Renee from Canal Junction Natural Meats, who is a Small Farm Central customer, took the time to discuss her buying club with me. I think this is a great example for farmers across the country on how to integrate technology with existing local markets.
CJ Intro: We are Canal Junction Natural Meats and Farmstead Cheese. We are a grass-based operation. Right now we have beef, pork, chicken, turkey, brown eggs and lamb. We also have a grass fed dairy and we make real mountain cheeses from our dairy. We’ve been in operation for about 17 years now, and we are located in Defiance, Ohio.
SFC: First tell me about your farm buying club.
CJ: We do have a private farm club, we deliver up there, so we ask people to sign up and be a member. They find us a couple different ways. One is, through a lady up in Cleo who organizes things in the area. People often go to her or find her website and she directs them to us. Some people are just searching online and find our website. A lot of it is just word of mouth through our members already, they talk to their friends and so forth and it spreads that way. And then they email, sometimes they call or even drive out to the farm. We have them fill out an application form, there are dues that they pay, and from there, they are added to an e-mailing list and every other week they get a reminder message that the delivery date is coming up and that they need to put their orders in. I always put the direct page to the login site on the website so it’s easy for people to login, and I list the deadline for when they can’t order any more.
SFC: What types of products do people buy each week?
CJ: All of the meats and cheeses that we sell are produced here on the farm. We do offer some bulk items, too. We have some raw honey, which is local. We don’t keep the bees, but the honey is local. We also offer some raw nuts and some flours (flowers?) and things. A lot the products are Ohio-produced, but some of the things we just buy from bulk food companies, so it’s not all of our own produced items.
SFC: How did you get started?
CJ: We had one lady who was driving out from Toledo once every two week to get products from the farm, and one day when she was visiting she asked, “Would you ever consider bringing items up to Toledo?” That was about 3 and a half years ago, and we did. Our first trip, we were able to fit everything into the trunk of our car, but since then we’ve grown into right now we have a 20 foot utility trailer and a cargo van that we take things in. And we go up every other week. Everything that we take up is pre-ordered, so unless somebody doesn’t show up, we don’t bring anything home with us.
SFC: What is the timeline of ordering, from when the customer can make an order, to when you do packing and delivering?
CJ: We deliver on Wednesdays, so I usually send out the email either the Wed or Thursday before we go, so it’s 6 or 7 days beforehand. And people can order anytime up until noon on Tuesday the day before we go. I usually tell people that we appreciate having orders in by Monday evening, but that we’ll take them up to Tuesday at noon.
SFC: Tell us how your web-based ordering system differs from the older system you had before.
CJ: Before we would take orders in by individual emails. And some of them would send it to another person and she would make up a spreadsheet of the orders and then send it on it to us. Often, there were missed orders or mistakes in the orders by having a middle person there. Then when the orders came in, we had to hand write every one of them onto an invoice, which took up a lot of time in and of itself, and then we had to go fill the order. But now, with the website, people are able to log on any time they want to, and we are able to regulate orders. For instance, we have a really hard time keeping bacon in stock – it goes out as soon as we get it in. So if I know we’re not going to have something in stock, I just take it right off the site so they can’t order it. So it’s not as much of a hassle for us to tell people, “oh we didn’t have that this time.” Customers can go online and see what we have and what we don’t have, and they can submit their orders. I stress to them that they have to get a confirmation email, and then they check for that, and we print the order and then we go and fill it. So it eliminates a middle person, and it eliminates the need for us to hand write every order.
SFC: What do your customers think of you doing online ordering? What do they say about it?
CJ: We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about it. When we first started it, of course, we worked through some glitches -- people weren’t used to doing it, they didn’t go through all of the steps, and they would come to the pick up and we wouldn’t have their order, and then we felt bad, but once they did it once or twice, they figured out that they were missing a step, like a button they needed to push, but for the most part, people are really excited about it, they like how user-friendly it is, and how professional it looks I’ve gotten a lot of great compliments on it. And I’m pleased with that because I know very little about technology but yet I can control the website and have on it what I want it to say, but not have to do anything behind the scenes.
