Seth Godin recommends that we start the year by running a Google search on ourselves.
How do you want your farm to be seen by customers who will idly search for you on the web? That search may come at a pivotal time in their local food life.
Let's say your small farm sells at farmer's markets. Picture a customer who has just started coming to the market and has bought food at different stands, but really likes your stand because you are friendly / organic / helpful / sustainable / tasty / attractive (pick one or more).
This customer is interested in your farm enough to remember the name, so they are sitting at work near the end of the day and they are considering a trip to the farmer's market that evening. They type your farm name into Google, not necessarily expecting anything to come back.
Do they find a professional, active website that explains the farm philosophy, encourages feedback, and gives the customer a view into the work that is done on the farm?
Does this fictional customer go to the farmer's market that evening? If so, what stand do they visit?
If you don't like what you see, plan what you are going to do about that in 2008. Start a blog, learn basic web design, or get a Small Farm Central site.
Photo by: asifthebes
A while ago, one Small Farm Central member wrote to me to say that views of her farm had ended up on a commercial because a video producer was able to find her farm through a quick Google search ("Macadamia nut farms in Maui").
A farmer wrote to me last week to tell me about a local, like-minded business that had been quietly digesting the farm blog. The business has ordered consulting services from the farm on how to start a rainwater-collection system on the strength of the blog, website, and of course the farmer.
You never know who is looking for you online and they can never find you if you do not have a website. Even if you feel like your website is in some damp, unloved corner of the web, someone out there is looking for you. This should not be the only reason to have a website because these stray connections often lead nowhere, like the sweet potato enthusiast who contacted me with detailed information about restaurants in his area that serve sweet potatoes. He wanted information about sweet potato festivals or conferences and I pointed him towards a few resources. This connection did not serve the interests of Small Farm Central, but sometimes these contacts will make sense for your business and you will be glad that your name and thoughts were out there for that person to find.
This is the serendipity factor.
Of course, a professional and up-to-date website with high visibility will garner more of these happenstance contacts.
Do you have any good stories of chance Internet encounters? Leave them below in comments.
You may also be interested in:
More patience and "growing" your small farm marketing
This a great pep talk from Joel Salatin on the value of creating relationships with customers. This comes from the December 2007 issue of Acres USA magazine.
...farmers should be building relationships with customers. It’s a crying shame that farmers by and large distrust their customers. Farmers are rightfully dubious about the intentions of the grain elevator, sale barn or large processor/buyer. Rather than building a customer relationship, however, farmers feel isolated from their buyers at best, and a healthy animosity at worst.
Alternative marketing offers an antidote for this buyer-seller divorce. Many relationship-oriented marketing schemes exist. From Community Supported Agriculture to farmers markets to Internet sales to farmgate sales, all of these venues and more provide opportunities for farmers to build relationships with their constituency.
The immediate feedback about product quality, product type and product quantity creates not only accountability but also immediate encouragement. How many farmers receive praise and accolades from their customers? I noticed this most poignantly when our children were small and customers would tell them what important work their family did. “We depend on you for our food,” they would say.
Do you know what that does for the self-image of a child? In a day when farm kids routinely receive redneck stereotyping from their peers — farming, after all, is not cool like Dilbert cubicles — for ours to receive constant positive reinforcement was worth more than any amount of money. We don’t farm because we’re too stupid to do anything else; we farm because we love it and want to heal the world, and all the people in it.
Honoring and respecting our customers is part and parcel of the farm business. Most farmers do not even envision themselves as part of the food chain. They just see themselves as producers of raw commodities. Period. End of story.
And that is unfortunate. It dishonors the most noble vocation on earth, and the ultimate stewardship of air, soil and water. Building customer relationships, although challenging at times, is critical to creating a farm that can sustain itself long term.
There we are: soil, plants, animals, people, community and customers. Building relationships is the calling, the sacred ministry, of good farmers. How we massage those relationships determines our success and the degree to which we heal all the elements within our sphere of influence.
Let’s go build some relationships.
You can find the full PDF here.
I especially like the idea of "immediate feedback about product quality, product type and product quantity." This farmer-to-eater relationship is probably the biggest estimator of quality. The stronger your relationship with the eater the more care you will put into the growing of food. What comprises would you make in growing food for your children versus food that goes into an airplane for a foreign country?
It is officially farming conference season; that time of year when farmers come together to forget about the struggles of the previous year and get excited about the possibilities for next season. So few of us Americans are farmers anymore that throughout most of the year when farmers are focused on their own corner of the world, communication is almost always with people outside of the agricultural community. Whether dealing with farm customers, phone support from the computer manufacturer, or a surly checkout person at the grocery store, there are few people to commiserate with that really understand the highs and lows of working a farm.
It is wonderful to watch the smiling faces of farmers at these conferences when they talk to friends and vendors. They can tell the stories of the year knowing, for once, that they do not have to explain all that background ("Yes, I am actually a farmer" "Well, food actually comes from a farm somewhere not the grocery store" "No really, I'm a farmer").
