The Pittsburgh Tribune Review printed an article about what we are doing over here at Small Farm Central.
We have implemented a new feature into the Member Assembler in recent weeks -- we call it "status emails". This is an email your customers can request at any time to get details about their membership from pick-up locations, contacts in the membership, member types, balance, and payments.
This type of email will help your members keep tabs on their membership throughout the season without you having to touch the mouse. This will be especially useful for your members to get information about their pick-up location and payment balance.
This is just another way we are constantly working to improve all of our services, so keep the feedback coming!
Create a link to the "status email" request page by logging to your control panel and navigating to:
Member Assembler / Members / Status Emails
If you have not signed up for a Member Assembler account yet, go to the Member Assembler section of the site to sign up. It is completely free until you go beyond 25 members, so you have plenty of chances to try the service to make sure it will work for your farm before you commit.
So you've created a Member Assembler account (free for your first 25 member sign-ups) and you are working through getting your sign-up form created. Now you get to end of the process, and you are thinking about how customers reserve their space in your CSA. You have the option to accept credit cards, or not.
Just because you can accept payment does not mean you should.
The main thing -- it's going to cost you to accept payments online. With the Member Assembler, you can accept payments with Google Checkout or Paypal. Each charges 2.5%+ of your sale. Click the links below for more detail on the fee schedule of each:
Paypal Fee Schedule
Google Checkout Fee Schedule
So, to process a $500 CSA share with Paypal, it is going to cost you $14.80. That will add up quickly in a 100 or 500 member CSA.
It is convenient because the payment is added to the Member Assembler, the member's balance is automatically adjusted, and the money flows into your bank account without a single mouse click.
The alternative here is our "invoice-only" option which means that no money is transacted online and you will need to accept a check later for share payment. A confirmation is simply sent to the farmer and the member after they click "Check out".
From having worked with many farmers that use this "invoice-only" option, it seems that almost all members make good on their sign-up pledge when using the invoice-only option.
I am not discouraging the use of payment processors for your CSA shares because it certainly is convenient and you are assured that the money will come in after a membership purchase has been made. You will certainly need to weigh the convenience factor of less paperwork for you and the customer versus the cost of taking payment online.
Many of our farmers give their customers the choice to process the payment online for customer's convenience or use "invoice-only".
A good balance between convenience and cost is to require a small down-payment of perhaps $50 at the time the member signs up for your CSA and then take the rest of the membership payment by check later.
Credit card payments are required for online sales that are split-second decisions like buying the Slap Chop, but your CSA customers have made a conscious decision to join your CSA, so you shouldn't feel like using a payment processor is a requirement for your Member Assembler.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue, so please post in comments.
I have gotten the question, "why can't I use whacky font x on my farm website?" many times. I think it is time to answer that question!
You can technically use any font on your website, but the hang-up comes that the font must be installed on your visitor's computer for them to see the font correctly. This may change in the future of the web, but for now, we are limited to the number of fonts we can use.
In our control panel's rich text editor, the following fonts are available:
This list of fonts covers the generally available fonts across browsers and operating systems, so you can have some assurance that your website is displaying the same on your computer and your customer's computer.
So, this is the reason that we keep it simple in the control panel text editor and don't let you write your whole web site in a font that looks like it is wearing bell-bottoms.
Small farmers are becoming better marketers because of necessity -- it takes a great deal of effort and communication to market the crops that you grow to your best customers.
However, we need to get better at passing production knowledge directly between small-scale farmers. Each farm has a different micro-climate, uses different equipment, and has a different growing philosophy, but we have more in common than not.
The tools of the web like WordPress, Blogspot, Google Groups, Twitter, and others can be easily used to share information between farmers who are motivated to share this information. Inexpensive digital still cameras and movie cameras can be used to tell the story of methods you use on your farm to small-scale farmers nationwide.