We're working on the final stages of a new premium template. Look for it coming to a farm website near you soon!
We don't have a catchy name for it yet. Any suggestions?
Adding a video to your website is another great way to get your customers and interested people excited about what is going on at your farm. Checkout the slideshow-esque video on the Barnstable Sea Farms site. You can almost smell the salty air!
Great video on the Barnstable Sea Farms website
Many digital cameras come with video capabilities and Flip cams are fairly inexpensive, easy to use and small enough to carry around with you. And uploading these movies to your site is easy; simply upload your video to YouTube or Vimeo and follow our help doc about inserting code into your site. Inserting code makes you nervous? Drop us an email and we'll help you out!
Having a video on your website can communicate alot of things that photos sometimes cannot; as we prep for these winter months, consider the possible movies you will take come spring!
ACRES USA is holding it's annual conference and trade show in Indianapolis, December 9 - 11th; if you're attending, be sure to stop by our table and say hello! We'll be talking about our Member Assembler (our CSA Management Tool) and showing off our new tradeshow booth! Stop by for a chocolate from Mon Aimee.
We'll also be introducing the newest addition to the Small Farm Central staff, Leslie Fleisher, who will be doing all things sales & marketing as Lead Business Development.
ACRES USA is North America's oldest, largest magazine covering commercial-scale organic and sustainable farming. The conference welcomes more that 1,000 farmers from around the world to witness presentations on cutting-edge organic and sustainable farming techniques.
We're excited to have Will join the Small Farm Central family!
Will's winding path to Small Farm Central passed through high school and university in the suburbs of north-eastern Oklahoma, a stint of network security work and commuting on Washington DC's Beltway, and a change of focus coinciding with a move to Pittsburgh a few years back. Will has been building things and programming various computers for many years, and is always grateful to stumble upon the happy and elusive convergence of an interesting technical challenge, a chance to earn a few bucks, and opportunity to make a tangible positive difference in the world.
Will thinks Pittsburgh is a good place for working on that last bit -- making a positive difference -- and is excited about the opportunities here related to building sustainable local and regional food systems. Will also thinks the new Automated Scheduled Payments feature, which he built for Member Assembler, is great because it will make fresh local food more accessible to people who otherwise couldn't afford the up-front cost of a farm subscription.
We've been hiring a few folks here at Small Farm Central over the last few months, so I've been more aware of the resources out there for agriculture job postings. For our programming and marketing positions, it was important for us to have folks that have some farming interest or background.
One resource I became more aware of is the Sustainable Food Job blog which lists jobs in food across the country. We found our new programmer, Will, indirectly through this blog.
I notice a number of farm intern and farm manager positions have been posted there recently. I don't know what the hit rate is on these. Maybe someone reading this blog will tell us their experience in comments.
Check it out at: http://sustainablefoodjobs.wordpress.com
Where have you had success posting these types of jobs? Leave thoughts in comments.
I know there is a residual Luddite attitude in the small-scale agriculture community and, given the fact that so many farmers have gone into agriculture precisely to avoid the pitfalls of modern life, it is completely understandable. I am not sure how exactly to measure this effect, but in my experience looking at websites of individual farmers and the web resources for small-scale farmers, I see an industry that is not using Internet technology to it's greatest advantage.
That advantage is working together: connecting groups of people and fostering communication that leads to real world action. Here I am referring to the ways that farmers connect with each other and connect to their customers. We can do better with our websites and our connections as a group. For individual farmers I believe that web communication with customers is an imperative.
When it is January and snow covers your fields do you make sure that your customers are thinking of you and your farm? Does your customer know how much work it takes all year round to bring them that steak or watermelon? If not, how can you expect them to sign up for your CSA again, come to your farm market, or buy your meat? The supermarket is always just around the corner - how do you overcome your customer's inertia and have them shop with you (besides having a far-superior product, of course)?
