It is that time of year when many farms are wrapping up their main CSA season and are realizing that some of their members still have outstanding balances. What is the best way to figure out who owes what? And what is the best way to communicate to your members what they owe and how to pay?
FINDING OUT WHO HAS AN OUTSTANDING BALANCE
An important note to remember is that the amount in the balance field for a member is their balance across all seasons for which they have been a member. So even if a member is paid up for the most recent season, it is possible they could be showing a balance due to activity from previous seasons or due to signing up for a new season.
To find out what members are still showing a balance owed, navigate to:
Member Assembler > Members > View Members
Make sure that you have all advanced filters and searches removed so that it displays your complete list of members. Then click on the title above the “Balance” column to sort them based on that column. If you click on it once, it should show it lowest to highest balance; if you click it again, it should show it highest to lowest.
You can also use the "Advanced Filter" section located at the top of this page to search by balance. The balance search will pull up memberships with an outstanding balance of greater than or equal to the amount that you enter into this field. To search for all outstanding balances, put 0.01 and your results will show all memberships owing you one penny or more.
REQUESTING PAYMENT OF OUTSTANDING BALANCES
Now that you have a sense of how many members have outstanding balances and how large those balances are, you can send out a payment request to your members. To do so, navigate to:
Member Assembler > Accounting > Payment Request
Click on the “Add a Payment Request” link in the yellow bar. This will bring up a screen where you create your payment request. Since it is the end of the season, we’ll assume that you want to get 100% paid up for any outstanding balances.
Step 1: If you are trying to get paid in full for ANY outstanding balances, you will select the first option “Percentage of Overall Member Balance”. If you are only concerned with getting paid in full for the season that is currently ending, choose the “Percentage of Balance Remaining on <season> Invoice” option (you’ll need to make sure you are administering the season that you are trying to collect the balances from).. Then put “100” in the “Request Amount” field.
Step 2: In this step you can further narrow your request parameters. First, you can sort out only people who have at least a certain amount outstanding. So if you are only interested in sending out a payment request to people who owe more than $50, you can enter it here. At this point in the season you probably want the request to go to anyone with an outstanding balance. In that case, leave the amount at $.01. In this step you can also select only members with specific member types to receive the payment request.
Step 3: At the bottom of the page there will be a default email created for you. This email has variables in it that will fill in with the individual member’s specific information. If you allow for online payments, the email will include a link to your online payment page. If you want to include additional information in the email, you can customize the message as needed. When ready, click “Save and Select Users”.
Step 4: At this point a sample version of the payment request will come up on the screen and a list of all members fitting your search criteria will be listed below it. Read over the email and make sure it includes all the information you want and that the formatting is correct.
If you are ready to send the payment request, select the users that you want to receive it (usually you’ll want to send it to all of them, but you can select which specific members from the list you want to receive it) and then click the “Send Payment Request” button. If you are not ready to send the payment request yet, that’s ok. At this point the payment request is saved and you can come back to it later to send. Simply re-navigate to the Payment Request page when you are ready and click the “Edit/Send” link next to the payment request to access it again.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: If you accept online credit card payments and have a “online transaction fee” for members who pay by credit card, be aware that that fee is only calculated at the initial checkout. If you have members who initially checked out as “invoice only” but decide to make a later payment by credit card, they will not be charged that online transaction fee. Be aware of this if you offer these multiple payment options. In your email you may want to make clear that unless a member has previously paid by credit card that they should not use the credit card payment option.
Earlier this Fall, we encouraged our CSA farmers to go back to school and learn about what's new with our Member Assembler software, but just because you're not running a CSA, doesn't mean you're off the hook. There are plenty of opportunities out there to refresh your knowledge and learn about what's new in small farming.
If you're looking to take a little break from from the homestead, consider mixing work with a vacation. There are a lot events happening this winter, with opportunities to stay close to home or travel across the country and visit someplace new. Here are just a few of the upcoming farm conferences and educational sessions for you to check out. Visit the Small Farm Central Facebook page to see what other events farmers are talking about.
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference:
"Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms"
January 15th - 18th in Mobile, Alabama
Future Harvest CASA (Chesapeke Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture)
Farming for Profit & Stewardship Conference
January 17th & 18th in College Park, Maryland
Ecological Farming Association's 34th Annual EcoFarm Conference: "Gather & Grow"
January 22nd - 25th in Pacific Grove, California
Practical Farmers of Iowa 2014 Annual Conference: "Well Grounded"
January 23rd - 25th in Ames, Iowa
15th Annual Northen Michigan Small Farm Conference
February 1st in Acme, Michigan
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA)
Farming for the Future Conference: "Letting Nature Lead"
February 5th - 8th in State College, Pennsylvania
Ohio Ecological Farm & Food Assoc Conference
"Affirming Our Roots, Breaking New Ground"
February 15 & 16th in Granville, Ohio
MOSES Organic Farming Conference
February 27th - March 1st, 2014 in LaCrosse, Wisconsin
25th Annual California Small Farm Conference
March 9th -11th in Rohnert Park, California
For those of you who don't want to move a muscle this winter and prefer to stay by your wood burning stove (like me!), an online webinar, like the ones listed below, is a great way learn from home for free! A simple google search can bring up many options, but here are some to get your started.
