Thanks to the folks at Eco Farm for inviting me to speak at the conference over the weekend. The talk generated a lot of lively discussion and it seemed like everyone left with at least a few new tips and confidence in their ability to drive their web marketing forward.
The powerpoint file and resource sheet are available for download below if you would like them:
One of the great pleasures of the trip was seeing Thomas Cameron and Billi Davis from Rancho Durazno. That is the farm I worked on for two years to help start their CSA program. I learned so much from both of them about farming and life, so it was great catching up and sharing the weekend with them.
Billi Davis, Simon Huntley, and Thomas Cameron
It was a pleasant surprise to meet the folks from Butte Mountain Organic Farm who have been members of Small Farm Central for a while. I got the following picture with a new member, Glen from Mother Flight Farm in Washington state.
Farmers united by Small Farm Central.
The rain cleared on Saturday for the drive back to San Francisco, so I took the coastal road. Maybe slower, but what a gorgeous drive past artichoke farms, fields hugging the ocean, and ragged beaches.
A coastal view between Monterey and San Francisco.
[The local food movement is meant] to encourage local food production, stop suburban sprawl and support traditions that are dying and entrepreneurs who are creating. Take it as far as you can. Don't bust a gut if you have to crack open a jar of imported capers. Think twice before eating the cherries from South America in the winter. Eat more tomatoes when the days are long and more greens and root vegetables in the winter.
This parrots almost exactly how I feel about local food. I eat from the local CSA, visit the farmer's market, and grow some food of my own, but I enjoy food, cooking, and life too much to worry about each morsel that enters my mouth.
In this sense, I can understand the backlash on local food. The loudest localvores are shouting and for them it is a symbol of status to find the rarest local cheese, the most obscure heirloom vegetable, or the most infantile baby greens. It comes off as little artificial and shouted a decibel too loud.
Maybe I am too passive in my support of local and sustainable, thinking that the obvious benefits of this mode of eating will gradually seep out to the general population. Perhaps the superlatives need to be shouted. We probably need the Michael Moores of the local food movement to move it forward.
The balance between action and dialog is difficult for me to find.
I do know that I will continue my own version of localvorism that includes a take-out pizza garnished with a home-canned pickle and washed down with the local brew.
How do you eat local?
Small Farm Central is taking a trip to Pacific Grove, CA for the Eco Farm conference at the end of this week (Jan. 23-26).
On Friday, I am giving a talk on web marketing for farms. This will not be a advertisement for Small Farm Central, just a general overview of how and why to get your farm online.
Here is the description listed in the program for the talk:
Tending Technology: How to Market your Farm with New Media
The Internet can be intimidating, confusing and time consuming, but a website can be an amazing asset to your farm. New media can save time, increase your visibility in the community, create paths for communication during the off-season, and encourage contact between farm customers. Learn quick and easy techniques for successful Internet marketing with email mailing lists, websites, e-commerce, and farm blogs. Find out how tending technology can take your farm to a new level.
Presenter: Simon Huntley, Small Farm Central, Pittsburgh, PA.
I will also have a table in the tradeshow, so be sure to stop by for a chat if you will be at the conference.
Seth Godin recently wrote a terse response to the question, "What did you do to improve your web marketing in 2007?"
"I showed up.Underrated, but important."
I was talking to Small Farm Central member last week who told me that the website exceeded expectations in the first six months of use, that customers love the site, and that he felt an increased connection to the customers. That isn't necessarily news, but the way he told me this surprised me. I got the impression that he was forced into a website by the powers that be, but now found himself on other end being quite pleased that he made the jump. Many farmers feel like they should have a website because it shows professionalism and they have heard it will help draw new customers, but it sounds like a drag on top of all the other tasks that are directly related to making a farm work.
I understand that constraint from first-hand experience and that is the reason I am bringing Small Farm Central to the community. Now it is simple and not intimidating to get your farm website started. Just choose a domain name (ie www.yourfarm.com) and within a day or two you can start writing your pages, uploading photos, and more. Do a little bit each week throughout the end of the winter and you will find yourself with a great site by the beginning of the season.
What can happen by the end of 2008 if you "show up" online? Maybe you will make sales with an e-commerce system, gain new customers through Google searches, create new alliances in the community, write a blog that will make you think about your farming enterprise in a different way or grow existing customer relationships. I can tell you that a little effort and a little patience goes a long way in web marketing.
SPIN-Farming™ Teams Up with Small Farm Central
PHILADELPHIA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--SPIN-Farming, (www.spinfarming.com) has teamed up with Small Farm Central (www.smallfarmcentral.com) to provide ready-to-go websites that connect farmers with customers quickly, easily and inexpensively.
“SPIN-Farming calls for cultivating customers as well as crops, and that calls for a professional-looking web site,” says Wally Satzewich, the developer of the SPIN-Farming system. “But most farmers would rather deal with buggy potato plants than buggy software. Small Farm Central frees farmers to be out working their plots instead of sitting behind a computer trying to program their web sites.”
