I took a quick tour of eastern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland this week to visit 6 Small Farm Central farms: Village Acres Farm, North Mountain Pastures, Norman's Farm Market, Three Springs Fruit Farm, One Straw Farm, and Whitmore Farm.
The main impetus of the trip was to gather video footage for a website redesign of smallfarmcentral.com that we are putting together for release this fall. However, talking to farmers that are extremely successful with their web marketing yielded all sorts of great footage that I will be releasing via the blog, in presentations, and in any other ways I can think to use it!
In the spirit of that, here is Ben Wenk from Three Springs Fruit Farm talking about the great peach debate of 2010 that occurred over Twitter. Beware, there are some Twitter terms thrown about in this video, so if you are not a Twitter user, ignore those and watch this as an example of how conversations can happen online.
I got an email a few weeks ago from an interested farmer that really encapsulates what we do here at Small Farm Central:
''We are a start up fiber farm in Ohio. We have a website & blog we designed ourselves, but they aren't ''wow'', they are just o.k. We designed & put things in as best we could, but I would like a more professional look. Something that says, "Yeah, we may be new, but we're going places." The catch is, as always and in everything, money. What would a beautiful, professionally designed website cost and, if it's in our budget, what's the next step?''
(Firstly, the answer to cost is the reason Small Farm Central exists: we're in your budget.)
You are a small farmer with limited resources, but you produce a quality product with integrity that customers will love once they buy it and have a relationship with your farm. Professional and attractive marketing materials create conditions favorable to making that initial sale and give the customer an expectation of excellence before they taste your products.
I think this much is apparent, but the investment of getting to 'professional' can be extremely expensive so many farms delay that big investment.
That's the void that Small Farm Central fills -- before spending many thousands on a custom web design, use one of our great premium templates (although we do custom design for farmers too). Before you invest in a full time web programmer to create your website ordering system or CSA management software, use the Member Assembler or our ecommerce options.
We know that you are 'going places'. Use us as a stepping stone to get there.
I am excited to announce the release of a new premium template modeled on the success of the photogenic premium template which is already sold out!
This template celebrates your farm through the use of photo areas that you can easily select and change at any time. Our designers have added lots of details that make the design fun and extremely sharp.
As always, switching between Small Farm Central templates is as easy as the click of a mouse -- all your content and photos will automatically transfer over to the new template.
Snapshot will look a bit like this, but with your own photos:
See the template in action: http://premium8.smallfarmcentral.com/
Just send us an email and we'll get you going with this template. We expect they will go fast!
A short diversion for a summer evening..
I love these photos posted on the Denver Post photo blog including this great one of the peach harvest in western Colorado done with horse power.
"These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations."
There are 60 or so more at the link above, so take a look!
I know you are busy. It is high harvest in most of the US, so you probably are not thinking about your farm website.
If you have 20 minutes this evening and want to make a good investment of that time towards improving your farm's web presence, install Google Analytics on your farm website. This is easy for Small Farm Central subscribers, just follow this help file.
Have a little more time after you are done with step #1? Read about Google Analytics terminology and learn how to examine trends.
You've made a down-payment on work you can do this fall and winter to improve your website. Google Analytics will tell you where folks are coming from, how long they are staying on your site, what pages they like the best, and more! You'll be pleased that you took these 20 minutes in August to start collecting data.
It's cliche but true: Pictures can say 1,000 words. Great photos can add so much to a farm site, and it's an easy way to keep your site looking fresh. People love seeing what's happening on the farm, whether it's the latest produce that is ripening on the vine or the recent addition to your herd of cattle. What seems 'every day' to a farmer is an exciting 'behind-the-scenes' look to your customers. The following are some handy tips when capturing moments at your farm.
1. Bring your camera. Everywhere.
It may sound silly, but remembering to actually bring your camera as you head out to fields is an important habit to form. The likelihood of remembering to come back and capture that tassle on the cornstalk, as the sun streams thru, is pretty slim. So throw that camera into the back of the tractor or carry it in your overalls so you can record those spontaneous moments!
2. Get down to your subjects level.
That picture of the baby sheep will be one hundred times cuter if you get down to your subjects eye level. That means squatting down to the ground and having the lens of the camera at the same height as the subject.
