentral.com/memberassembler/help/creating-new-seasons
When do you start your sign-up process? If you wait until the Spring, what are the factors that stop you from starting sign-up a the end of summer?
You probably won't be surprised to learn that everyone at Small Farm Central gets a CSA share each week. Not only do we love to support our local farmers, but we all enjoy meeting the challenge of creating delicious meals that feature whatever seasonal treats might show up in our vegetable boxes.
Our new web developer, Mike Cuccaro, especially loves playing "Iron Chef" with his CSA box every week, where he tries to quickly use everything in his share and not much else in preparing his food for the week. He thinks it would be fun to stage an "Iron Chef" type of event where two or three chefs are given the same CSA box, with two hours to prepare a meal that features everything in it.
An event like this could be a great way to raise money for a local charity, while providing an innovative way for farmers to connect to their communities. Have you ever hosted any kind of food or cooking event on your farm? Tell us what you think!
The Small Farm Central team celebrated National Farmers Market Week (August 7-13) with a visit to one of Pittsburgh's largest and busiest places to buy locally grown food -- the East Liberty Farmers Market, managed by Pittsburgh Cityparks. You can meet some of the friendly local farmers by visiting the market's new Farming Faces site here:
We enjoyed having the opportunity to get to know some of our local farmers better, and use Farming Faces to extend western Pennsylvania's agricultural community beyond the marketplace.
Fine Family Apiary
Sand Hill Berries
Who Cooks for You Farm
We are excited to announce the latest tool in your farm marketing toolbelt; Farming Faces allows farmers markets (and other groups of farmers) to quickly create an online directory & map of their vendors and farmers.
Your site might look a little bit like this:
View this site in your browser: http://pittsburghpublic.farmingfaces.com
Forward this email on to your market manager!
While you are busy in the fields, with your markets, and supplying your CSA, we are working on some bigger projects including upgrading our email system, revamping the ecommerce functionality, and creating a whole new service called "Farming Faces".
Farming Faces serves groups of farmers such as farmers markets, cooperatives, and advocacy organizations enabling these organizations to develop a mini-site that maps their farmer members and keeps end-consumers up-to-date on what is happening on these farms through a news feed.
This is not a national directory of farms like LocalHarvest et al. This is a tool for individual markets and other groups of farmers to market and keep their customers informed.
Some key features:
In essence, we are creating a service that will keep customers highly engaged and informed without extra work for farmers. Also it's just plain fun to see a map of farmers in a particular market to understand foodshed. This is a powerful tool for markets and other farming groups!
Here is a rough screenshot of one of the test sites we are working on:
We've been working on this project for a while and plan to have a beta version out by early August. Let us know if you are a market or other group that wants a first shot at using the service!
Member types allow you to model your CSA and pricing structure with the Member Assembler. For example, a member type might be "2011 Egg Share" with the following options:
That last option "No, egg share" has been our recommended way to create an optional member type. An optional member type is a share that you are selling to your members that is not a requirement to join the CSA -- it is an add-on. We have gotten some feedback that having to select 'No, egg share' was not a preferred solution for our farmers and there is a need for optional member types.
We just made some changes that will allow this and if you go to edit your member types, you will now find an 'optional' checkbox.
We hope this change streamlines your sign-up process!
Does one of your customers have a remaining balance that you'd like to remind them about (and receive?!) It's easy to send payment requests through Member Assembler. Check out our new help doc for an easy how-to!
We hear from a lot of farmers who want to create original logos for their businesses, but aren't sure where to find a designer, or don't have a lot of money to spend on the design process. One of our Small Farm Central customers, Cat Run Ranch Flower Farm, found an easy and affordable solution with a company called 99Designs (www.99designs.com).
To start, you launch a design 'contest' where you provide a simple outline of what you need to have designed (i.e., a logo, poster, t-shirt, etc), and then multiple designers submit their ideas. You provide feedback on the designs so you can get a concept that you like, and then select the winning design. Once you award the contest winner, you will receive your final design and the copyright to the original work.
One of the best parts of this collaborative design service is that you get to decide how much you want to spend on your project. Basically, the more money you offer, the more designers compete in your contest and the more concepts you'll see – but if you aren't satisfied with any of the results, 99Designs offers a money back guarantee.
So if you are looking for affordable, risk-free graphic design work, 99Designs might be a good option for you. Check out their website and let us know what you think.
(This is the second of 5 principles of farm web marketing that I've developed over years of working with farmers. Read more about the principles here.)
You have a farm website! Great! Now what?
No existing or potential customers will ever find your site unless you tell them about it. Compelling content and beautiful design will only get you so far: you need visitors.
This is an on-going process, but some basic ideas include:
Try to get feedback on how new customers found you: this will give you encouragement that you are doing the right kinds of promotion or it will give you ideas of new avenues to explore.
Be creative and remember to be yourself while you do it!
We recommend carving a morning or afternoon out of your busy schedule as dedicated marketing time. Maybe it is Tuesday morning: write & send the newsletter, post to the blog, update the website, or create new relationships with people that may be able to connect folks to the farm. If time is not set aside, it will get consumed with the day-to-day work of farming. There will always be a semi-crisis on the farm and if those every day crises are allowed to distract from marketing, the long term investment of promoting the farm will never happen!
This is one of truths of web marketing and probably any kind of marketing: promotion is not a mad dash to the finish line. It is a long-term habit that you cultivate -- the benefits will accrue over time and, if you do it effectively and consistently, one day everyone will know about your farm!
Read all 5 principles of farm web marketing
Based on the needs of one our customers, we have added a new reporting option to our ecommerce tool. We call it a 'check-off report' because it is a concise report to print out and have at your stand for CSA extra product orders or farmers market pre-orders.
This type of report will be most beneficial in situations where there are a fairly limited amount of items being sold. If many, many items are being sold each week, the number of columns could get a bit unwieldy.
The check-off report will look a bit like this:
It's high time for markets and CSAs, so if you would like to step up your ordering and reduce administrative time: consider our ecommerce tools for online ordering. We'll make it easy, just get in touch!