Last week, Small Farm Central crossed the nearest border and headed up to the 31st Annual Guelph Organic Conference in Ontario, Canada. Four days long, the conference featured workshops, symposia, and a trade show to provide farmers all the information they need to start, improve upon or convert to organic farming.
After some slight confusion about being in the wrong place (see right), we got our booth set up at the trade show. Saturday was literally a non-stop current of curious, enthusiastic, and friendly people who wanted to hear all about Small Farm Central even if they had absolutely no use for our services. Having amazing Ecuadorian chocolate sampling on one side of us and a beloved 40-year old environmental journal on the other, it was affirming to get any attention at all. As it was, we hardly had a chance to take a deep breath. By Sunday, things slowed down a bit but we still made lots of good connections.
We met folks from advocacy groups such as Beth McMahon from Canadian Organic Growers (COG), Katie Sandwell from Ontario Fresh, and Jacob Pries from the Organic Council of Ontario (OCO). We met with other service providers who specialize in working with organic farmers like video producer Devin Smith, writer and marketer Susan Ratz, food consultant David Cohlmeyer, and fellow software developer Bill Huneke.
Mostly, though, we met farmers: All kinds of farmers, big and small, livestock and crop, young and old, experienced and beginning, and a far more diverse population than we are used to seeing down in the States, which was great to see.
Rob Wallbridge of Songberry Organic Farm, who we've had the pleasure of working with for the past year, took time out of a busy day to stop by. We had the chance to explain what we do to some established organizations such as the Conestoga River Local Food Co-Op, Lakeview Farms, and the Shared Harvest Community Farm and also some fledgling farms like Omagarden, Blessed Tree, and Fiddlehead Farm. Many of the younger and beginning farmers had a strong interest in the technological and social networking aspects of farming in the 21st Century and, in general, the enthusiasm and energy of this local food community in Ontario was inspiring to be around. It was a great trip and we'd like to go back next year. If only we farmers could have our conferences in nice weather once in a while!
The Young Farmers Coalition rounds up a report by the California Agriculture journal which has some interesting stats on the growth of CSAs.
"Between 1990 and 2010, CSA membership in this area increased by 49 times, from about 672 members in 1990 to 32,938 members in 2010."
"According to the study, 54 percent of the CSAs were profitable and, out of the rest, 32 percent broke even and 15 percent operated at a loss. The average gross sales per acre was $9,084, which is almost seven times the average for California agriculture generally."
"Generally, small-scale farmers were more dependent on CSAs than larger-scale farmers. Many of the farmers in the study chose the CSA model as a way to diversify their income sources. Some did not have access to wholesale organic markets, while others wanted to increase their revenue beyond farmers’ markets and other direct sales. Many farmers responded that one of their motivations for starting a CSA was the advantage of being paid up front before the growing season and thus knowing sales volumes ahead of time."
If you've been thinking about processing credit cards this year -- either in person at the market or on your website -- you know there are a ton of different options out there. We've done a lot of the research to help you make an informed decision as to what will help you the most. For smaller farms processing less than $50,000/year in credit card transactions, PayPal is likely the best choice because there are no monthly fees with Paypal.
However, for farms processing higher volumes of payments or for farms that want a more seamless online payment experience, getting a full merchant account with Authorize.net may make sense. We are happy to discuss your unique situation with you and figure out if a full merchant account makes sense.
There are hundreds of merchant services providers out there and it can be very confusing. One thing we've learned is that for many CSA farmers, it can be a challenge to apply for a merchant account because of the "pay now/get something later" model of CSA. Some merchant services companies refuse to work with farms regardless of the farm's business model.
To help address this challenge, we've partnered with a full-service merchant account company called Total Merchant Services (TMS). TMS provides online merchant accounts with Authorize.net for your website, wireless merchant accounts with free terminals for markets, and even an app to swipe credit cards on your mobile phone. TMS has already cleared the CSA model through their Risk Department so applying is streamlined and usually only takes a couple of business days for approval. Even if you are already processing with a merchant account, TMS may be able to offer better rates for you.
Click here for a lot more detail about their services and how they compare with some of the other options out there. Hopefully there is a solution out there to help your customers pay you quickly and easily!
