We are remodeling and upgrading our ecommerce system this Spring to make it easier to manage for administrators (that's you!) and easier to buy for customers (that's sales!).
If you are currently using ecommerce and have suggestions, be sure to let us know. Or request a demo and check it out for yourself.
Something fun for Saturday afternoon!
These photos are the work of a photographer from Brazil, Vanessa Dualib, who writes "It actually started about 5 months ago when I decided to mix up 3 of my favorite things in life: photography, food and humor!"
...or heirloom breed, artisan cheese, and other less-familiar products that differentiate the farm.
I saw a page entitled "Name that Vegetable" on a non-Small Farm Central site this week.
As we expand the market for local foods beyond foodies, it becomes increasingly important to define what you are providing to customers even if it feels a bit redundant to you.
If a customer goes home with a box of CSA vegetables and they don't know what half of them are, they are likely too busy or too shy to call and ask you what each vegetable is and how to cook it. They won't be back next year if they throw out your purslane just because they don't know what it is. Your website is a perfect passive tool for customers to "Name that Vegetable" without feeling out of the loop.
According to the USDA, the United States has 12,549 farms that participated in a CSA program in 2007 (download the report here). Local Harvest reports having 2,700+ profiles of CSA farms in their database.
The USDA reports the total number of farms in the country at 2,204,792 which means about 1% of US farms participated in a CSA in 2007. I think this is a useful way to think about the CSA movement even if both numbers are flawed.
It would be more interesting to know how many local-type farms participated in a CSA program, because we know that many of those 2 million+ farms are corn/soy operations, hobby farms, or otherwise very far from participating in a CSA.
Another statistic in the report is "Produced and Sold Value Added Commodities" with 78,418 farms reporting. Maybe that is closer baseline to look at than total farms? With that baseline, the percentage of farms participating in a CSA is closer to 20%.
Either way, I think the 12,549 number is useful. It is not a complete picture depending on how you define a CSA and a farm's partipation in a CSA program. Then there is the discrepancy between the LocalHarvest number and the USDA number. More revealing will be how the numbers change over the next several years.
The next premium template is now available. We are calling it "Rustic" because it uses woodcuts from old agriculture texts to create an authentic feel that will resonate with customers of local food.
The designer says, "This template is a little less literal for Small Farm Central users, in terms of its depiction of their actual farms. What it does do though, is invoke a certain historical / cultural feel that I think will really appeal to users of the farm sites."
About the Design Process
After the initial graphics we wanted to use for this template were deemed unusable due copyright concerns (maybe we'll get them in a future template!), the Small Farm Central design team went in search of images at the Hunt Botanical Library at Carnegie Mellon University library here in Pittsburgh. We were looking for woodcut images that are in the public domain and available for use on the templates. This search proved fruitful and the library is working to get more images for us in the future. Some of the smaller details of the header, like the farm animals to the right of the header are from the library.
The main image of the farm house is from a book titled "Illustrated Historical Atlas of Elkhart Co. Indiana. 1874." Here are some shots of the book itself.
As for the other images, Matt writes "the ornamental borders are things I've printed myself from old letterpress cuts and rules, on antique printing presses." We are lucky to have such innovative designers creating templates for Small Farm Central!
New Upgrades to Premium Templates
Due to the high cost of developing these templates, only Communicator members (see plans information) have access to use these templates without an upgrade. They are a limited edition, so once all the spots are filled up for the template, no more will be given out. You can have confidence that your neighbor will not take your template!
For Sprout and Harvester subscribers, we now have a $100 one-time upgrade that allows access to the premium templates for the life of your Small Farm Central subscription. This fee will fund our work with these templates while ensuring that you do not need to make an unnecessary upgrade to the Communicator package. If you would like to upgrade, just let us know.
Template Test Site
Take the new template for a test run and visit the test site:
Of course, if you would like to enter you own information into the template and see how it looks, get a free demo to play around with for a week:
Your feedback is appreciated and will provide direction for future templates. What do you think about the new template? Post in comments
There has been a lot of buzz about the service / social media platform called Twitter. If that sounds like something a bird does, you may want to read this Twitter primer.
A twitter message is much shorter than blogging. They are really just fragments of a sentence along the lines of "this is what I am doing now." It has the advantage of being less time-consuming than blogging and it is easy for customers to follow the posts. This has become so much of a trend that professional athletes and other celebrities have Twitter accounts. Twitter has even led to mistrials because jurors were Twittering their thoughts.
I am not a Twitter user, but I caution you, this could become an addictive service! The farm Twitter accounts I looked had at least 3-4 posts per day. They are limited to 140 characters, so I suppose it is not a huge time sink. I would still urge caution!
A farm Twitter post might look like this: "Our dog has taken to eating chicken feed, right alongside the chickens. This is better than eating chickens but still not ideal. " -5:10 AM Apr 2nd
Farm Aid is twittering away and there are many farmers turning to the platform because it is such a low stress way and easy way to communicate. It is a completely different concept and takes a while to understand and appreciate what is going on with Twitter. Here are few farmers using Twitter: Frog Bottom Farms or Franciscan Family Family Farms (Grass-based Blogging in a Corn-based World).
