Whether you start your season in March or May, it seems that our North American farmers have passed the halfway point in their growing season. As August marks the last summer month, many farmers are setting their sights on the Fall harvest and the holiday season that follows. It is still a busy time, and we know not many of our farmer friends are thinking about how to improve their websites as they pack CSA boxes and pick tomatoes for market...but they should!
Us folks here at Small Farm Central love our farmers as much as we love the websites we help them build, and so consider it our job to remind you not to neglect your most important marketing tool when your focus has shifted from promotion to production. Here are a few easy ways to make sure your website stays just as fresh as your crops:
Summer is a great time to take photos of your farm. The days are bright, everything is green & growing and there is plenty of work being done! Getting into the habit of regularly taking photos will make adding new content to your website easy. Now with cell phones getting better and better, you might already be carrying a camera in your pocket. Take it out once a day to snap a picture and soon you will have a showcase of images to show your customers what you've been up to.
Most Small Farm Central websites are equipped with a blog feature that makes it easy for you to post updates about your farm right on your website. Don't be scared of the word "blog", you can spend as much or as little time writing your posts as you want. Even simply displaying your newest farm photo with a short caption is enough to get people to visit your site and see what's new. If you don't have a blog, send out an email once a month with updates, photos, and a link to you website so your customers can see even more news.
More and more people are interested in visiting where their food comes from and taking part in on-farm activities. In the U.S., agritourism is a growing niche of the tourism industry and includes farm stays, you-pick operations, and everything in between. While some of the more advanced ventures will require the appropriate permits, insurance coverage, and other legal procedures, there are also simple things that you can do. For example, you can host farm tours, educational classes, volunteer days and customer/member appreciation events. Here is a great Farm Tour Guide from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board about giving farm tours, which can be adapted to any kind of farm, dairy or otherwise.
The relationship between farmers and the people they feed creates a unique and strong bond. Take the time to cultivate that relationship and you will have loyal customers who will be your farm's biggest fans, which is the best marketing tool there is!
There are many of us who celebrate Farmers Markets on a weekly basis, eagerly gathering our tote bags, making lists, and checking farmers' websites to learn about what we can expect to find. The weekly market that is within walking distance of the Small Farm Central office makes me excited for Monday to arrive, even as my weekend is ending. Next week from August 4th through the 10th the rest of the country can officially share in my weekly excitement by celebrating National Farmers Market Week.
It is important for us market patrons to take next week to recognize the value of local markets in our communities and promote them to our neighbors. It is also important for farmers to take part in the celebration. For most small farmers, the market is the most natural way to meet and interact directly with customers, which strengthens the bond between producers and consumers. Promoting your local market means promoting your business.
It's easy to find great online resources that make it simple for people to find out where, when, and how they can get their hands on fresh goods at farmers markets, which is probably why the number of markets in the U.S. has been steadily growing since 1994. Check it out!
The USDA has been collecting information about farmers markets for almost 20 years now and every year they use that information to populate the USDA National Farmers Market Directory. The directory is one of the USDA's most popular consumer search engines, receiving close to 2 million page views every day.
Back in May, the USDA released a Farmers Market Directory API or Application Programming Interface, which gives app (short for application) programmers and developers access to the USDA's database of farmers' market information. Apps like U.S. Farmers Market Finder, have already been developed for smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices and are using the API to provide market information to its users.
There are many ways that Farmers Markets become established. Some are born out of a need from the community and others can boast that they were the beginning of the community itself. Additionally, no two markets are the same and some are lucky to have an structured organization to support them. Thankfully, for those that don't, there are people who can help. Here are some of them:
The American Farmland Trust is another organization that wants to see markets thrive. All summer long they are running the "I Love My Farmers Market Campaign" which encourages consumers to make a pledge to spend a certain amount of money at their local market and entering that amount into the website each week. Markets with the most pledges will be recognized with an award and entering pledges gets market-goers a free "No Farms, No Food" bumper sticker. Market managers can request a free media kit filled with goodies to help promote the campaign and their market.
If you are looking for support that's more local, here are a few links to organizations that are listed by state, so you can find the one closest to you:
Networking Association for Farm Direct Marketing and Agritourism - http://www.nafdma.com/Resources/Groups/
Farmers Market Coalition - http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/state-associations
Welcome to the fourth edition of the We Love Our Farmers photo series! We love seeing what's happening on the farm! In this edition, we feature the silly goats from Hidden Springs Farm.
"It's kidding season at Hidden Springs Farm and that means baby goats everywhere. These little ladies are trying to figure out how to take the UTV for a spin."
The folks over at The Land Connection (www.thelandconnection.com), are battling an unsettling statistic: 95% of the food that Illinoisans eat is not grown in Illinois. To change this fact, they are fighting on all fronts including land preservation, farmer education and community empowerment. Some of their programming includes the matching of beginning farmers with experienced farmers and farmland through The Midwest Connection, running a year long training program about entrepreneurial farming called Central Illinois Farm Beginnings, and educating consumers about how: "Shopping locally is good for your taste buds, your health, the health of rural communities, and of soil, air, and water."