We've got a new content option that is kind of a mix between a gallery and a web page. We call it Showcase and it's flexible enough to serve a lot of different functions: a display of specialty products, a staff directory, a step-by-step page of instructions, etc. Basically a Showcase is the tool to use for any time you'd like a series of visual elements with text that you can move around in a display order.
The above example is the "bookshelf" layout style of a Showcase. The images can be ordered using the "weight" functionality you've likely used elsewhere on the site. "Lightest" items float to the top while "heaviest" sink down. You can have any number of images but can only add 10 at a time. If you have more than that, save after 10 and then go back in to edit. Each image has a title and a caption shown here. You can also write a longer description, which will be shown if someone clicks the "More" button or clicks a photo.
After clicking, you'll see you also get a larger version of the small image, for showing those fine details and longer descriptions.
"Bookshelf" is not the only option for displaying a Showcase. There are three different "list" styles, also: One with the images aligned left, one with them on the right and a "zig-zag" where the images alternate, like this example:
You'll see that the list style displays the full text with each image. Your visitors can still click through to get the large picture if they like.
We're sure you will have lots of ideas about how to use Showcases. Just head to Create Content > Showcase to get started. Please let us know when you've created some and tell us how you like the Showcase and what improvements you'd like to see. Happy New Year!
I came across this call for Washington, DC area CSA farmers on the Washington Post:
"In early February, the Food section will publish online a list of Washington area farms offering community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares for sale in 2012. Farms that would like to be included should e-mail the following information to email@example.com...."
If your CSA happens to serve the DC area, take the initiative and get on the list! For the rest of you, this is a good time to get in touch with the food reporter in your major market and encourage them to do a review of area CSAs this Spring if they are not already doing one!
The public is hungry for these kinds of stories and directories, so help your local reporter out and get some free publicity in the process!
I hope you get the chance to enjoy the Holidays with family and friends! After a season of planning, marketing, planting, harvesting, and etc, I hope you get the time to relax this off-season.
We'll be taking a light week during the week between Christmas and New Year to recharge our batteries going in to our busy season. We have the exact opposite season of farmers, so Small Farm Central gets busy as you have a little more time to turn your attention to websites, member management, and online sales.
During the week between Christmas and New Year, support will be available by email and of course we'll watch everything to make sure it is running smoothly.
We look forward to another great year making technology easy for your farm in 2012!
Top of the Holiday to you!
-Simon & the Small Farm Central team.
We've made it easier for you to find your Members, when you use the new Advanced Filter and improved Search at Member Assembler > Members > View Members:
This looks pretty much like what you're used to. Now, the default view of your Members includes all seasons and all members, both active and disabled (highlighted). You can still use the Search box at the top to find a member by name but now you can also search by an email address. Just type it in and hit Go! You can also still click the headings of the columns to sort by that field.
To narrow your view to a subset of your membership, click the Advanced Filter bar at the top. You'll see this:
In the Advanced Filter, you can narrow the members you see by a Season, by a specific Type/Option, by a specific Pickup Location, by Member Status, and/or only those with a Balance of a certain amount or more. After making your selections, your screen will look like this:
Your filter will persist even when you leave your admin and come back so if you only want to view your members attached to your current season, that will stay the case. The filter displays so you won't forget it's there and wonder why you aren't seeing certain members. To get rid of the filter, you can either clear it with the link or open the Advanced Filter again and change it.
We hope this will help you speed up your work online so you can get back to doing what you know best -- farming! Please continue to let us know what developments will help you.
A new design is coming to Small Farm Central in the next week or so. We call it FarmStand because it is designed with an eye towards the roadside stand.
We like it! Here's a preview:
Let us know if you would like first crack at it.
We're happy to unveil a new option for you to market your online stores -- customer coupons. Now you can conduct sales and provide specials to any subset of your customer base. To get started, first find the Coupons option which is found on your left navigation in your Control Panel under Sell and then Configure. You will see a screen like this:
From this page, you will see any coupons you have previously created plus the option to create new coupons. You can edit or delete your previous coupons. Code is the coupon code your customers will use in your store to get your offered discount. Desc is just your notes to yourself about that coupon and Start and End Dates are the days and times between which the coupon can be used.
