I would like to reiterate our support at Small Farm Central and Member Assembler for 'real farm' CSAs that grow their own food and cooperative marketing strategies that support local agriculture. This is opposed to the growing number of 'grocery delivery services' that are using the CSA model and sometimes the CSA name itself to market food out of the national distribution network. I don't believe that CSA must always remain small or driven by a single farmer. To serve a wider audience with fresh, local food we must allow the business model to evolve. However, these new models need to support local farmers who take care of their land and employees over national agribusiness.
It is not growers and producers that can create demand for this model that is so important to the livelihood of many small and beginning farmers. Support of 'real CSAs' needs to be driven by eaters. They must demand real CSAs over delivery services. You cannot steer the food choices of the larger culture, but you do have a close relationship with your existing members. I encourage you to continue educating your members about the hardships and joys of growing food and to be thankful for their support. CSA members have unlimited choices on how to spend their food dollars and the fact that they chose your CSA and your farm is a conscious and special choice. Remind them of that: gratitude is free and a provides a high return on investment.
As long as CSAs can continue providing consistently high quality boxes along with the genuine experience of supporting a local farm or group of farmers, I think eaters will continue to go out of their way to join CSAs. This is not the easy way to eat, so it is the story you tell and the quality of your product that will keep members coming back. Happy members will pass on their experience to friends and family and grow the demand for 'real CSAs'.
Here at Small Farm Central and Member Assembler we'll continue to do our part as well. We build software with real farm CSAs in mind, not food delivery services. We'll also continue to support local food advocacy programs (like PASA or the Farmers Market Coaltion) that grow the local food movement as a whole. This is a team effort and we're proud to be a part of that team!
We're proud to welcome a new member to the Small Farm Central Family! Lauren Seiple came on board to help us revamp our help documentation over the summer months. She is staying on in the position of 'Farmer Support', so you may reach Lauren on the phone or by email when you are asking a question about your site.
Lauren hails from New Jersey, but has made Pittsburgh her home for the past 7 years. Her past work for non-profits (including installation of Rain Barrels for Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and teaching composting workshops for Pennsylvania Resources Council) has given her a broad range of experience that fits perfectly with the Small Farm Central mission. She's excited to be a bigger part of the local food movement, and specifically enjoys the 'hands on help' aspect of her new position. When she's not in the office, you can find Lauren working on her house, learning about fruit trees & perusing vintage clothing about town.
Lauren in action!
Back in October of 2007 I wrote the first Getting Right with Google entry. Five years later, it feels like it is time to write another article on this topic with new information because it is still a popular question among our farmers.
Getting listed on search engines (or Google) is very important so that prospective and current customers can find you quickly whether they are simply typing your farm name into google or a series of keywords that you want people to use to find your farm website.
The art and science of getting listed on search engines is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO for short) and has spawned an entire industry. There are thousands of consultants out there who are willing to take your hard-earned money to get you ranked higher on Google. That is not necessary for the vast majority of farmers. In this article, I will present a commonsense approach to getting your farm website on Google and give you tasks you can complete without an expensive consultant.
We have optimized the Small Farm Central websites so that Google can easily find the pages, identify keywords, and index the pages. That is an important start, but the rest of the work in SEO is up to you as a farmer because it is a matter of building a reputation for your site on the web. It's not so complicated, so do not fear! There are just a few principles to keep in mind:
Google ranks site largely by the reputation of the site: for example, the website of New York Times will have a better SEO reputation than a small town newspaper in North Dakota. Google determines that reputation by looking at the number (and quality) of links to a particular website. So, one of the key things that you can do, is develop links into your website from other websites. This is good for your search engine reputation as well as people browsing those outside websites who will then be linked into your site.
In the normal course of doing business, links will be created into your site through press articles, organizations you are involved in, customers talking about your farm, or through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. You can also create your own links into your site by creating or updating profiles that you have on farm databases like LocalHarvest, RealTime Farms, or one of the many regional listing services out there. It doesn't matter that you technically created these links by creating a profile on one of these sites: all Google sees is a link from an outside site into your site.
So you can start by creating some of these profiles when you launch your site and then keep encouraging people to link to you over time and keep talking about your farm both online and in person! Your search engine reputation will increase organically over time.
It is important to realize that you are not trying to trick search engines into showing your pages. The search engine only has one goal: to provide the best content for the searcher in relation to the keywords that the searcher types. Your goal is for your website to show up when someone types in a relevant key phrase.
Create a list of 5-10 key phrases that you want to use to optimize your site. For example: "eggs ohio" or "chicago csa". If your reach is more local than national, don't worry about optimizing for the general term, "eggs" because if you are in Ohio, you don't care if someone in British Columbia searches for "eggs" and finds your site. That will not generate business for you, so localizing your search terms can help.
Once you have your list of key phrases, it is time to optimize your site for those words. One key place where you can put several keywords onto every page of your site is the <title> tag. This is the text that shows on the tab of your browser as the title of the page, but is not visible on the actual text of the page. With Small Farm Central sites, the <title> tag of the site is always created in this format: " Farm Name | Farm Tagline". These both can be edited in your control panel under: Administrate / account / account settings. Farm tagline is a great place to put some of your important keywords!
You will also want to create pages that respond to some of these keywords. If "eggs ohio" is important to you, maybe you will want to create a page entitled "Challenges of Raising Eggs in Ohio". This will give Google a very specific page to link people to when they search "eggs ohio".
So, create links into your site and optimize your site for your favored key phrases: it is just about that easy. As with anything else, you can go a lot deeper into this and learn more about SEO and I encourage you to do that if you have time between running all of the other aspects of your operation. However, if you are like most farmers, these simple tips will be enough to get your site ranked and noticed on Google.
If your CSA is considering Member Assembler for your CSA sign-up and management, you will want to sit in one our online, live demonstrations we are putting on this September. This is a chance for you to see the inside of Member Assembler and figure out if the system is right for your farm.
Each demonstration will include a 20-30 minute live demo of how the Member Assembler works and then time afterwards for participant questions. We will limit each session to 10 farmers, so there will be enough time to answer your questions. We can always follow up with specific questions afterward.
Currently, we have sessions scheduled for these days:
Reserve your spot today!
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!