Around this time every year, we sit down with the laundry list of proposed upgrades to Member Assembler and start working on new features. We have a number of exciting new features, but today I want to highlight a fairly small, but significant upgrade.
On the final "checkout" screen when a member signs up for your CSA via Member Assembler, the member now has an option to share their purchase with their friends and encourage their network to sign up for your CSA. A membership in a CSA is something most people are very proud of, so they were likely re-posting information about you already. Now they can easily share their CSA purchase to Twitter and Facebook. Of course these posts include a link to your Member Assembler site if a friend of theirs want to sign up!
Enjoy the free publicity!
This feature is now available on all of our Member Assembler accounts. If you have not yet considered Member Assembler for your CSA, get in touch!
(The past of documentation versus the future.)
One of the big goals here at Small Farm Central this summer has been to revamp our documentation that has not been searchable or extremely useful in the recent past. We brought on new member of the team - Lauren - to make this happen.
Now we have moved all of our existing documents on the Small Farm Central services to one place that we call the "Knowledge Base". You can visit it here:
We are going to be adding lot of new help documents, especially covering all aspects of the Member Assembler over the next month or two, so check back!
(Clarification! The above photo is *not* Lauren acting like it is 1964.)
Michael of Little Peace Farm sent this out to his mailing list yesterday and he gave me permission to re-post. I think it sums up how a lot of you are feeling right now!
For a little commiseration, read on..
Welp, I've hit it. As promised, I've hit that annual mid-season wall and I am a grump! Every season, right about now, after several weeks of drought, fatal plant disease, bolted lettuce, corn-fed raccoons, unexpected bills, killed chickens, injury, less than stellar sales, rising fuel prices, tractor/equipment repairs, uncontrolable fatigue, Casea dog gone, I get really down about what we're doing here at the farm. What ARE we doing here?
When I answer that, it sounds all good and simple; WE ARE RAISING OUR FAMILY ON A FARM AND SHARING OUR LIVES AND HOW WE LIVE WITH OUR COMMUNITY, PERIOD! Sharing the fruit of our vocation with our family, friends and community. No matter how you say it, it sounds perfect but chasing that perfection is exhausting! We've been in a sprint since February and are feeling it.
Having said all that, most of our friends will say, "Well what GOOD has happened on the farm so far this year?" This e-mail would go unread for the length if I listed it all here but I'll name a few:
*we're still here!
*my wife and children!
*we've added lots of animals to our care!
*we're all relatively physically healthy!
*you're all supporting us!
*we're expanding our farm (more to come!)
*we're applying growing skills we've learned over the winter and seeing results!
*great winter growing in our new high tunnel!
These are all miracles and we know how much we have to be grateful for and we are profoundly grateful to God for our protection and care. We know the end result of our labors are healthier, happier community. We also know that WE LOVE BEING FARMERS. This is our calling and we're totally dedicated to it. That gives me peace, knowing that I'm fulfilling the vocation I was made for.
So I'll stop whining and look for those little miracles that surround us every day. Aah, I feel better now...."
(Written by Michael Scheidel at Little Peace Farm.)
I visited Greg and the team at Blackberry Meadows Farm this week. They run a 100ish member CSA about 20 miles from Pittsburgh. His farm is focusing heavily on the community aspect to differentiate the farm from other CSAs in the area. We were talking about how many CSAs are allowing box customization and other schemes: Greg emphatically said, ".. they are still going to get the turnips from us!". He aims to offer cooking class and build a community of committed customers.
Here is community on display:
Interns, volunteers, and work share members weed beans in 90F+ heat!
Every Tuesday is a community work day that is followed by community lunch. Even better, some days they fire up the brick oven to bake pizzas!
I think the key to think about here is that there are many ways to differentiate your CSA. Offering more choice may be one way, but Blackberry Meadows is sticking firm as Pittsburgh's "Most Community-Oriented CSA".
We think a lot about credit cards here at Small Farm Central because we help farmers take online orders for CSAs, buying clubs, and everything in between. We've written about credit cards a lot on the blog here, here, & here.
One approach that is popular with our CSAs is charging customers more to pay with credit cards versus paying by check or cash. This covers the bank fees for credit card transactions that can run as high as 3% or more of each transaction. This can make a lot of sense for a CSA share because it is such a large ticket item. However, until this point, charging extra for credit card sales was against the contract each merchant signs with Visa and Mastercard. This has changed:
The New York Times reports:
Under the credit-card settlement on Friday, worked out over months of negotiations, merchants can charge higher prices to consumers who decide to pay for their purchases with credit cards.
