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:
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How Does it Work?
Full Information is available at:
Small Farm Central, Lead Developer
Another organization that is working hard to help farmers market themselves on the web is the Eat Well Guide.
They recently released a publication highlighting how farmers and farm organizations can use the web to market themselves and their products.
They cover basic topics like getting listed in the Eat Well Guide, email marketing, and WWOOF. Then there are advanced topics, which I personally don't suggest for the average farmer like social networks, viral video, and Flickr. This is an interesting guide with good design, illuminating profile quotes, and informative articles. I suggest taking a look.
They even quoted me in the section entitled "From Barns to Bandwidth: Farmers on the Web."
It's almost time for the holidays and 2009 - you aren't paying attention to this blog are you? So, I think this marks the end of 2008 for the Small Farm Central blog, unless something interesting comes up.
We have the Member Assembler pretty well wrapped up. We are now working on good help documentation and doing lots of testing. Look for a blog post on 1/2/2009 with information on how to sign up for your 30-day free trial.
Keep up to date with the blog by signing up for email updates.
For that special bean eater in your life, the "Desert Island Sampler" includes the Pebble Bean, Yellow Eye Bean, Midnight Black Beans, Christmas Lima Beans, and the Vaquero Bean.
If that special bean eater in my life reads this, they may just be getting a preview of Christmas day!
But seriously, Steve Sando at Rancho Gordo does a great job with his dried, heirloom beans and online ordering. Attractive website, plenty of information, easy ordering, blog and integration with email marketing.
Hey, it sold me. He is a great example of doing it right and someone to look to as you create your online marketing plan.
We are busy finishing the development of a new Small Farm Central extension that aims to streamline the CSA (or other farm membership program) sign-up and the member management process.
It is called "The Member Assembler" and can be used in conjunction with a SFC website or as a stand-alone module.
After an easy set-up, customers will come to your website to complete the sign-up process. This relieves you of: developing a CSA application form, stuffing envelopes, mailing it to prospective members, retrieving the mail, entering the data into a spreadsheet, processing the checks, and etc.
Some "Member Assembler" Features:
The service will be ready on January 2nd, 2009 and we will have a 30-day free trial for everyone interested in using it.
We are busy developing, tweaking, and testing to get this ready for your 2009 CSA signups. I think you will find a little technology can save you many office hours this Spring and will help you keep up on the field work.
Give us feedback so we can make sure the service will work for your CSA and read more at:
"...whether you're cooking or not is one of the best predictors for a healthy diet. It's more important than the class predictor. People with more money generally have healthier diets, but affluent people who don't cook are not as healthy in their eating as poor people who still cook. So, very, very important. If you don't have pots and pans, get them."
-Michael Pollan on Bill Moyers Journal, 11/28/2008
This is a great point from one of the leading voices in the local food movement and made me think more about the intersection of cooking, farming, and health. Click the link above for the full interview. Thanks, Art, for tipping me off to the interview.
Food from local farmers does not go into the freezer cases or microwave dinners, so an important piece of this puzzle is to find out how to get Americans back into the kitchen with raw ingredients.
With a little confidence and a sense of adventure, cooking at home is easy and inexpensive.
How do we get people back into the kitchen?
I hope your farming season is winding down slowly and that you can breath again after a long season. I see more farmers logging into their Small Farm Central sites and making updates as evidence of that fact.
I would like to say thanks for your support of Small Farm Central, the stories that I hear every day about farms around the country, and the friendships I have made with members. It truly is a pleasure to work with such pleasant folks who are working to invigorate local agriculture. Making it happen at the "ground" level is the real work that needs to be done.
As one Small Farm Central member wrote this week, "have a bountiful Thanksgiving – in my estimation the best of all holidays for farmer folks."
I hope you have a chance to slow down and enjoy food, family, and friends this week.
[Photo by ansik]
A few weeks ago we discussed how many connections you can make through your farm website. Today, let's talk about the safest way to get that email from the customer to you. Each Small Farm Central site comes with a contact form like this. It is your basic contact form: subject, name, sender's email, and email text -- the customer clicks submit and the email is sent off to your email address. You have likely seen contact forms like this a hundred times before. There is a reason they exist -- the other option is not optimal. The alternative method is to make your email address a link. When the customer clicks on the address and a new email message is opened on their computer with your email address pre-populated. This second method is a shaky solution for two reasons:
(What the heck is a CSA?)