The University of Vemont New Farmer Project offers webinars once a month on a variety of topics from "Raising Rabbits for Meat" to "Growing Small-Grains in New England". They even have recordings of past webinars that you can view. Check their website for a full list of dates and topics.
Farm Commons, a nonprofit legal services organization is offering 2 webinars about farm legal issues each month beginning in December and running through March. They tip off the series with an "Overview of Farm Legal Issues" on December 2nd. Following sessions include topics on CSA legal issues, farm workers, and food safety regulations. Check their website for a full list of dates and topics.
Practical Farmers of Iowa posts a schedule of their "Farminars" for each season on their website or you can subscribe directly to their podcast. They also have an archive of viewable past topics that goes back to 2009.
We'll be attending the PASA Farming for the Future Conference in February so be sure to say hi! Simon will also be presenting live with Penn Sate's Brian Moyer about how to find and keep CSA shareholders at the Penn State Extension's CSA School on Saturday December 7th in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He will also be (virtually) joining a panel of CSA software experts at the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network's Cultivating Organic Resiliance Conference which takes place in Moncton, New Brusnwick up north of Maine in Canada this November.
Small Farm Central and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture will once again be hosting the CSA Expert Exchange online conference on March 6th & 7th, 2014. Join us for one or both days right from your home computer. Check out the CSA Expert Exchange website here: http://csafarmconference.com/ and stay tuned for more details!
The Charge/Discount section of Member Assembler is already filled with easy tools to help you set up discounts or charges that can be applied during your member sign-up process. There are ways to prorate your share costs so that you can continue to accept members even after you've started delivery, a tool that lets you add charges to certain share types or pickup locations, and even a way to limit the amount a time that a charge or discount is valid.
Recently we've added another way to offer discounts to your members. This new option is called the "Charge/Discount for Multiple Member Type Combination". It works like this:
Suppose you've set up your new season to be an all-year at once signup. You have a Member Type for a Spring Share, a Member Type for a Summer Share, and a Member Type for a Fall Share with different prices and Options for each. To encourage people to sign up early for all your seasons, you'd like to offer a discount. However, you only want the discount to be applied if people choose an option and sign up for all three of these Member Types. In the past, there were more complicated solutions to achieving this type of discount, but our new option makes this easier for you.
To get to the Charge/Discount section of the Control Panel navigate to: Member Assembler > Configure > Charge/Discounts. Once there, click on the "Charge/Discount for Multiple Member Type Combination". All you need to do is mark which of your Member Types you want people to choose to recieve your discount. Then, when your member checks out during the sign-up process, if they've chosen an option from each of those types, they'll get the discount! This is a great way to encourage people to support your farm with a greater initial commitment and reward your most supportive customers.
For more detailed instructions on creating a discount like this, and to remind yourself of all of the charge/discount tools at your disposal, revisit the updated Charges & Discounts Cookbook article in the Small Farm Central Knowledge Base.
Happy Halloween everyone! For this edition of the We Love Our Farmers photo series, we visit Oakridge Farms in Wisconsin.
"This is our pumpkin display at our "on farm" farmstand that is open 7 days a week through the season, June-October." -Jodi Leslie, Oakridge Farms
Recently Google made several changes to their search engine that could have some impacts on how you market your farm online.
First, they changed the algorithm that they use to conduct Internet searches. The average daily Google user probably won't notice a difference. In fact, Google was using the new algorithm a full month before making the announcement. However, the effect on those of us trying to promote our websites is still a bit unclear.
The change was made to address the changing nature of how people do Internet searches. The trend is for people to make conversational or voice searches where the user asks a question rather than just entering a string of keywords. Instead of typing in “CSA Seattle”, a person is more likely to ask “Where can I sign up for CSA in Seattle?” In theory this change means that Google will provide better more accurate responses to such inquiries.
The reality is that as long as you have well-written copy on your website with appropriate keywords included, the effects on your traffic from Google are unlikely to be greatly affected. However, if you are trying to use Google Analytics to figure out what are the appropriate keywords, you might have a harder time doing that now.
Along with changing their algorithm, Google also has switched 100% of their search engine searches over to be secure and encrypted. Previously Google only supplied secure searches for those logged into a Google account. What this means for users of Google Analytics is that there will be less keyword data supplied. If a user searches for “organic grass-fed beef” and Google directs them to your site, your Google Analytics account will get all of the regular analytic data except for that all important data about what search terms actually resulted in them ending up on your site. This may seem counter-intuitive, that Google's search engine wouldn't share all of its information with their own analytic software, but that is the reality of these new changes. Theoretically, web searches from other search engines such as Bing will still provide keyword data to Google Analytics.