Communicating online is cost-effective and time-efficient -- mailing lists, message boards, and websites. Over the next ten weeks I will release a course in farm web design to help you create and sustain a loyal customer base. Use the subscribe form in left-hand column of the site if you want to receive updates via email as they happen.
I encourage you to continue the conversation by leaving comments on this article and the ones that follow. I look forward to hearing from you!
We're hiring for an individual to lead our outreach effort here at Small Farm Central. This position will be based at our offices in Pittsburgh, PA (East Liberty neighborhood). So if you know of someone who loves farms and has a passion for marketing, they may just be perfect to join our team.
Membership updates allow customers to update their share types themselves. For example, say you start your membership sign-up in November. In March, you buy a few hundred chicks so you can start offering egg shares to your CSA customers and you create a new "Egg Share" member option in the Member Assembler. This new offering will be seen by all new customers that sign up after March, but what about the other members that signed up in November?
At that point, you'll turn on Membership Updates, allow Egg Shares to be updated, and the customers who have already signed up can use the Membership Updates to add the Egg Share to their membership.
Adding Update Types to your Membership Updates
Read more about the tool and how to get it to work here.
We have released our new payment processing system for the Member Assembler which allows your members to sign up for a payment plan to automatically pay for their CSA share over time, allows you to bypass Paypal & Google Checkout, and get better rates on your credit card transactions.
Automated Scheduled Payments is a no-fuss way for you to spread the cost of your CSA over time -- which allows more financially-sensitive customers to join your CSA -- while ensuring that you get your money without a huge accounting nightmare.
For example, say your CSA costs $500. On February 3rd a customer signs up and pays the required $100 down payment, which leaves a balance of $400. With Automated Scheduled Billing, the customer will authorize their card to be billed (for example) on a monthly basis for 4 months:
March 1st: $100
April 1st: $100
May 1st: $100
June 1st: $100
On those dates, our system will automatically attempt to bill the credit card on file for the amounts shown and, if all goes well, you will simply receive a receipt and the funds will trickle into your bank account. If there are problems with a declined or expired card, the customer will be asked to provide new credit card details without farmer intervention.
The system also allows for full payment up-front and one-time payments so you can take payments for add-ons and extras each week if necessary.
You don't pay anything extra to us to use this system -- just your normal per member cost of the Member Assembler -- however you do need to have an account with a payment gateway called Authorize.net which allows all of this to happen on the credit card processing side.
The costs of an authorize.net account are typically $30/month fee no matter your level of transactions and then 2.1% of the transactions + 0.10 per transaction. These per-transaction fees are much lower than Paypal or Google Checkout (at 3% + 0.20 per transaction), but it does add on the monthly fee.
So, in essence, an Authorize.net account makes more sense for CSAs with higher volume transaction needs. The break-even point between an Authorize.net account and a Paypal account is approximately $50,000/per year. That is the point at which the lower transaction cost covers the monthly fee. However, for CSAs doing less than $50,000/year in transactions, the extra cost may make sense due to the extra service provided by Automated Scheduled Payments that saves you time and makes your CSA more financially accessible.
If you already have a credit card processing system for your business (ie a swipe machine in a farm stand), then an Authorize.net account should be very easy to get because it is one of the standards in the business. On the other hand if you do not, that is no problem; we'll help you get it all set up. Plan the application and approval process to take about 7-10 days. Either way, contact us and we'll guide you through the process of getting the Authorize.net account set up with the right options.
We are very excited to get farmers using this new system, so we'd love your feedback and just let us know when you are ready to get started. This new service is due to the hard work of our capable new web developer, Will, who we'll introduce in a blog entry soon! He has been up until the early hours of the morning this week getting everything ready for launch.