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.
Another beautiful premium template is available for your farm website:
We really like the illustrative, earthy quality of this new template design. Also, take a lot at the slideshow images on the front page that feature your farm's best photography!
Want to see it in action? Visit the sample site: http://premium6.smallfarmcentral.com
What makes it premium?
Read more about premium templates.
Online sales are finally gaining traction in the farming community and perhaps differently than you would imagine. Most of our farmers that use ecommerce (in other words, online sales) are selling products on their websites to local customers, not shipping products across the country.
This may seem counter-intuitive: since the customers are right in your backyard why should the Internet get in the way of that relationship?A few compelling reasons to use online sales for your products:
Don't confuse online sales with credit cards. Many of our ecommerce-savvy farmers do not accept credit card payment online: their customers make an order and pay for the products when they pick up their box of food at the drop-off point. However, PayPal and Google Checkout integration is available for farmers that want to have the order pre-paid.
I talk to many farmers that are stuck in the cycle of sending out an availability list by email without the use of an ordering system. Their customers reply to the email with their order, the farmer takes that order manually from the email into an excel spreadsheet, and then can pack the boxes from there. The big problem comes when a product with limited availability sold out and then the farmer needs to email each customer that ordered that product to disappoint them with the fact that wild boar pepperoni sticks are sold out. Our ecommerce system allows you to set an inventory for each item; when the item is sold out it drops off your product list so there is no confusion.It is not exaggerating to say that switching from an email-only type ordering system to an online system, while initially a bit time-consuming, will save 10s of tedious data-entry hours every week throughout the season.
In this case, technology does not get in the way of the relationship with the farmer and in a lot of ways it should make that connection more meaningful because the website can promote products / recipes / techniques that you can't possibly promote at a busy market. Also, customers can plan their meals more easily and will likely make a bigger order with your farm because of the convenience that you are providing them makes it natural to add a few extra items to the order.
This type of system has been very successful for CSAs offering "extras" to customers on a weekly basis. These are products like flour, honey, coffee that the farmer is vouching for and that customers need, but does not quite fit into the CSA box.
I have heard a lot of talk of farmers wanting to model what Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm is doing through his Polyface Yum ordering system -- I think it must have come up at a number of farming conferences this winter. I saw the handout sheet that listed about 6-7 different services that Polyface used to make their system work and it isn't clear that the average farmer could put all of that together in a way that makes sense. So, yes, our ordering system can model what Salatin does at Polyface Yum without all the fuss.
Just because e-commerce allows you to sell products to people throughout the world does not mean that you must sell nation-wide. In fact, I think a well-managed web store selling to local customers is more powerful because you already have a good connection with customers in your community and it can really be a differentiating factor. 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.
Our ecommerce plans are billed on a monthly basis -- either $10 or $20/month depending on the complexity of your needs. If you have an existing website, but would like to use our ecommerce features, you can certainly do that. Check out the "ecommerce-only" options on the plans & pricing page. You can switch off the ecommerce plans during the winter or your off-season while you are not using that functionality.
Be in touch with us if you have any questions about what you are planning for your ordering system. I'm sure we can help you or if we cannot, we can at least point you in the right direction!
If you are generating content over time for your farm website and blog, you will notice that your hard-earned content starts to get buried and it is not as easy to find. This is especially true for those farmers who are using the blog format.
Much of the time, the content you generated a year ago is just as valid as what you can write today. Instead of re-writing articles, you need to guide your visitors to older posts and content. One great way to do this was recommended by ProBlogger a while back - he calls them "sneeze pages".
He writes, "A Sneeze Page is one that simply directs readers in multiple directions at once – back into your archives"
So a "sneeze page" is simply a group of links with a common theme. Your sneeze page can be about anything as long as it directs people back into your archives. For example, if you developed 4-5 posts throughout the year of your chicks as they grew and developed, you could then create a sneeze page at the end of the year that linked your customers back to all of your information about chicks.
To get an idea of what this can look like, check out one I did for the Small Farm Central blog. I called it Best of the blog, mid-2009 to get our visitors to take a look at all the great content that had come out on the blog over the past 6 months.
Importantly, put your sneeze pages in a prominent location such as the sidebar of your website (if you have a Small Farm Central site, this is called the "widget column"). You want your customers to easily find these pages and then navigate through the history of your website.
Darren at ProBlogger has some great ideas on what topics to create your sneeze pages on, so go check out the full article.