We know you are busy! Heck, I am surprised you are reading this on a clear July afternoon when there are weeds to pull, irrigation to run, cows to move, markets to attend, and on, and on.
Although I don't currently run a production farm, I have done it and I know how hard and busy these months are.
And still, your website is still begging to be updated with photos and stories of the year because that is what your committed and prospective customers want to hear. With all of these other commitments, it is very easy to let communication slip. If you make updating your site and blog an EASY (maybe even enjoyable as many of our customers tell us Small Farm Central is) task, you will find yourself making the effort more often.
If you look back to your site in the cool days of October and notice that you haven't updated since April, perhaps it is time to try a different approach. If you want someone else to take care of the technology and let you concentrate on your crops, animals, and communication with your customers, let's talk!
Earlier this year, we created a way for Small Farm Central users to quickly create Google Maps directions pages for their farm.
The example above is from Oak Ridge Farm's "Directions to the Farm" page. On the left, the page asks for the origination address and then the destination address is already programmed by the farmer.
The user then hits "Get Directions!" and they are immediately shown turn-by-turn directions from their originating address to the farm. The user does not leave the Oak Ridge Farm website at all.
In my case it shows a 651 mile trip from Pittsburgh to Neenah, Wisconsin.
A special feature for our farms is the ability to drag and drop the destination point, so even if Google Maps does not recognize your rural address, you can direct your customers to find your location.
If you are already a Small Farm Central subscriber, login to your control panel and navigate to:
Create Content / Maps / Directions Pages
...you will have a directions page on your website within a few short minutes.
Our CSA member management service, the Member Assembler, was a success in it's first season with over 5,000 CSA members signed up. From farms with well over 1,000 members to farms with 25 members, the system eased data entry, collected payments, and is now serving as a repository for membership information as the season progresses.
It is fun to watch the automated "pickup reminders" go out each night to CSA members that are receiving a CSA box the next day. I can imagine a great box of veggies and fruit behind each one of those emails. Quite exciting.
If you are running a CSA in 2010, consider using our system for online member sign-up, balance tracking, credit card integration (or old fashioned checks; your choice), member management, pick-up reminders, and more.
We are planning a lot of improvements for later this season and next season:
Google Checkout Problems
The biggest hiccup for the Member Assembler this Spring was related to Google Checkout. Google apparently does not understand or appreciate the collective risk of the CSA system and, for a couple of farms, was holding back 10% of gross sales to cover any charge-backs.
Despite reasonable explanation from Small Farm Central, our farms, and numerous emails from CSA customers, Google could not be budged. If we cannot get a guarantee that this will not happen for 2010, we will remove Google Checkout as an option in the Member Assembler and move to use PayPal as the credit card processor.
We Love CSAs
We love the CSA concept -- I've helped start and manage a CSA farm, been a member of a number of CSA programs, and seen the logistical issues of complex CSA programs in my experience delivering CSA boxes for Penns Corner Farm Alliance which collects products from 25 farms in the Pittsburgh area, packs CSA boxes, and then delivers them across the city.
Keep up the hard work this year - I know the CSA delivery season has just started for most of you. Another 20 weeks, give or take, left! We'll keep working for you to make sure the Member Assembler continues to improve and can become an even more useful tool for your CSA.
Shannon Knepper will be helping us out this summer with email correspondence and support. We'd like to introduce you so you know who you are talking on the phone or via email.
Shannon also works with the Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local program's buylocalpa.org which is a custom development project of Small Farm Central. It is a mapping application that visualizes Pennsylvania's local food sources among many other interesting features. Shannon helps support the farmer and consumer queries that come through that site.
Her work with buylocalpa.org and commitment to calm, knowledgeable support makes her a perfect fit for our team.
A Little About Shannon
Shannon Knepper is a Pittsburgh printmaker & graphic designer who breaks for taco trucks, leafy greens and stinky cheeses. Connecting the public with great farms is a personal mission & she's happy to be a part of Small Farm Central team.
To celebrate this third premium template, we'd like to offer the next three new subscribers to Small Farm Central a free upgrade to use premium templates. This is a $100 value. If you would like to take advantage of this offer, sign up now and use the coupon code "blossom382".
We'll make sure your account is upgraded to use our premium templates.
The best marketing is, of course, word-of-mouth. It is free and respected by consumers more than anything you write on your website. Have a great product, get people talking about it, maybe have a website for more information, and you are on your way to a great marketing plan.
There is a way that you can cross your website copy with word-of-mouth advertising: the testimonial.
Kehrer writes: "Testimonials are the missing link for prospects considering a commitment to your product or service. Reading what others have to say gives them instant comfort. It helps them connect the dots, put a real face on your business and see the satisfaction others have garnered from working with you."
Create a page on your site where you can collect the nice things customers say about your farm and build it slowly over time as positive comments are made. Small Farm Central farmers say lots of nice things, that's why we created the What Our Farmers Say page.
Once you have created a repository on your site of testimonials, you can sprinkle the comments throughout your site in places where the specific comment augments the point you are making. Strawberries are going strong across the country right now, so let's say you have created a page about your strawberries with information about "U-Pick", varietals, growing practices, and more. A comment from a customer about how different the strawberries are than store-bought is perfect for the strawberry page!
When someone sends you an email with a quotable line, send them a message back and ask them if you can use their words on your testimonial page. You don't want that customer to visit your site a few weeks later to find their email pasted all over your site without permission -- that is a good way to turn a happy customer into an disgruntled customer!