I am not working on a farm any more as these web projects seem to take enough of my time (see these soft hands?), but going to a conference like Acres USA is still a refreshing experience. It is gratifying to look prospective Small Farm Central members in the eye and tell them about the service and show them a demo. This product is for farmers who just want their web marketing to work and it is gratifying to remember that this is a big help in a farmer's life in finances, time-management, and professionalism. In whatever we do in life, it is important to look up and see the broader picture of the daily work. Going to a farming conference rejuvenates my drive for Small Farm Central just as much as farmers are renewed when they know that they are among equals.
A hearty welcome to the new faces who signed up during the conference and hopefully many more farmers I talked to will join over the next few months. Thanks also to Chris Deatrick who graciously hosted me while I was in Louisville. He corrected my pronunciation of the city's name and took me on a great tour of the city.
Photo by merfam
I will be showing off Small Farm Central at the Acres USA tradeshow Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky. If you are at the conference, be sure to come by and say hi.
Another bonus, Wendell Berry is speaking on Saturday night.
In other news, look for Small Farm Central version 2.0 in Spring of next year. I am sure I will discuss the improvements that are coming in the new version on this blog over the next few months, so sign up for updates.
(photo by kevindooley)
You may remember Krystle from "Ruminations on farm business from an aspiring farmer." She is young farmer working in New Mexico and now pondering the next steps to take. You can check out her site at http://www.selfmadefarmer.com. The following are excerpts from her November 2007 newsletter; sign up for the mailing list by sending Krystle an email at: email@example.com.
"The best way to stay grounded, it seems, is to develop a vision based on some core values and principles that you believe in, and to return to this vision every time you feel discouraged. So I've spent the last month focusing on a foundation which will ultimately become the backbone of my business plan. My main guide was a publication titled "Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses" developed by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.
The first thing I did was identify values, or "standards, beliefs or qualities that you consider worth upholding or pursuing." In other words, they define what it means to me to be successful in farming. They're broken down into four categories: personal, economic, environmental, and community. What resulted was a list that pretty much defined why I've chosen farming as a lifelong vocation. In time, I plan on focusing on these values individually, through future newsletters or articles."
"During my first two years of farming in New York, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who was a lifelong farmer and took me under his wing. I often think to this day that if it hadn't been for his influence, I might've wasted years in the wealthy hobby farming community, where having the rarest breed or the most unique tomatoes outweighs turning a profit. It's great when--of all the things wealthy people can do with their money--they choose to preserve farmland and endangered breeds or varieties; but from what I've seen, such operations tend to have unrealistic expectations that always fall on the staff, and the turnover is high, despite good pay.
Instead, I learned early on that there are profits to be made from farming, if one chooses to be creative and ambitious enough. I also realized that if I could make a living from farming in a way that's both ecologically and financially sustainable, I'd feel like an accomplished human being. Once that was settled, I knew what I needed to learn: how to run a farm as a business. And I knew I wasn't getting it in New York. But I'd added another value to my list: financial sustainability."
"In looking at the big picture, I acknowledge that the only way an alternative food system is ever going to become established is if every generation builds upon the work of the one before it. To reinvent the wheel unnecessarily is not only counter-productive, but it's also a waste of time. I've learned to value continuity and collaboration more than ever.
With these realizations in mind, I'm now more open to the possibility of striking up a partnership with an existing farmer and working out some way that I can invest in their farm, rather than build one from the ground up. Whether it'll actually pan out that way, who knows? If there's anything I've learned in New Mexico, it's to hang on to your values and just wait and see...!"
Another recipe for your farm newsletter. This is the last one for the season; hopefully Beth will contribute to the Small Farm Central blog in other ways throughout the winter.
In review, here are a few of her recipes from the season:
Summer Tomato Recipes
Salad with Cantaloupe, Pecans and Honey Viniagrette
Apple-sage Roasted Chickenzilla & Honey-Sage Sweet Potatoes with Shallots
Sweet Potato, Gouda and Herb Gratin
The Versatile Mashed Sweet Potato
Fall Harvest Soup
Red, Gold and Orange Festive Salad
Coconut-Curry Pumpkin Soup
Weekend Recipe - Honey-Glazed Turnips with Shallots
Vanilla-Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan-Brown Sugar Crust
A few beets are all that's left of my most recent CSA bag, but for those who are just ahead of the last frost, here's a great fall-into-winter recipe for the final cruciferous bounty of the season.
Cauliflower, Chard and Leek Gratin
1 medium head of cauliflower, florets only
1 bunch of chard, cleaned, stem removed and chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed well and chopped
1/4 cup chopped shallot
1 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. flour
1/4 cup cream
1-3/4 cup 2 percent milk
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
Steam the cauliflower until tender crisp, about 10 minutes. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large pan, saute the leek and shallot for a few minutes until just starting to turn golden. Add the chard and saute until just wilted. Mix with the cauliflower in a roasting pan.