The beginnings of this trend are already here. I was just looking at a blog that details production techniques for small scale grain and pulse production. One of our farmers has set up a new website called Grass-Class.com that brings experts in grass-based livestock production to computer screens across the country by way of online seminars.
What other resources haven't I seen yet? What resources will you and your farmer friends create to share all of the knowledge and techniques you develop each day?
Some characteristics of small-scale farming such as geographic isolation and small size make it difficult to share information like large companies are able to do. The internet gives us the technology to facilitate these interactions, but it does not do the work of creating these resources for us.
We're all on the same team, so I look forward to seeing much more farmer-to-farmer into the future.
We have posted a lot more information about our consultation level new subscription option. This level allows you to access our knowledge of best practices and the specific tools available through a one-on-one consultation process. This process will give you confidence in your farm's web marketing and develop concrete steps you can take to make your site a success.
Read more on the consultation-level new subscription page where we detail the steps and outcomes of this option!
The Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition is dedicated to community revitalization through urban agriculture and is comprised of local groups and individuals committed to food security and environmental responsibility through urban agriculture.
They are working to enable food justice through establishing a sustainable food system in the Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood in which there are no grocery stores and limited healthy food options.Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition Small Farm Central Website Brennan's Thoughts on Websites & Outreach
We thought we'd take a few moments to ask Brennan some questions about their organization & their experience with Small Farm Central.
Did you have a website before SFC?
The coalition did not have a website or web presence before the SFC website.
Who is the intended audience of your website?
We built the website to highlight our work and share its intentions and successes with others in the urban agriculture world, New Orleans, and internationally. We've been contacted on all of these fronts by a whole world of people; from volunteers to supporters, to funders, to experts on this or that. Its been an incredible resource for the Coalition.
What advice would you give to a farm who is considering starting up their first website?
My advice to new organizations is to get yourself out there on the web. It's wonderful to see your achievements highlighted through photos and to reach a whole world of people. Small Farm Central is so easy to use and even within its members, has such diversity and a wealth of knowledge to be shared.
What is your favorite part of being involved with sustainable food community?
Working in New Orleans through urban agriculture has given new life to the rebuilding efforts of this city. The community of growers and growing growers is growing! and we're so happy to be a part of it.
In early 2008, Kevin Kelly, a prominent digital technology thinker, wrote an article entitled "1,000 True Fans" in which he argued that new communication technologies allow artists and musicians to thrive in a whole new way than before. Instead of artists being reliant on the blockbuster, break-out hit, they can instead nurture a group of committed "fans" that will spend money often and reliably to create a steady stream of income for the artist.
"A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans."
Applied to agriculture, this "true fan" sounds a whole lot like a CSA member.
CSA members are willing to do certain things that no other rational consumer will do: pay up-front as much as 6 months in advance for produce, accept weather-related losses, take whatever produce is in season at the farm, buy all their fresh food from one farmer, and on and on. It takes a lot of trust and the mind-set of a true fan to be a CSA member.
Of course, the CSA member expects a lot from your farm: the freshest produce, the highest quality, a discount over market prices, a newsletter of what is going on at the farm, or a good conversation at the pick-up site.
The CSA is a bargain that benefits both the farmer and the member. As a farmer you are eliminating some of the marketing headaches of the direct marketing small farm, but there are a lot of responsibilities in this relationship. Namely, keeping your membership happy week after week and year after year.
Kelly explains the challenges and rewards of this set-up:
"The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website, or they order your prints from Pictopia. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.
The technologies of connection and small-time manufacturing make this circle possible. Blogs and RSS feeds trickle out news, and upcoming appearances or new works. Web sites host galleries of your past work, archives of biographical information, and catalogs of paraphernalia. Diskmakers, Blurb, rapid prototyping shops, Myspace, Facebook, and the entire digital domain all conspire to make duplication and dissemination in small quantities fast, cheap and easy. You don't need a million fans to justify producing something new. A mere one thousand is sufficient. "
So, beyond providing a stellar product, the key is to keep your fans (ahem, CSA members) happy and engaged by communicating the difficulties and joys of growing their food. Your website and newsletter is a key part of that effort -- these technologies that we have at our fingertips allow us to keep CSA members in the loop at a very low cost. The unique story of your farm and individual relationships with customers will keep them coming back year after year.