Specific testimonials are better than the general. What sounds better?
"I like to eat your produce because it is so fresh!
"We're so excited for the strawberries. The kids and us ate them as our bedtime snack, and like last week, my husband and I had to "fight" to get more than one! The kids love them, and we all love all the greens, too. Tonight before bed, my four year old said, "I'm thankful for the farmers who grow us healthy food." Thanks for feeding our family!"
Village Acres Farm Weekly Survey
Village Acres Farm has compiled a very impressive list of customer quotes this year which you can see on their website in the "recent comments" area in the right-hand column. In fact, the specific testimonial above was taken from their site.
I asked Patrick at Village Acres Farm what they were doing to generate such an impressive amount of positive comments.
Patrick writes:This season, I started a weekly "foodback" survey using www.surveymonkey.com. It's only three questions. The idea came to me from Sharing the Harvest by Elizabeth Henderson, who talks about a farmer including a paper survey in each box each week. About 15 to 20 members, per week, have been leaving very positive comments. Of those, I pick a few with names included (optional) and ask them if I can post their comments on our website. Every single person, so far, has said yes. Even adding additional comments (in their email) they'd like posted. After their comments are posted, I send a link to them. Some of the other comments left on the website (on specific recipes, especially) are completely unsolicited and sometimes even from non-CSA members. One more item on the "foodback" survey - a few members have used it to tell me about problems with their produce. Fortunately, most of them have left their name and I've been able to call them (much better than email for such issues) to find out more detail. Both (has only happened twice) have expressed appreciaton for me taking the time to call them and interestingly enough, the following week have posted glowing reviews in the survey. I'm glad for the opportunity to talk to these members while the situation is fresh, instead of at the end of the season.
Here's a new development from the Bay Area: community canning events.
The organizers are hosting an event once a month that brings hundreds of pounds of produce to a local community kitchen. Attendees help with chopping, cooking, and canning at the kitchen and then receive a share of the results at a "pick-up party" a few days later. The group that is putting these on is called Yes, We Can.
They are processing Apricots in June, Cucumbers in July, and Tomatoes in September. Patricipants have the opportunity to buy a "work-share" where they help out with the canning or a more expensive share that does not require work. Not surprisingly, the work shares are sold out and there are still the normal shares for sale. This kind of canning is more valuable as an experience than the canned products gained from participating.
It is intimidating to start preservation from a food safety point of view and I am sure the attendees will get a jump-start on the canning process and have the confidence to continue on their own for the rest of the season. I have seen these types of events in individual homes, but this is the first time I have seen it on a more organized scale.
Maybe your farm can connect with a determined local food advocate to get your produce used in an event like this? I think this is an interesting concept to emulate around the country. It is canning as weekend entertainment; participants attain new skills and a great story to tell as they eat the fruits of their labor this winter.
We've posted about canning in the past:
Nine practical solutions for the consumption of home canned food
Canning is ideology in a jar
Added a number of good-looking Small Farm Central sites to the View Samples page.
Landisdale Farm. Jonestown, PA
Longacre Farm. Newport, PA
Eye Dazzler Alpacas. Westcliffe, CO.
Youngblood Grassfed. Grannis, AK.
Agriberry Farm. Studley, Virginia
Oak Ridge Farm. Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Eden View Organics. Tyrone, Pennsylvania
Willow Haven Farm. New Tripoli, Pennsylvania
West Liberty Farm. DuBois, PA
Growing Home Coop. Moorestown, New Jersey
We'll have the third premium template ready for consumption on your local website in the next 10 days or so. In the meantime, whet your appetite with this preview.
After template #2, Rustic, we decided to go more modern and polished as a contrast.
Get started with Small Farm Central to use this template.
We'd love to hear what you think! Leave a comment, send us an email,
We posted a blog entry a few weeks ago about Twitter and the ways that farmers are using it promote their farms. This is a new medium and has a lot of buzz around it, which should leave us suspicious. However, I do think that this platform has a lot of promise as an easy way to keep up with customers during the busy summertime.
More on that later, though.
We've found our way of using Twitter. This is not the "I'm eating ham and pineapple pizza and drinking a coke" variety of Twittering. We are posting updates, improvements, and new feaures of Small Farm Central which you can view in Twitter. The posts on features are being pulled into the control panel.
If you are an SFC user, you can view the Feature Feed in your control panel by going to the top-right hand corner of the control and finding the link for the "feature feed". You will see that we have been busy.
For everyone else, you can view our "Feature Feed" on Twitter. In addition, we are posting on a daily basis to highlight recipes, blog entries, and photos posted to Small Farm Central sites. Here are a few of our latest updates:
W Liberty Farm eater asks "How to eat seasonally within reason?" Dave talks of winter gardening, ferment., canning, etc: http://bit.ly/K6WmL
"What is best for the bees?" Leaf tells the story of several swarms - eventually leading the bees off his rural TN farm: http://bit.ly/RzHVa
"Bohemian" artisan breads cooling in a scrumptious pile at Twin Forks Farm Breads near Nashville, Tennessee: http://bit.ly/cB6nB
This is a fun way for us to highlight all the great work SFC farmers are doing across the country and get our farmers more exposure. If you are writing or photographing something you think we should post about, send us a note.
So find us on twitter:
or.. visit twitter and search for Small Farm Central.