It's great to have organizations like The Land Connection to support local farmers, who are fighting similar statistics across the country. Even though The Land Connection is based in the Midwest, it is a valuable resource for farmers everywhere. Check out the "Resources" section of their website for important information, links to other helpful websites, and their Farm Fresh Now! weekly vegetable series. Small Farm Central was especially impressed with the Local Food Time Ticker infographic that they created. This smartly designed graphic shows consumers what happens to the nutritional value of food as it travels, includes a chart of seasonal produce and analyzes the distribution of your food dollars.
An infographic is a great way to visually present information to your customers and makes your website or presentations more interesting and engaging. They are also an easy way to share information over social media platforms and in emails. Which is why it is so easy for The Land Connection to share it with you! Help them spread this information on your site, facebook page, or in your e-newsletter. Simply click here to open the graphic as an image file. Then, right click on it to save it to your computer for posting and sharing wherever you like. Additionally, here are some easy instructions on how make it into a widget on your Small Farm Central website:
1. Open this link: Local Food Time Ticker in a new browser tab/window.
2. Right click on the image of the infographic and choose an option to save it to your computer.
3. Log into your Control Panel and navigate to Create Content > Gallery > Upload Photo
4. Upload the infographic to your gallery
5. Navigate to Display > Widgets > Create Custom
6. Title your widget and insert the infographic into the text editor (you may have to play with the sizing based on your website
7. Choose which pages to display the widget using the "Narrow to" field.
8. Click "Submit Changes" and you're done!
For more instructions about creating a custom widget or adding a photo in the rich text editor, read these articles from the Knowledge Base: Using and Creating Custom Widgets & Using the Rich Text Editor. As always, we are here to help, so contact us at email@example.com or call 412-567-3864 and we can walk you through these steps.
Selling goods online is a great way to increase your farm's sales even if you don't want to ship your items far and wide. Contrary to what you may think, most farms are not selling items online that they send through the mail. Rather, they are using the technology to reach out to their CSA members and local customers to allow them to pre-order items from the farm and pick them up at their farm stand, weekly market, or even add them directly to their CSA share. While Small Farm Central's E-commerce tools can handle traditional online sales with shipping, they also work great for selling your extra items to local customers.
Sample E-commerce "Extras" Store
A well-managed web store selling to local customers can be more powerful than selling to people across the country since you already have a good connection with customers in your community. The easier you can make it for your customers to support your farm, the better off you will be. The average web user is now quite comfortable with online ordering and will be surprised and pleased that their local farm now offers this convenience. Additionally, online sales also allow you to enhance the shopping experience by linking to other information such as recipes and videos that you wouldn't be able to easily share with your customers while busy selling at market.
If you are wondering what the other advantages are to allowing online ordering, consider the following:
1) Convenience: Many of your customers spend considerable amounts of time on their computers, both at work and at home. Online ordering allows your customers to shop at a time that works for them and helps people to plan meals ahead of time.
2) Marketing: If other local farmers are not offering online ordering, this becomes a differentiating factor that sets you apart from the rest. You can position yourself as a one-stop shop, encouraging people to order all they need from you alone.
3) Satisfaction: For products that are very seasonal or limited in quantity, your customers can check online to see if the product is available (and order it) before having to drive to the farm or farmer's market. Handing them a package of exactly what they want means they'll never go home disappointed.
4) Ease: There's no data entry. Just go about your day-to-day farm work as the orders come in. Then when you are ready to harvest for market, simply print out a report of the orders. The report will give you an aggregate total of items sold as well as copies of individual orders to use as packing lists.
5) Flexibility: Online sales don't have to mean credit card sales. Many farms let customers pre-order online and pay by cash or check when they pick up their orders. However, credit card integration is available for those farmers interested in letting their customers pre-pay online. Imagine getting paid before you even get to the market!
Small Farm Central's E-commerce tools make taking and processing orders easy. To learn more about the process of selling pre-orders to market customers or extras to CSA members visit the Small Farm Central Knowledge Base and read “Offering Farmers' Market Pre-orders” or “Selling Extras to CSA Members”.
These E-commerce tools are available to Small Farm Central website customers who upgrade to the “Merchant” package and automatically to anyone who is using the Member Assembler CSA management software. If you are interested in upgrading to an E-commerce option for your Small Farm Central account, please contact us at 412-567-3864 or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss further how E-commerce solutions can work for you.
Welcome to the third edition of the We Love Our Farmers photo series! We love seeing what's happening on the farm! In this edition, we feature the beautiful tulips from Lilies and Lavender.
"Kathleen (Kat) Claar, is harvesting French tulips Which will be used for wedding floral designs and sold at local farmers' markets. She is an intern at Lilies and Lavender, a specialty cut flower farm in Doylestown, PA."