We have one Member Assembler farm that opens their CSA sign-up at midnight on Sunday morning in March and sells 350 shares by that Sunday evening (almost their entire membership quota) with full payment taken at the sign-up. That is the kind of following we should all be striving for.
It should be noted that I am not suggesting that each farm needs 1000 CSA members. The number of CSA members that you need is the number members that would support the farmer and farm at a decent wage year-round, so this number will be different for every scale and locale.
The CSA concept, and in a larger sense, the "1000 true fan" concept, allows us to do what we love whether that is farming or playing the bass guitar without constantly struggling for one-off sales at the farmers market, a huge blockbuster, or the big wholesale contract.
Zephyros Farm & Garden is a small diversified family farm that grows certified organic vegetables and flowers for the Aspen & Telluride farmer's markets, local restaurants and for their CSA. They are dedicated to promoting biodiversity through their seed choices for many of their plants. In the spring, they provide a wide selection of Certified Organic vegetable and herb starts.Zephyros Farm & Gardens Small Farm Central Website
We thought we’d take a few moments to ask them some questions about their farm & their experience with Small Farm Central.
How long have you been working with Small Farm Central?
We have been with Small farm Central from the beginning; we were one of the original sites as we met Simon right as he was getting ready to launch this idea.
Did you have a website before SFC?
We did not have a website before our SFC website. The setting up of our first website through SFC made it really easy. I have always received prompt answers to my questions and been able to make things work for me quickly.
You recently switched from a Basic Template to a Premium Template. Can you describe what that process was like?
The process of switching to a premium template was easier then I ever imagined. I had it up and running in almost no time. It also revived my interest in the website which had diminished after a long hard season.
What advice would you give to a farm who is considering starting up their first website?
I would tell a farm to use the SFC system as it has many features that are great for the business of farming and for business in general. It is important to have a website that is dynamic and evolving which is what I am able to do easily with my SFC site.
What is your favorite part of being a farmer?
I truly love watching long term crops, from seed to root cellar, and being able to pull it out again almost a year after it had begun and eating it knowing all of its lifecycle.
On the SPIN farming email group there was an interesting exchange between farmers about how to deal with problematic (well-meaning or not) visitors. This is likely more of a problem in urban areas where density of population and interest in small-scale farming bring out all kinds of people. Even if you are not an urban farm, situations may occur like this where a single customer occupies busy selling times at a farmers market.
Paige in Austin, Texas has a really good approach of creating a "Standard Operating Procedure" that helps separate the farmer from the specific situation:
My method is to note when we encounter a new "problematic situation" and then devise a "standard operating procedure." This allows me to separate myself personally from the difficult message I'm delivering to the person, and allows me to be really nice to them rather than act annoyed or in a hurry.
It depends on how much of a "business" your operation is. We're not only working to farm and make money for our household, but we're devising methods to help train farmers who want to run an extension of our yard based neighborhood farms, so we have to create procedures and best practices to teach others. This includes dealing with interruptions and other things that create problems.Those will be different for everyone depending on the operation you've set up. But generally speaking:
- identify your problem,
- think about how you'd prefer the situation go,
- consider any legal ramifications if applicable, and
- create a standard procedure for how you will handle the situation.
Then you can "blame the procedure" rather than anyone taking it personally.
"I'd really love to chat with you right now, and I'm so glad you've stopped by, but we can only give tours on Saturday mornings so the farmers can focus on the harvest during the week. Please do come back, and feel free to visit the website to fill out our contact form if you'd like to get weekly news about special events."