What are we recommending you do in response to these changes? Nothing at this time. Google Analytics is still a powerful tool that can provide meaningful feedback on your website. If you are already using Google Analytics, just be aware that your data may be changing. If you haven't added Google Analytics yet, Small Farm Central still recommends integrating this tool with your website. The nature of online marketing is ever changing and we intend to keep you aware of changes that could affect your farm.
For more insight into some of these changes, see the following articles:
Dwolla is a payment network that we have integrated with Member Assembler that offers dramatically lower merchant fees. The service works through the ACH network, so instead of using a credit card number, a checking account number and routing bank number is required to complete payment. This results in a fee of $0.25/transaction (no percentage fee) versus the 2.5% + per transaction fees that are charged through standard credit card networks.
As this new service gains traction with consumers, we recommend that you use Dwolla not as your primary payment method but as an additional payment option. Many of your members may not have access to their checking account information or may not yet feel comfortable entering it upon sign-up. However, as a payment option, Dwolla is very viable, especially if you educate your members on how paying with Dwolla helps farmers pay less in fees when compared to credit card payment.
Since December 2012, our farmers have processed 2,388 Dwolla transactions for a total of $606,398.19. With Dwolla, these transactions cost $597 and with a standard credit card processor these transactions would have cost approximately $16,000.
Check out more about Dwolla here:
Welcome to 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. In this edition, we feature the students taking a class at Sunbow Farm.
"I teach classes at the farm once a month. Each class includes a hands on component where we go out and work with the plants. This was our class on Medicinal Trees. We were looking at the buds of a basswood/linden tree (Tilia americana) that were just ready for harvest! Basswood buds/flowers are used via infusion or tincture to treat cough and bronchitis. "
- Kristina Beuning, Sunbow Farm
We've just rolled out a small but useful development for Member Assembler. Now, at the Member Assembler > Configure > Checkout screen, you can create your own Invoice-Only Instructions, which would most likely be how your customers should write checks to you and where to send them. These instructions will carry through to the checkout confirmation email and on-screen after a successful invoice-only checkout. Additionally, after you've set this new setting, it will appear in status emails, the "Make a Payment" page, the Member/User Login, and you can choose to include or not include it in payment request emails.
Many of you already have such instructions about sending payment in your email confirmation text. So that this information is not shown twice, simply cut and paste it from the one setting to the new one on the Member Assembler > Configure > Checkout screen.
October 16th is World Food Day, a day established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to encourage attention toward agricultural food production. Historically associated with efforts to bring awareness to world hunger issues, this year the focus is on healthy food systems as reflected by the theme: "Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition".
In the United States, food security is something that is on all our farmer's minds, but it should be something that is on everyone's mind. Last week we published a blog post about the Food Safety Modernization Act, but there are many other issues that effect the security of our food systems. Climate change, population growth, conserving biodiversity, economic changes are some of the biggest ones. Tomorrow is a great opportunity to reach out to your friends, neighbors, and networks to remind them about how these issues effect not only farmers, but anyone who eats food.
Here are some great resources to help keep you (and the people you feed) informed:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
World Food Day USA/Canada website: http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/
Interesting facts about food security on Treehugger.com:
I'm sure you've heard about the potential impacts of The Food Safety Modernization Act from other informational outlets, but we just wanted to remind you and link to some resources for more information. This is a good chance to get in touch with your customers or CSA members to tell them about the impacts that these regulations will have on your farm.
The Food Safety Modernization Act was a signed into a law back in 2011 and was the first revision of federal food safety laws in the United States since 1938. The Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA as it is also referred to, authorizes new farm regulations and gives the Food and Drug Association (FDA) new controls to prevent food safety issues and new power & responsibility to detect and respond to these issues.
There are two major regulations that will affect farm level producers, the Produce Rule, which outlines standards for produce production (growing, harvesting, packing, and holding) and the Preventative Controls Rule, which requires new safety measures for facilities that process (manufacture, pack, or hold) food for human consumption.
Passing this bill took a vote from Congress, but turning it into a law with rules and regulations has taken much longer. Now, the FDA has reached the rulemaking stage and has released a draft of these new rules which it is currently accepting public comments on. This is a critical time to weigh in on the proposed rules, since the final rules will affect all produce farms and food processing facilities across the country. However, time is running out as the comment period ends November 15th, 2013.
As with all new laws, the new regulations are being highly debated. Many people who have spoken out about FSMA feel that the new rules may be unfairly burdening family farmers and conflict with organic and sustainable growing practices.
FSMA will change the food system in America very soon, so it’s important to understand what’s going on. It's everyone's responsibility to speak up to make sure that our food supply remains safe, our natural resources are used sustainably and our family farmers are supported in their work. To learn more about FSMA check out some of these great resources:
The governemnt website about food safety issues can be found here (albeit not updated since 9/30/13): http://www.foodsafety.gov/news/fsma.html
The official Food and Drug Administration's webpage about the FSMA including factsheets: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm
They are even running a free webinar this Thursday, October 10th to help everyone stay informed: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/697410614
The journalists that make up www.foodsafetynews.com contribute news and opinion articles on FSMA: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/tag/fsma/#.UlMSGT-CpQ2