- Kate Sparks, Lilies and Lavender
Welcome to the second edition of the We Love Our Farmers photo series! We love hearing about what's happening on the Small Farm Central farms from our farmers, but we love seeing it on their websites even more. This is why we will be featuring photos taken by our farmers on the Small Farm Central blog. In this edition, we feature the rising creek at Tumbling Shoals Farm.
"Farm owner Jason Roehrig stands by the normally serene Tumbling Shoals Creek that turned into a roaring river that threatened to burst its banks during the May 6th floods at Tumbling Shoals Farm."
- Shiloh Avery, Tumbling Shoals Farm
Summer often arrives with a suitcase full of surprises and no one knows that better than farmers. But summer can also create erratic schedules and the unforeseen "change in plans" element for your CSA members too. With vacations, children's activities, and seasonal events on the calendar, it's not uncommon for some of your members to find themselves unable to pick up their share. Farmers across the country deal with these situations differently but, with advanced notice, most will allow for certain accommodations. Here are some suggestions of what you can do when you members need to (or accidentally) skip their share:
1. Allow for a stand-in. Let your members send a friend or relative to pick up their share. They can provide you with the name of the person picking up and you can add this note to your pickup lists, so that everyone knows about the change.
2. Double up. Deliver a second, or double size share at the next pickup date after the one that your customers want to skip.
3. Plan for the skip. Allow your members the chance to skip once. Then make one extra delivery at the end of the season for those that skipped.
4. Give a refund. offer your member a refund for the missed share, either at cost or minus a convenience fee. Or offer another form of refund like a discount on next season's sign up, or credits to your farm stand or store.
5. Call it a forfeit. Let your members know that if they need to skip a pick-up and can't make other arrangements that their food will be forfeited. This is usually the standard option for those members who don't give you advanced notice and simply don't show up. To soften the blow, consider donating the food to an organization who can get it to those in need, like a local food bank. This way your members can feel good about skipping a pickup or two.
This issue of skipping pick-ups led Small Farm Central to the development of a tool that allows CSA members to request temporary changes to their membership, while still allowing the farmer to decide how, if at all, their members are accommodated of the days they miss. This feature is called the Holds & Changes Tool and can be found in the Member Assembler area of your Control Panel.
This tool allows you (and even your members, if you choose) to set scheduled actions for your members. These actions include:
1. Vacation Holds - this removes the member from pickups lists when they will be away
2. Pickup Changes - this allows a temporary change of your member’s pickup location
3. Double Boxes - this notes on the pickup list that a member will receive a double share, to make up for a pickup that they missed in the past or one that they request to skip in the future.
To learn more about how to use this tool, read the Vacation Holds and Scheduled Actions article in the Knowledge Base.
Here's to a fruitful (and vegetable-ful) summer!
In addition to making major additions to our Member Assembler, E-Commerce, and website software tools, the development team at Small Farm Central spends a great deal of time making adjustments that fly under the radar. Whether it's correcting bugs, improving processes, or following up on the hundreds (literally!) of customer suggestions and customization requests, we keep ourselves extremely busy. Here are just a handful of the recent changes over the past couple of months you may or may not have already noticed in your usage of your Small Farm Central site:
- Member Assembler Payment Requests can be generated based on a particular season's invoice rather than just the member's overall balance.
- E-Commerce orders Excel exports can be run with one order per row in addition to each item per order per row. Member Assembler pickup locations are automatically included in the export, when relevant, so you don't have to recreate all your pickups in E-Commerce.
- Just the recipient's first name, rather than only full name, is available as a merge field for mailing list newsletters.
- E-Commerce shoppers can pay fully or partially with their available balance even in departments with other kinds of checkout, like PayPal or Authorize.net, so you can issue more effective store credits to your customers.
- Member Assembler exports of Box Builder, Pickup Locations, and system-generated Member Notes data have been added. Invoices exports include all adjustments, charges, discounts, and each share type and cost.
- Member Assembler Pickup Lists can include pickup address and descriptions, a full range of dates for E-Commerce extras, and you can just generate a list of share totals by location without all the individual members.
- Vacation Holds have more settings to choose an end date to your current season, what types of scheduled actions members can request, and split-share weeks can be labeled so you and your members know which dates correspond with which deliveries.
- You can reduce the amounts of future Member Assembler automated scheduled payments so members don't overpay their balance if you or they have made adjustments after they created their payment schedule. Also, scheduled payments for someone with a negative balance are automatically suspended to save you the hassle of issuing refunds for overpayments.
If you have any questions about these, please let us know and we'll be happy to go into greater detail with you!
Welcome to the first edition of the We Love Our Farmers photo series! We love hearing about what's happening on the Small Farm Central farms from our farmers, but we love seeing it in their websites even more. This is why we will be featuring photos taken by our farmers on the Small Farm Central blog. In this edition, we feature the charming goats from Whitmore Farm.
"We photograph all of our goats when they are born. This is a Tennessee Fainting
Goat born on our farm on March 15th. We load up the ones that are for sale for breeding
stock on the website."
-Will Morrow, Whitmore Farm