A customer, for example, who buys a $100 item with a credit card might be charged an additional $2.50. A judge still needs to approve the settlement.
Until now, the card companies banned merchants from adding such a surcharge, although gas stations and other retailers sometimes offered a discount for customers who paid in cash.
Kevin drum writes:
Until now, credit card companies used their monopoly power to prohibit this. Merchants could discount for cash, but their contracts with Visa and MasterCard flatly prohibited them from charging credit card customers more to cover the swipe fee — and card companies have been adamant about enforcing this prohibition. There's an obvious reason for this: they're afraid that if merchants are allowed to do this, people will use credit cards less. And if people use credit cards less, then banks and credit card companies make less money.
What's more, consumers and merchants get a lot of benefits from credit cards: consumers get convenience and merchants get guaranteed payment. No more bounced checks! Maybe a 2.5% fee is a reasonable price for those benefits.
Some merchants will almost certainly start charging more for credit card purchases, and after a period of experimentation we'll end up in a new equilibrium. What will it be? Perhaps consumers will start avoiding stores that charge for using credit cards, and those stores will lose enough business that they'll give up. Or maybe they'll gain enough cash business that everyone else will follow suit. Maybe merchants will end up charging higher prices for small items but routinely waive the fees for larger purchases. Maybe stores in competitive markets will swallow the fees while other stores don't. Or vice versa. Or maybe it will end up putting pressure on banks and card companies to lower swipe fees and then everything will revert to the status quo, but with no more ridiculous rewards programs. (This is my preferred outcome: keep the convenience of electronic payment, but with swipe fees basically covering the cost of running the network, not acting as a hidden profit center.)
So you can now legally charge extra for a customer paying with credit, a practice many CSAs have already implemented, but of course it is a trade-off. I'll save thinking about the balance of the trade-off for another post!
We have a new Small Farm Central template ready. This one was designed by our very own Shannon who you may have had the pleasure of interacting with if you are a current Small Farm Central customer. For most of our designs, we hire outside design firms so it was nice to do this one in-house.
We are calling it "Polaroid".
See below for a sample screenshot or visit the sample page at premium11.smallfarmcentral.com.
Let us know what you think!
The following poster was found in the bathroom of a local eating establishment:
Although the placement in the bathroom is an interesting touch, that is not why I think it is particularly creative. When Clarion River Organics printed these posters, they left a space for "pick up at" blank to be written in for each poster. So when I look at this poster, assuming I live in the neighborhood, I know exactly where I can pick up my share. This is really smart because many people will choose a CSA largely on the basis of pickup proximity.
With the wonders of mapping software on phones, they could take this the extra mile and put the distance from this location to the drop-off (ie 0.76 miles from here) in case it is not immediately obvious to the reader where Hampton Avenue is.
Try this with your posters and let me know how it works!
The National Summit on Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) was last week in Rye, New Hampshire. We've been working with a couple of CSFs over the years such as Off the Hook & Eastman's Fish with our Member Assembler service that works as well for fisheries as farmers.
Apparently Member Assembler was heavily mentioned because we've spent a lot of time talking with CSFs this week! It is inspiring that fisheries -- maybe one of the few industries with more challenges than agriculture -- are working off of the momentum that small-scale agriculture has created to find their customers and community.
It's Farmers Market time once again and many of you will be delivering your produce to different locations, both near and far. But sometimes the price of delivering to the most convenient spots for your customers is felt pretty hard at the gas pumps. So, we've added on a new option for E-Commerce which you can find under your Shipping configuration: Pickup Handling Fees.
Whatever pickup locations you've already created will show up here for you to set any surcharge for orders. Just enter the dollar amounts and save and the fee will be automatically added to the orders - both in your online store and, if you choose, in orders you create through the admin. You don't have to set a fee for each location. Say, for people picking up right at the farm, you can set it to $0. But for that one market on the other side of the state, a small surcharge will help defray your costs of trucking everything over there. This also may be a nice solution to justify serving locations where you have a lot of loyalty but not a lot of sales volume.
Being on the road this time of year is necessary, but can often feel like unproductive time away from your farm. If there are any other options you can think of ways we can help make it more profitable for you, please contact us with suggestions.