On my way back to Pittsburgh from Chattanooga, I stopped in on a Small Farm Central farm, Broadened Horizons Organic Farm, in Rockwood, Tennessee. I have gotten to know Leaf and Cielo quite well since they started a website with us.
Leaf and Cielo run this small farm with the ideal of teaching their rural corner of Tennessee how to live more sustainably from rain-water collection to solar cooking to less obvious steps, such as using a gas range instead of electric for cooking. Over the last five years the farm has blossomed into a community resource of not just eggs, honey, and summer veggies, but also of learning. The workshops Leaf puts on are becoming increasingly popular.
With the state of the macro-economy, Leaf expects an markedly increased attendance to his organic gardening workshops this Spring. The goal of this farm is not to produce all the food for the community, but to help the community produce for itself. I know this is a tough row to hoe and it is not an ideal that many more production-oriented farms have, but it is a very worthy goal.
Leaf keeps a meticulous website that records monthly rainwater totals, an extensive weekly blog, and much more. Cielo is the farm photographer and keeps the photo gallery well stocked. She also creates beautiful farm-inspired postcards and has them for order at the website. They credit their work on the website to their on-going "mind-share" growth in their local community. I think it has given them a voice, a way to talk about their farm, and a confidence in their mission at that same time as they have reached out to their customers.
Leaf writes, "The website has been a successful outreach tool beyond what I had imagined it could do. A lot of the ideas we are presenting to the community are fresh, bold and innovative. Living in a rural area where people are socially reserved, the website gives people an opportunity to initially check us out from a safe and discreet distance. We have been pleasantly surprised and quite gratified by the numbers of people viewing our website content and then spreading the word by posting links to our site."
This is a great farm website and a perfect example of how these techniques work in the long term rather than the short term. Their website has been up and consistently updated for almost two years and now they are really starting to see the long-term impacts of increased readership and awareness. This is not something that happened magically or overnight for Leaf and Cielo.
I enjoy watching their farm vision grow and I think they have enjoyed watching Small Farm Central grow along with them.
Photos in farm blogs and websites are very important in making that visual connection to your customers. Your visitors skim text that finely worded web-prose you wrote; photos help break text up into more manageable and memorable chunks. This is a concept that most farmers I work with understand already.
The next step is taking engaging photos. I think a big part of the trick is simply having a camera around during photo worthy moments. I have suggested some strategies in the past such as:
All of these are still valid, but one farmer I was talking to a few weeks ago suggested using the cell phone as the camera of choice for farm photography. City folk think farmers are behind-the-times as far as technology is concerned, but most farmers I know are constantly on their cell phones even if it is to "holler" down to the other end of the field.
So, if you have a cell-phone in the field, you probably also have a camera. The photos that all semi-modern cell phones take are suitable quality for the web. The barrier here may be getting the photo from your cell phone to your computer, but I am sure a quick look at help files or a Google search will help you with that problem.
So, now that you have a camera with you everywhere you go, what kind of photos will you take and what story will those photos tell on your farm website?
But don't get too tied to your cell phone or you might end up like this poor soul:
When I was helping run a farm, I had a half-serious remark about finding new employees: "Two hands? You're hired."
That may be true at the height of harvest, but I am sure we would rather find people that have skills beyond physical dexterity. Other qualities, like genuine interest in farming and critical thinking skills go a long way toward making a more fun and productive farm.
So why not use the Internet to attract the most qualified and hard-working employees? The more resumes and interest you can generate will create a wider pool of people to choose from. Then you should be able to find the perfect fit for the position and the farm.
I would add "prospective employees" to the types of people you are trying to "market" to on your website. There is competition for the best farm workers, so you should put your best foot forward. Great photos and engaging content will not only bring new customers, but will also impress the best applicants.
Creating a specific page on your site to market your farm to potential employees is a first step. I like this one from Village Acres Farm because it is descriptive but also uses photos to great effect.
Now, how do employees find this page? There are several listing services for these types of employees. These are mainly for "internship" track type of workers who are coming to work and learn from anywhere in the country.
You will create a profile on these sites with your farm information and a description of the type of person you need. When you are asked for a link to your website, make sure you link directly to your employment page on your site instead of the front page. This will make sure the prospective employee gets the information right away instead of having to wade through the rest of your site first.
Another upside to creating these profiles is that it is another link to your website which helps out with Search Engine Optimization.
Congratulations - it's a great time to be in local food, despite the rapid deterioration of the rest of the economy.
I've heard this sentiment whispered, but one of Pittsburgh's prominent organic farmers, Don Kretschmann, shouts "We're Booming" with a column in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"The local food business is thriving -- despite the "real economy."
Demand for locally produced food is far outstripping supply. In my 30 years farming and marketing locally, this was our best year ever. More telling is that there has been no big "bubble" but just steady growth over that entire time. And throughout this fall there was a steady drumbeat -- like never before -- from those wishing to buy our local produce next season. I hear from other farmers around the state and other regions the very same thing.
What is making it thrive are some really fundamental factors and certainly these would lead one to think it isn't some flash-in-the-pan phenomenon but a truly sustainable movement.
This is exactly what I am hearing from farmers across the country as well.
It is time to tell your story even louder. Food lies at the center of health, environment, economy and energy; that is a great place to be right now. Food is impossible to ignore and the "main stream" is starting to recognize that.
Despite the macroeconomy, I suspect this year and many to come will be good to farmers producing authentic food.