Has anyone out there taken on Twitter? If so, send us your link.
It is officially Spring on Small Farm Central farms; we've been through a long farm conference season getting new ideas and honing old ones. Now it is time to get seeds in the ground, make equipment work, and get down to the business of growing food. Catskill Merino Sheep Farm is on Day 16 of lambing and Prairie Fruits Farm has starting selling their on farmers dinners which are being snapped up months in advance. That's a tasty thought to get us through this Spring cold snap (at least here in western Pennsylvania).
Vermont Herb and Salad Company is pushing up their microgreens while we were sorry hear about a partial loss of the fruit crop in western Colorado. In eastern Pennsylvania, Little Peace Farm is getting some wild Spring weather : "Well last Sunday we got nickle sized hail that punched a few holes in the greenhouse plastic but not much more. This week was miserable with 2" of rain, 50 mph winds... And today, welp, a lovely one but it is not to last. They're calling for another 2" over the next 2 days."
Green Gardens farm posted a video from Hugenot Steet Farm which promises CSA humor such as "harvesting" from the grocery store, painted rocks, squash we can all relate to, and special nutrient procurement systems. Hugenot Street Farm spent a lot of time on this one!
Peaceful poultry has started the season with day-old chicks. Laura writes, "Stepping back into farming makes me feel whole again. Whole and tired, but a good, healthy, sleep soundly through the night tired... all the chickens are happy, seem healthy and are eating, drinking and pooping away." That sounds like as good of a declaration of Spring as I can imagine.
For a vintage taste of Spring, check out our Spring blog entry from last year.
In response to last week's post on social networks for farm marketing, Leaf writes:
Read your latest blog, and am starting to worry about you. You may have to chuck your blackberry in the hedgerow and twitter out to the garden. Trade in you tube for your hoe, so you can digg in the earth. If you have a compulsion to flicker en route, stumble on and face the sun, not face book. In time, you will reach the garden of my space, blogger your way to the compost pile, and replace those widgets with earthworms.
Thanks for your worries Leaf, but I am able to keep a finger or two in the soil with the annual garlic patch. On Friday, I checked in on the garlic and it looks like spring with 3-4" garlic foliage poking above the insulating straw. It is one of my favorite days of the summer to pull up the first garlic bulb and crack open a fresh clove to chew on. This year's garlic stock was sourced from a Small Farm Central farmer, Honey Hill Organic Farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
We also had a nice response to the blog article from Joanne Rigutto who sums it up well: "My primary marketing tool is still community involvement and direct contact with potential customers."
The protagonist of last week's post, Three Springs Fruit Farm, posted an extensive comment about their experience with social networks. Ben writes about the strange world of online "friends", videos, and how MySpace fits in with their current marketing plans. Age is certainly a factor in this case, Ben writes:
Probably the only reason we started with MySpace was purely out of convenience - I decided to steer our family fruit farm toward retail February of 2007... late February, so I was already behind the eight ball a bit. I knew it'd make sense for our farm to have a presence on the web to interact with our customers and being a 22 year old kid coming out of college, I had a familiarity with MySpace and to me, it was a free and functioning website for us in a pinch.
Food is a physical act; plants and animals raised on a patch of soil, harvested, and then eaten by the customer -- there's nothing virtual about that. In this way, the connections that local food makes can never be supplanted by the the virtual. With this dichotomy in mind, it will be interesting to see how farmers co-opt these virtual networks to the physical act of growing food.
Keep me updated if you find a way to make one of these networks work for your farm.
I have never addressed the concept of farms using "social media" as a marketing tool on this blog, partly because I am still not sure how much sense it makes. The social media includes sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
If the word "social media" makes you shiver in fright and run for your tractor to do some real work, I appreciate that response; it is probably a very rational approach. If, however, you are still reading this post, you may be interested in this social media primer.
My thoughts are that social marketing can work for the farm, but I think this quote sums up why it will not work for most farmers:
The main characteristic [social media marketers] need to have is a genuine curiosity/interest in social media, particularly on how it influences human relationships and business practices. This is not just standard required job skills but rather a deep interest that pervades one’s day to day life. One needs to constantly be informed of the latest technologies while striving always to learn and improve one’s knowledge levels. In order to do well when marketing, one should have tactical knowledge and ideally, first-hand experience of the specific social media platform. [link]
One new Small Farm Central farm, Three Springs Fruit Farm told me that they have had success with marketing through Facebook and MySpace. Here is their MySpace page:
They have 161 friends, a blog, and video of vegetable orchestra. It seems to be working for them, but I would be interested in hearing how this translates into people coming to physically buy goods from the farm.
Maybe we can spend a few weeks exploring different social media platforms if people show some interest.
Has your farm used social marketing? What kinds of successes/failures have you had?
[Photo by Gary Hayes]
In case you haven't heard, the Obamas are planting a vegetable garden in the White House lawn. What could be a better symbol of our times?
I can't help but notice that arugula will be grown in this garden. Do you remember one slur for Obama during the primary campaign was that he is an "arugula eater"? I guess this charge was true!