It is officially Spring on Small Farm Central farms; we've been through a long farm conference season getting new ideas and honing old ones. Now it is time to get seeds in the ground, make equipment work, and get down to the business of growing food. Catskill Merino Sheep Farm is on Day 16 of lambing and Prairie Fruits Farm has starting selling their on farmers dinners which are being snapped up months in advance. That's a tasty thought to get us through this Spring cold snap (at least here in western Pennsylvania).
Vermont Herb and Salad Company is pushing up their microgreens while we were sorry hear about a partial loss of the fruit crop in western Colorado. In eastern Pennsylvania, Little Peace Farm is getting some wild Spring weather : "Well last Sunday we got nickle sized hail that punched a few holes in the greenhouse plastic but not much more. This week was miserable with 2" of rain, 50 mph winds... And today, welp, a lovely one but it is not to last. They're calling for another 2" over the next 2 days."
Green Gardens farm posted a video from Hugenot Steet Farm which promises CSA humor such as "harvesting" from the grocery store, painted rocks, squash we can all relate to, and special nutrient procurement systems. Hugenot Street Farm spent a lot of time on this one!
Peaceful poultry has started the season with day-old chicks. Laura writes, "Stepping back into farming makes me feel whole again. Whole and tired, but a good, healthy, sleep soundly through the night tired... all the chickens are happy, seem healthy and are eating, drinking and pooping away." That sounds like as good of a declaration of Spring as I can imagine.
For a vintage taste of Spring, check out our Spring blog entry from last year.
In response to last week's post on social networks for farm marketing, Leaf writes:
Read your latest blog, and am starting to worry about you. You may have to chuck your blackberry in the hedgerow and twitter out to the garden. Trade in you tube for your hoe, so you can digg in the earth. If you have a compulsion to flicker en route, stumble on and face the sun, not face book. In time, you will reach the garden of my space, blogger your way to the compost pile, and replace those widgets with earthworms.
Thanks for your worries Leaf, but I am able to keep a finger or two in the soil with the annual garlic patch. On Friday, I checked in on the garlic and it looks like spring with 3-4" garlic foliage poking above the insulating straw. It is one of my favorite days of the summer to pull up the first garlic bulb and crack open a fresh clove to chew on. This year's garlic stock was sourced from a Small Farm Central farmer, Honey Hill Organic Farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
We also had a nice response to the blog article from Joanne Rigutto who sums it up well: "My primary marketing tool is still community involvement and direct contact with potential customers."
The protagonist of last week's post, Three Springs Fruit Farm, posted an extensive comment about their experience with social networks. Ben writes about the strange world of online "friends", videos, and how MySpace fits in with their current marketing plans. Age is certainly a factor in this case, Ben writes:
Probably the only reason we started with MySpace was purely out of convenience - I decided to steer our family fruit farm toward retail February of 2007... late February, so I was already behind the eight ball a bit. I knew it'd make sense for our farm to have a presence on the web to interact with our customers and being a 22 year old kid coming out of college, I had a familiarity with MySpace and to me, it was a free and functioning website for us in a pinch.
Food is a physical act; plants and animals raised on a patch of soil, harvested, and then eaten by the customer -- there's nothing virtual about that. In this way, the connections that local food makes can never be supplanted by the the virtual. With this dichotomy in mind, it will be interesting to see how farmers co-opt these virtual networks to the physical act of growing food.
Keep me updated if you find a way to make one of these networks work for your farm.
I have never addressed the concept of farms using "social media" as a marketing tool on this blog, partly because I am still not sure how much sense it makes. The social media includes sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
If the word "social media" makes you shiver in fright and run for your tractor to do some real work, I appreciate that response; it is probably a very rational approach. If, however, you are still reading this post, you may be interested in this social media primer.
My thoughts are that social marketing can work for the farm, but I think this quote sums up why it will not work for most farmers:
The main characteristic [social media marketers] need to have is a genuine curiosity/interest in social media, particularly on how it influences human relationships and business practices. This is not just standard required job skills but rather a deep interest that pervades one’s day to day life. One needs to constantly be informed of the latest technologies while striving always to learn and improve one’s knowledge levels. In order to do well when marketing, one should have tactical knowledge and ideally, first-hand experience of the specific social media platform. [link]
One new Small Farm Central farm, Three Springs Fruit Farm told me that they have had success with marketing through Facebook and MySpace. Here is their MySpace page:
They have 161 friends, a blog, and video of vegetable orchestra. It seems to be working for them, but I would be interested in hearing how this translates into people coming to physically buy goods from the farm.
Maybe we can spend a few weeks exploring different social media platforms if people show some interest.
Has your farm used social marketing? What kinds of successes/failures have you had?
[Photo by Gary Hayes]
In case you haven't heard, the Obamas are planting a vegetable garden in the White House lawn. What could be a better symbol of our times?
I can't help but notice that arugula will be grown in this garden. Do you remember one slur for Obama during the primary campaign was that he is an "arugula eater"? I guess this charge was true!
Here is another premium template mock-up.
The designer says, "This template is a little less literal for Small Farm Central users, in terms of its depiction of their actual farms. What it does do though, is invoke a certain historical / cultural feel that I think will really appeal to users of the farm sites."
I would be interested to hear if you have any thoughts; leave them in comments.
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?