Make the bechamel. Start by melting the butter in a sauce pan. Add the flour and whisk until it begins to turn golden and smells "nutty" and no longer like raw flour. Add the cream and milk slowly, whisking as you go to keep it smooth. Add the nutmeg. Whisk over low heat until it thickens. Add the Grana Padano cheese and whisk until melted and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce evenly over the cauliflower mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes until the top turns golden and it is heated through. You can also do this with broccoli.
When I go to see my grandma I gain a lot of weight
With her dear hands she gives me plate after plate.
She cans the pickles, sweet & dill
She cans the songs of the whippoorwill
And the morning dew and the evening moon
'N' I really got to go see her pretty soon
'Cause these canned goods I buy at the store
Ain't got the summer in them anymore.
There were hot August and September evenings in the kitchen over a hot stove top ‘preserving the harvest’ from the farmer’s market, CSA, and home garden. The gardens are now frozen and farmer’s markets are closed, so I am starting to look at the cupboard (in my case the cupboard is a collection of boxes pushed to a remote corner of the kitchen) with thoughts of how and when to pop open those time capsules - bundles of joy and summer.
The food in those jars is no longer simple sustenance. There is a story in each jar: the place the food was bought or grown, the family or friends who helped, and the weather on that day. It is a splinter of life intersecting with produce in a deeply personal way that food from the grocery store never can never match.
This home food preservation isn’t logical; it doesn’t fit into any mainstream economic theory. I spent seven hours one evening on seven quarts of canned tomato sauce. This was not hard labor throughout the process, but I was mindful of the canning throughout that long summer evening. At any reasonable rate of return on my labor, they were wasted hours that could have been spent creating value in other pursuits. What happened to that core tenant of capitalism: specialization?
This irrationality is one of the reasons that we are still canning at home and more people try it each year. It is seen as old-fashioned, anachronistic. It doesn’t make sense – it is something that you can’t discuss in mixed company or at the office unless you are willing to brave a long explanations and puzzled stares.
“Let me get this straight: you made your own pickles? Out of cucumbers?”
But as you know it is a testament to experimental cooking, the bounty of summer, and your own resourcefulness. It is anti-economic; not necessarily against modern society, but a way of running parallel. It is quiet, messy, and the opposite of fast food.
Now theory ends – you’ve put in the time over your boiling-water canner and it is time to collect on debts and eat that home canned food. Here are some suggestions on how to eat it all; just don’t be shy. That food is for eatin’, not just for lookin’.
Small Farm Central bridges the gap between technology and agriculture by providing web services to direct marketing small farms across the country. We help farms reach their marketing potential with inexpensive, professional websites that any farmer can use. Come get a free demo today.
Wake up a little early this morning and write your farm blog.
This is the second installment of "5 farm blog ideas" -- click here to see part 1.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.. Among the many things I am thankful for in my life, I am thankful for the friends that I have made across the country while providing the Small Farm Central service. I am also thankful for the education and experiences that led to this project; it provides me with a lot of pleasure.
Have a great Thanksgiving -- back to the mailing list series after the holiday.
Let's get together and talk about the possibilties.
Below is the November Small Farm Central newsletter. If you are seeing this for the second time through the blog, I apologize!
As we approach the end of 2007, I see farms and farm-related organizations getting excited about the possible applications web technology. It really is a perfect fit: the Internet connects geographically separated organizations and people at a negligible cost. Many small, direct-marketing farms are rural, but market to the urban customer. As our lives, especially urban lives, move further online it is important to find creative solutions to connect farms to eaters.
Perhaps the largest obstacle to this goal is the cost, expertise, and will required to develop complex web systems that solve these problems. I believe that Small Farm Central is one small part of this puzzle. Providing a professional web-presence and e-commerce at low-cost is important because most farmers do not have the time to learn the technology and just want it to work.
There are also many other parts necessary to solve these problems -- listing services like LocalHarvest, coops that use technology to augment their business (such as Penn's Corner in the future or as Lancaster Farm Fresh is doing now), and systems that have not been imagined yet. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a regional sustainable agriculture organization that wants to deeply connect farmers and customers in the region through a comprehensive website. He has some great ideas and I am excited to see that project take shape.
Given creativity, will, and technical skill we can create tools as a community that will keep environmentally sustainable farms economically sound.
Stay in touch!
Otherwise, things are rolling along here at Small Farm Central. I will be at the Acres U.S.A. conference tradeshow in Louisville, KY in December. Come say hi if you will be there! A great way to see the possibilities of the service we provide is to have a phone demo. I can walk through the features of the system with you; it is quite different than most people are used to interacting with a website so it is a worthwhile experience to see a demo.
Articles from a month of blogging at Small Farm Central:
Use web teaser cards to create loyal customers and farm website readers
More patience and "growing" your small farm marketing
Canning is ideology in a jar
Farm ecommerce brings direct, local sales to farm websites
Ruminations on farm business from an aspiring farmer
Connecting with farm customers through website and blog comments
Lead Developer, Small Farm Central
Support Phone Number: 412-567-3864