3. Use the flash outdoors.
You might think that there is plenty of light when taking shots outdoors, but forcing the flash to go off in outdoor settings can improve your pictures.
4. Off-center is nice.
By placing your subject off center, you can create interesting relationships between your subject the the open space around your subject. Try it out - take a picture with the subject in the center of your viewfinder...then take the same picture with the subject off center.
Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery is Atlantic Canada's First Community Supported Fishery. They're connecting a co-operative of small-scale, groundfish bottom hook and line fishermen from the Bay of Fundy to subscribing customers in and around Halifax.
CSFs (like CSAs) provide several benefits to small-scale fishers, including more family income, more market choices, and increased ownership and livelihood control. And their subscribers enjoy access to the freshest local, traceable, high quality fish. We're happy to have Off the Hook join the SFC community!
"I've seen two people well up with tears while looking at the site, and have had lots more general compliments...You've been an instrumental part of what I am hoping is going to be a movement that really builds speed and spreads through other parts of Atlantic Canada...."
-Sadie Beaton, Off the Hook CSF Coordinator
Off the Hook's Small Farm Central Website
Off the Hook chose the Herbaecous Template for their website. We did some custom work to make the template a bit more nautical in nature.
I know you are busy with your farming season, but we've added a new feature that may be useful to your farm.
When customers go to checkout on your ecommerce pages, you now have the option to add pickup locations to their selection. This will be useful for farmers who are doing local sales and have multiple farmers markets where the customer can pick up their produce. I'm sure there are a hundred other uses, so get creative and start building your pickup locations by logging into the control panel and navigating to:
Sell / Configure / Pickups
Right before checkout, customers will be directed to a page that looks a bit like this:
Give us a yell if you need any help setting this up.
It's that time of year again! CSA boxes are being filled, deliveries are being made and happy customers are enjoying locally grown foods! For our Member Assembler subscribers and other farmers running CSAs this season, we hope your pickups are starting smoothly and that you have a great 2010 season!
As a farm kid, turned computer programmer, turned farmer, and then combining those passions with Small Farm Central, I think I am in a unique position to appreciate Jeff Atwood's post called "Tending Your Software Garden".
Jeff writes about software development, so you probably don't read him on a week-to-week basis. However he has some thoughts on how programming relates to farming:
All the best software projects I've worked were, for lack of a better word, alive. I don't mean that literally, of course. But the software was constantly and quite visibly growing. There were regular, frequent release schedules defining its evolution. There was a long term project commitment to a year out, five years out, ten years out.
To me, the parallels between farming and software development are strong and evocative. Steve disagrees:
"The weakness in the software-farming metaphor is its suggestion that you don't have any direct control over how the software develops. You plant the code seeds in the spring, Farmer's Almanac and the Great Pumpkin willing, you'll have a bumper crop of code in the fall."
To be clear, all these metaphors are abstract and therefore heavily subject to interpretation (and/or useless, take your pick), so I don't want to get too wrapped up in defending one.
That said, I disagree with Steve's dismissal. The strength of the farming metaphor is the implied commitment to the craft. Farming is hard, unforgiving work, but there's a yearly and seasonal ritual to it, a deep underlying appreciation of sustainible and controlled growth, that I believe software developers would do well to emulate. I also think Steve was a bit unfair in characterizing farming as "no direct control". There's plenty of control, but lots of acknowledged variables, as well -- which I think more accurately represents the shifting sands of software development. Farmers do their best to control those variables, of course, but most of all they must adapt to whatever conditions they're dealt. Next season, next year, they know they'll be back with a renewed sense of purpose to try it all again and do better. Not so coincidentally, these are also traits shared by the best software developers I've known.
I'm not completely convinced of the relationship between farming and programming that Jeff proposes here, but it is an interesting thought.
I can say that Small Farm Central feels like a living, breathing organism as we add features, start a new website for a farmer, or improve the help documentation.
Sometimes it is hard work -- the frustrating days in code are much like problematic irrigation equipment. It is maddening, doesn't quite make sense, and a simple problem can consume your whole day, but once the problem is resolved the water flowing freely is a beautiful thing!
Often, this little software garden that we have dug, planted, and maintained over the past four years does most of the work by itself to help our farmers succeed. On those days, I can calmly watch this garden grow and know that work that it took to get here was worth the result.