Small Farm Central's "Member Assembler" integrates online CSA member sign-up, payment processing, and member management tools to create a package that will save CSAs numerous Spring hours, ease the sign-up process for members, and reduce data-entry errors.
We Love CSAs
I love the Community Supported Agriculture concept. It is a win-win situation for the eater and the producer and the relationships it creates are what will sustain the small farm in the long-term.
I have helped build a CSA: marketing, seed ordering, greenhouse seeding, member spreadsheets, lost checks, planting, weeding, and harvest. I know how difficult and rewarding the CSA model is from a producer's standpoint and member's point of view; I have done both. That's why we developed this management platform that solves some of the fundamental problems of managing members in CSA-type programs.
How it Works
Farmers configure the Member Assembler to model their CSA through an online control panel that does not require technical skill. Easily program pickup locations, custom forms, multiple member types, and checkout procedure. A detailed "get started" document guides this process.
Members come to a publicly accessible URL (such as www.yourfarm.com) and submit their information and options. The system easily hooks up to a credit card processor (or farmers have the option of no online payment processing), records payments, and tracks balances.
Other tools like printable pick-up lists, downloadable excel spreadsheets of member data, weekly reminder emails to users, payment requests and mailing lists are also integrated into this package.
This system can be used in conjunction with a full Small Farm Central website or as a stand-alone tool.
Try it for yourself! A sample sign-up form is available at:
30-day Free Trial
If this seems like something your farm would be interested in, make sure that it will work for you by requesting a 30-day free trial. This is a fully functional Member Assembler site that you can configure and start accepting sign ups. If you find that it fits your needs, you can easily transfer this trial to a full Member Assembler subscription.
Request the trial here:
You may also be interested in...
How Does it Work?
Full Information is available at:
Small Farm Central, Lead Developer
Another organization that is working hard to help farmers market themselves on the web is the Eat Well Guide.
They recently released a publication highlighting how farmers and farm organizations can use the web to market themselves and their products.
They cover basic topics like getting listed in the Eat Well Guide, email marketing, and WWOOF. Then there are advanced topics, which I personally don't suggest for the average farmer like social networks, viral video, and Flickr. This is an interesting guide with good design, illuminating profile quotes, and informative articles. I suggest taking a look.
They even quoted me in the section entitled "From Barns to Bandwidth: Farmers on the Web."
It's almost time for the holidays and 2009 - you aren't paying attention to this blog are you? So, I think this marks the end of 2008 for the Small Farm Central blog, unless something interesting comes up.
We have the Member Assembler pretty well wrapped up. We are now working on good help documentation and doing lots of testing. Look for a blog post on 1/2/2009 with information on how to sign up for your 30-day free trial.
Keep up to date with the blog by signing up for email updates.
For that special bean eater in your life, the "Desert Island Sampler" includes the Pebble Bean, Yellow Eye Bean, Midnight Black Beans, Christmas Lima Beans, and the Vaquero Bean.
If that special bean eater in my life reads this, they may just be getting a preview of Christmas day!
But seriously, Steve Sando at Rancho Gordo does a great job with his dried, heirloom beans and online ordering. Attractive website, plenty of information, easy ordering, blog and integration with email marketing.
Hey, it sold me. He is a great example of doing it right and someone to look to as you create your online marketing plan.
We are busy finishing the development of a new Small Farm Central extension that aims to streamline the CSA (or other farm membership program) sign-up and the member management process.
It is called "The Member Assembler" and can be used in conjunction with a SFC website or as a stand-alone module.
After an easy set-up, customers will come to your website to complete the sign-up process. This relieves you of: developing a CSA application form, stuffing envelopes, mailing it to prospective members, retrieving the mail, entering the data into a spreadsheet, processing the checks, and etc.
Some "Member Assembler" Features:
The service will be ready on January 2nd, 2009 and we will have a 30-day free trial for everyone interested in using it.
We are busy developing, tweaking, and testing to get this ready for your 2009 CSA signups. I think you will find a little technology can save you many office hours this Spring and will help you keep up on the field work.
Give us feedback so we can make sure the service will work for your CSA and read more at:
"...whether you're cooking or not is one of the best predictors for a healthy diet. It's more important than the class predictor. People with more money generally have healthier diets, but affluent people who don't cook are not as healthy in their eating as poor people who still cook. So, very, very important. If you don't have pots and pans, get them."
-Michael Pollan on Bill Moyers Journal, 11/28/2008
This is a great point from one of the leading voices in the local food movement and made me think more about the intersection of cooking, farming, and health. Click the link above for the full interview. Thanks, Art, for tipping me off to the interview.
Food from local farmers does not go into the freezer cases or microwave dinners, so an important piece of this puzzle is to find out how to get Americans back into the kitchen with raw ingredients.
With a little confidence and a sense of adventure, cooking at home is easy and inexpensive.
How do we get people back into the kitchen?
I hope your farming season is winding down slowly and that you can breath again after a long season. I see more farmers logging into their Small Farm Central sites and making updates as evidence of that fact.
I would like to say thanks for your support of Small Farm Central, the stories that I hear every day about farms around the country, and the friendships I have made with members. It truly is a pleasure to work with such pleasant folks who are working to invigorate local agriculture. Making it happen at the "ground" level is the real work that needs to be done.
As one Small Farm Central member wrote this week, "have a bountiful Thanksgiving – in my estimation the best of all holidays for farmer folks."
I hope you have a chance to slow down and enjoy food, family, and friends this week.
[Photo by ansik]