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.
Another premium template is ready for your farm website. We call it "Wooden":
Check out the sample site at: http://premium5.smallfarmcentral.com
One great feature of our templates is that switching between templates is completely seamless -- with one click all of your site transfers over to the new "look". The content and photos move over with you, so there is no re-typing necessary. This is a great long-term plan because you'll get tired of looking at your website "look" after a few years. When you want a new look or we have a great new template out, you can move over without any extra fees or extra effort.
If you have an account, you'll find this new template available in your control panel:
Display / Template Settings / Template Settings
We find and work with great web designers so you don't have to! More templates coming in the next few weeks.
Want to put a Facebook or Twitter badge on your site? Not even sure what Twitter is?? Here's a helpful doc to help you get started!
Facebook: Facebook is a social networking website. Anyone over the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address can become a Facebook user. Users can add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. Additionally, users can join networks organized by city, workplace, and school or college.
Twitter: Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows you answer the question, "What are you doing?" by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called "tweets", to your friends, or "followers." It's this 'short format' of communication that appeals to users who are suffering from lengthy email fatigue!
Placing a Facebook Badge on Your Site
1. Grab the HTML code from Facebook.
You'll have to select the type of badge you'd like to display. For this example, let's click on 'Profile Badge'. (See Img. 1) Click on "Other" for the type of website you're placing the badge on.
Facebook will then provide you with some HTML code. (See Img. 2) Click on this code and copy it (keyboard shortcut: Control + C).
2. Login to your control panel and navigate to Display / Widgets / Create Custom Widget
3. Click on the HTML icon in your rich text editor (See Img. 3)
4. Paste in the Facebook code in your HTML pop up box. (See Img. 4)
5. Click Update to save the HTML changes.
6. Click Submit Changes to save your new widget. (Be sure to fill out the 'narrow to' field, if you do not want this widget on every page of your site.)
7. View your public site, to see how your new widget looks!
Placing a Twitter Badge on Your Site
1. Grab the HTML code from Twitter.
Select "Widgets for My Website" and choose which type of badge you'd like. For this example, let's click on "Profile". (You may need to log in for your information to automatically populate in the Username field.)
Click "Finish & Grab Code". Copy the HTML code that Twitter creates for you.
2. Follow steps 2-7 above!
I've met the Animal Welfare Approved folks at many of the conferences I travel to and they seem like a great organization offering a standard and certification program to farmers. They sent me the information below so you can familiarize yourself with their work:
Are you concerned about the welfare of animals that become part of the food chain? Animal Welfare Approved is the only third-party welfare certification that actually guarantees animals were raised outdoors. This USDA recognized certification and food label is dedicated to family farmers practicing high-welfare husbandry, outdoors on pasture or range. Animal Welfare Approved maintains a fee-free program, which has two important outcomes: one, there is no incentive to pass noncompliant farms; and two, the certification is available to any farm meeting AWA’s rigorous standards, regardless of size or scale.
Animal Welfare Approved’s standards are the most rigorous and progressive animal care requirements in the nation, as recognized by the World Society for the Protection of Animals for two years running. These standards have been developed in collaboration with scientists, veterinarians, researchers and farmers and incorporate best practice and recent research. Annual audits by experts in the field cover birth to slaughter. Species include beef cattle and calves, dairy cattle and calves, pigs, poultry (chicken, turkey and duck), sheep, dairy sheep, goat, dairy goats and bison and calves. The basic premise of all the standards is that animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being.
Given only to family farms, the Animal Welfare Approved label verifies that participating farms are putting each individual animal’s comfort and well-being first. The program is based on the simple understanding that our own best interests are intrinsically linked to animals and the environment. Farmers benefit from having a third-party affirmation of their practices and consumers benefit by knowing that the label means what it says. The many health benefits of meat, dairy and eggs from animals raised outdoors are well-documented. As more and more people seek out these products - for ethical, health, and environmental reasons, Animal Welfare Approved is emerging as the most dependable guarantee that an animal was raised humanely outdoors.
Additionally, Animal Welfare Approved offers a level of farmer support that sets it apart from other certifications. Grant opportunities, technical and marketing assistance and networking are offered to all member farmers at no cost. AWA also actively works to develop relationships with retailers, restaurants and cooperatives in an effort to expand the availability of high-welfare products in the marketplace. This comprehensive support helps farmers to stay abreast of the latest techniques in high-welfare farming, and also to thrive as businesses and to share these techniques with other farms. AWA’s philosophy is to be supportive and encouraging, revitalizing a culture of independent family farms in which a humane ethic can be passed on to future generations.
For more information, visit www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org.
We have three premium templates in varying stages of development right now. They will be coming to your control panel in the next few weeks. We hope to bring out about 10 new templates this year.
These templates are always customizable to your own farm's unique looks and it is a very cost-effective way to get a completely professional look going for your farm quickly. We invest heavily in these templates, so we hope you love them!
One nice thing about using these templates: if you get bored of looking at the same design after a few years, you can switch your template with one click and all of your content, photos, and etc will transfer over and you have a completely new site!
Here is one really nice template that is in the works:
This is not finished yet and we are still polishing things up. For example, we need work on tying the graphics together. The farm that has apples (the header image) is unlikely to grow wheat (in the footer), so we are working on that aspect of this template still!
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.