A lot of farm photography is fairly easy for the amateur: taking photos of cute young goats, the tractor tilling, or picking peaches. These are situations that are rife with photo opportunities and many Small Farm Central farmers are great photographers (1, 2, 3).
One area that is lacking is the CSA box: I have not seen a photo that fully evokes the freshness and culinary possibilities of a CSA share. It seems like an important photograph to take because the customer is asked to outlay $300-500 at one time for a product that has not even been planted. A photograph that makes the food look vital and irresistible would be a great final motivator.
Too many of these CSA box photos have bad light or just show the food sitting in a box or a bag. They are not compelling.
Well, this week, I saw a great CSA share photo from Village Acres Farm:
Mm! I can almost smell those onions sauteing and winter stew bubbling!
Can you do better? Send them over and I will post competing entries in comments.
Some ideas to chew on..Working with many farmers with many different website goals, I have come up with a few general principles for farm websites. These have been covered in many other articles in more depth, but I hope it is useful to have them in one place. Update Often / Make it Easy A successful website grows slowly over time and gives return visitors something new to read so they will keep coming back and stay excited about new developments on the farm (surprisingly enough, customers are interested in details like chicken tractors and disease control). Farmers are busy people, so the only way to keep a farm website fresh throughout the year is to make it easy to update, create new pages, or post a blog entry. The best way to do this is to have your website built with a Content Management System (CMS) like Small Farm Central, Drupal, Wordpress, or any other system that makes sense. Aesthetics A farm website should be simple and elegant without using unnecessarily flashy elements. There is so much beauty on each farm: capture a bit of the farm with a representative photograph, put it in the header, add a clean navigation structure, and you have a great farm website. Commerce E-commerce can be a powerful addition to a farm website from pre-selling goods at farmers markets to selling to chefs to marketing items that will ship across the country, but farmers need to be comfortable with the process themselves and give it time to work. Customers will not just come out of the blue to order on your website: you need to advertise, tell your local customers, write a regular mailing list, and any other strategy that is available. It is a powerful tool, but not a free ride to extra sales. Content Use photographs liberally to illustrate points; take time to write about the passion that keeps you farming year after year; make sure visitors know what is currently available and where they can buy your products; and remember that customers are interested in the details that it takes to grow the food because it keeps them connected. These details are something they cannot get from any other source. Contact Make it easy for customers to contact the farm through the website - a link that is clearly labeled "contact" on each page of your site is a good goal. Blogging A farm blog can be a powerful way to communicate with customers because it encourages interaction through comments, keeps the site fresh, and is a good place to tell the farm story over the course of a season. It can be very easy: try posting a photo of farm work with a few explanatory sentences. Take note: either do it right or don't do it at all. A stale blog is detrimental to your goals and is much worse than not having one at all. The time investment will only pay off over time; think years instead of months, so a long term view is needed to successfully use the farm blog. Community Connections Getting listed on local food internet directories is important for a few reasons:
Email Mailing List
Have one; allow prospective customers to sign up for the list on your website.
Small Farm Central starts the traveling web services roadshow this weekend at the Carolina Farm Stewardardship Association's Annual Conference in Anderson, SC.
The conferences are a great way to get energized about sustainable agriculture for me and the attendees - farmers are such a passionate group and the energy is always infectious. We've done a lot of work to improve the booth this year, so if you saw the table last year, I hope you will come back and check us out again!
Here is the tentative conference schedule for Fall 2008 - Spring 2009:
Oct. 31st - Nov. 2nd: Carolina Farm Stewardardship Association's Annual Conference in Anderson, SC
November 6th - 8th: Southeast Strawberry Expo in Charlotte, NC
December 4th - 6th: Acres USA Annual Conference in Saint Louis, MO
December 9th - 11th: Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids, MI
January 8th - 11th: Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference in Savannah, GA
January 14th - 16th: Mid-Atlantic Direct Marketing Conference in Atlantic City, NJ
January 21st - 24th: Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's Annual Conference in Chattanooga, TN
February 5th - 7th: Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture's Annual Conference in State College, PA
February 11th - 12th: Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Syracuse, NY
February 21st - 22nd: Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association in Granville, OH
February 27th - 28th: Oregon Tilth's Annual Conference in Portland, OR
If you will be at any of these conferences, come say hello