The SPIN-branded web sites can include everything “soup to nuts”, from photo galleries to blogs to recipes to mailing lists, but farmers can start out simply and add features as they see the need. No technical experience is necessary to run their sites on Small Farm Central.
“SPIN-Farming is helping to eliminate the traditional hardships of farming and is redefining it as an entrepreneurially-driven profession,” says Roxanne Christensen, Co-author of the SPIN-Farming online learning series. “It is only natural to be working with Small Farm Central to eliminate the complexities of web site development and help farmers harness the power of technology for direct marketing. Plus, Small Farm Central is in a great position to know what is working for farmers online, and they generously offer free tips and advice at their site.”
“Whether they farm in the middle of an urban jungle, on the suburban fringe, or as part of a large acreage in the country, each SPIN farmer’s story is a powerful online marketing tool. We at Small Farm Central understand their stories, and help them tell it, engage with their customers, and sell more through professional, active websites that promote the farmer-eater connection,” says Simon Huntley, Lead Developer of Small Farm Central.
S-mall P-lot IN-tensive (SPIN) Farming is a non-technical, easy-to-understand-and inexpensive-to-implement farming system that makes it possible to generate $50,000+ in gross sales from a half-acre by growing common vegetables. It is organic-based and can be practiced on a single plot or multi-sited on several residential backyards or front lawns in urban or peri-urban areas. It is available via an online learning series at www.spinfarming.com.
ABOUT SMALL FARM CENTRAL
Small Farm Central provides inexpensive, professional web services to farmers across the country. An online control panel that farmers can access at any time takes the mystery out of farm websites and makes it a breeze to sell products, publish a blog, post photos, and more. Information about the Small Farm Central SPIN web service can be found at: http://smallfarmcentral.com/spin/welcome.
This part 2 of the Successful Farm Email Lists series.
Everyone who uses email has sent out a broadcast email to friends or family by separating each address with a comma or semi-colon. This might work for personal use, but as your list grows using the techniques described in part 1 of this series you need a more professional solution because you do not want to expose your email list to each member and your emails will be blocked as spam.
This is not something you can do on your own unless you are willing to dive into the minutia of web programming; I think for most farmers, farming is enough of a challenge! There are many providers who can help you move your email strategy to more professional realm.
Constant contact is one of the popular email marketing services for small businesses. For $15/month, the services allows you to market your farm to 500 email address or $30/month for up to 2,500 addresses; see more pricing information here. One very nice feature with this service is that it makes templates available that help you spruce up each email you send.
Newfarm.org published an article last year on one farmer's experience using PHPlist through their web host. This is an open-source software that you must install on your webserver if you are running your own website, though some hosts offer the service free. When you are deciding on a host for your farm website, ask them what extra software packages they offer with their hosting plans: PHPlist may be part of the deal. I have worked with PHPlist in the past and found the interface to be a bit confusing, but if you remember that this is free software and you are willing to put some time into learning the program it will work well for you.
Zookoda is a free service for blog writers to integrate emails into their marketing approach. The service summarizes the posts on your blog over a specified period of time and then sends a broadcast email to everyone that has opted in to your email list. I write often about farm blogging here at Small Farm Central and this could be a good way to integrate blogging with emailing for your less tech-savvy audience.
Small Farm Central includes a simple, but robust email sending system. Visitors sign up for your email list through your website and their address is added to your email database. The control panel allows you to compose your email using the rich text editor and send it to your entire list; the emails will look like they were sent directly from your email address to the recipient. This ensures that your list will not be exposed to each member. The Small Farm Central software takes your composed email and sends each one singularly to each recipient, something that would take hours to do manually! This service comes bundled with the basic Small Farm Central site.
Next time in the successful email list series, I will discuss how often to send emails, what to write in them, and how to integrate the emails with your website marketing strategy.
Photo by DTL
Seth Godin recommends that we start the year by running a Google search on ourselves.
How do you want your farm to be seen by customers who will idly search for you on the web? That search may come at a pivotal time in their local food life.
Let's say your small farm sells at farmer's markets. Picture a customer who has just started coming to the market and has bought food at different stands, but really likes your stand because you are friendly / organic / helpful / sustainable / tasty / attractive (pick one or more).
This customer is interested in your farm enough to remember the name, so they are sitting at work near the end of the day and they are considering a trip to the farmer's market that evening. They type your farm name into Google, not necessarily expecting anything to come back.
Do they find a professional, active website that explains the farm philosophy, encourages feedback, and gives the customer a view into the work that is done on the farm?
Does this fictional customer go to the farmer's market that evening? If so, what stand do they visit?
If you don't like what you see, plan what you are going to do about that in 2008. Start a blog, learn basic web design, or get a Small Farm Central site.
Photo by: asifthebes
A while ago, one Small Farm Central member wrote to me to say that views of her farm had ended up on a commercial because a video producer was able to find her farm through a quick Google search ("Macadamia nut farms in Maui").
A farmer wrote to me last week to tell me about a local, like-minded business that had been quietly digesting the farm blog. The business has ordered consulting services from the farm on how to start a rainwater-collection system on the strength of the blog, website, and of course the farmer.
You never know who is looking for you online and they can never find you if you do not have a website. Even if you feel like your website is in some damp, unloved corner of the web, someone out there is looking for you. This should not be the only reason to have a website because these stray connections often lead nowhere, like the sweet potato enthusiast who contacted me with detailed information about restaurants in his area that serve sweet potatoes. He wanted information about sweet potato festivals or conferences and I pointed him towards a few resources. This connection did not serve the interests of Small Farm Central, but sometimes these contacts will make sense for your business and you will be glad that your name and thoughts were out there for that person to find.
This is the serendipity factor.
Of course, a professional and up-to-date website with high visibility will garner more of these happenstance contacts.
Do you have any good stories of chance Internet encounters? Leave them below in comments.
You may also be interested in:
More patience and "growing" your small farm marketing
This a great pep talk from Joel Salatin on the value of creating relationships with customers. This comes from the December 2007 issue of Acres USA magazine.
...farmers should be building relationships with customers. It’s a crying shame that farmers by and large distrust their customers. Farmers are rightfully dubious about the intentions of the grain elevator, sale barn or large processor/buyer. Rather than building a customer relationship, however, farmers feel isolated from their buyers at best, and a healthy animosity at worst.
Alternative marketing offers an antidote for this buyer-seller divorce. Many relationship-oriented marketing schemes exist. From Community Supported Agriculture to farmers markets to Internet sales to farmgate sales, all of these venues and more provide opportunities for farmers to build relationships with their constituency.
The immediate feedback about product quality, product type and product quantity creates not only accountability but also immediate encouragement. How many farmers receive praise and accolades from their customers? I noticed this most poignantly when our children were small and customers would tell them what important work their family did. “We depend on you for our food,” they would say.
Do you know what that does for the self-image of a child? In a day when farm kids routinely receive redneck stereotyping from their peers — farming, after all, is not cool like Dilbert cubicles — for ours to receive constant positive reinforcement was worth more than any amount of money. We don’t farm because we’re too stupid to do anything else; we farm because we love it and want to heal the world, and all the people in it.
Honoring and respecting our customers is part and parcel of the farm business. Most farmers do not even envision themselves as part of the food chain. They just see themselves as producers of raw commodities. Period. End of story.
And that is unfortunate. It dishonors the most noble vocation on earth, and the ultimate stewardship of air, soil and water. Building customer relationships, although challenging at times, is critical to creating a farm that can sustain itself long term.
There we are: soil, plants, animals, people, community and customers. Building relationships is the calling, the sacred ministry, of good farmers. How we massage those relationships determines our success and the degree to which we heal all the elements within our sphere of influence.
Let’s go build some relationships.
You can find the full PDF here.
I especially like the idea of "immediate feedback about product quality, product type and product quantity." This farmer-to-eater relationship is probably the biggest estimator of quality. The stronger your relationship with the eater the more care you will put into the growing of food. What comprises would you make in growing food for your children versus food that goes into an airplane for a foreign country?
It is officially farming conference season; that time of year when farmers come together to forget about the struggles of the previous year and get excited about the possibilities for next season. So few of us Americans are farmers anymore that throughout most of the year when farmers are focused on their own corner of the world, communication is almost always with people outside of the agricultural community. Whether dealing with farm customers, phone support from the computer manufacturer, or a surly checkout person at the grocery store, there are few people to commiserate with that really understand the highs and lows of working a farm.
It is wonderful to watch the smiling faces of farmers at these conferences when they talk to friends and vendors. They can tell the stories of the year knowing, for once, that they do not have to explain all that background ("Yes, I am actually a farmer" "Well, food actually comes from a farm somewhere not the grocery store" "No really, I'm a farmer").
I am not working on a farm any more as these web projects seem to take enough of my time (see these soft hands?), but going to a conference like Acres USA is still a refreshing experience. It is gratifying to look prospective Small Farm Central members in the eye and tell them about the service and show them a demo. This product is for farmers who just want their web marketing to work and it is gratifying to remember that this is a big help in a farmer's life in finances, time-management, and professionalism. In whatever we do in life, it is important to look up and see the broader picture of the daily work. Going to a farming conference rejuvenates my drive for Small Farm Central just as much as farmers are renewed when they know that they are among equals.
A hearty welcome to the new faces who signed up during the conference and hopefully many more farmers I talked to will join over the next few months. Thanks also to Chris Deatrick who graciously hosted me while I was in Louisville. He corrected my pronunciation of the city's name and took me on a great tour of the city.
Photo by merfam