When you click Create New Coupon or edit an existing coupon, you will see a screen like this:
There are instructions on this page to help you fill out the information needed to create a coupon. The Coupon Code should be between 4 and 12 alpha-numeric characters. It can be any combination of letters (upper- or lowercase) and numbers but any other characters like a space or a dash will cause an error. The Coupon Type determines what sort of discount your customers will get with this code. It can be a percentage discount off the entire order (not including shipping), a flat dollar amount, or the option for free shipping. The Start and End Dates default to a date and time one and three weeks into the future, respectively, when you create a new coupon but you can change the dates as needed, keeping the date/time format on the screen. You can set coupons far into the future or you can have them start immediately. You can have a special run for a month or just for one day or even a "happy hour" for a small portion of one day.
For all coupon types, you will enter a Minimum Order to accept the coupon, for instance, only on orders of $40 or more. This Minimum does not include shipping. It is just the merchandise total. If you don't want a Minimum Order, just enter a 1 for orders of a dollar or more. For a percentage discount, which is the default option, you also enter the Coupon Percentage as a number between 1 and 100, rather than a decimal (ie enter 15 for a 15% discount). You do not need to type the "$" or the "%" for either of these fields.
When you choose a different Coupon Type, the screen below the option will change:
You see that it is mostly the same information, only you will choose a dollar amount for Coupon Flat Amount for the discount. If your coupon is for $10 off orders of $50 or more, just enter 10 without the "$". When you choose Free Shipping as the option, you only need to set a Minimum Order. The shopping cart will adjust the amount as needed.
Once you have coupons working through your control panel, you will want to publicize it somehow. There are lots of options to do so. You could:
- Send out an email to your Members
- Post it through your social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Blog, etc.)
- Publish it in a print mailing
- Print it through traditional advertising
- Even publish it right on your website to offer to anyone browsing!
When you have created coupons, your customers will see this new addition when they shop in your online store:
The customer needs to just type the code they've gotten from you and click Save Changes to register the coupon code. Your shopping cart will check to see that the coupon is valid. If not, the customer will see an error such as:
The cart will also detect if the coupon is expired or not yet available and disallow its use. Upon success, the customer will see:
After the customer completes their order, you will see the coupon's effect on the total in all of your admin screens and reports. When you go to Sell and then Orders & Reports and then View orders, you will see something like this:
The customer's coupon and discount amount are displayed at the bottom above the total. If you want to remove the coupon from the order, you need only to click the Remove Item icon next to the coupon. The totals will revert to the pre-discounted level. Similarly, if you view an order that does not have a coupon associated with it, you will now see this:
If you would like to apply a coupon to an existing order, you will see a pull-down list where all of your coupons, even the expired ones, are available for you to select. The validation checks for minimum orders and start and end dates are not used here. Since you are the farmer, you can decide if your customer should get a discount or not, after all!
We hope you will find this new Ecommerce option valuable. Please let us know if there are options you would like to see added in the future or if you have any problems. We are always here to help your online experience to be successful and simple!
I was looking the website of a small technology company the other day that does a lot of interesting work with farmers and has spent a lot of time working on their service, but I could only find a few bits of pieces of information on their website. It struck me: why did this company spend years developing a piece of software and could not spend half a day to explain the technology in depth on their website.
Then it occurred to me that this is even more prevalent among farmers: we spend 1000s of hours each year building a farm operation and yet there doesn't seem to be that hour per week to tell customers about it.
That's a shame for both the farm and the customers.
I'm not suggesting you should spend hours each day on facebook on status updates. I know you have a thousand other things to do. It takes some time to write it out, but some questions that a farm website should answer:
This kind of thing is not another time-waster: telling your customers what you do and why you do it is absolutely essential for a direct-marketing farm. They have plenty of choices from other farmers to coops to grocery stores to Wal-Mart: why are you different and why should they spend their hard-earned money on your products?
I know you are different, but if you don't tell your customer how and why you are different, how will they know?
If this sounds like you, I'm not trying to make you feel bad. It is just time to pour a little bit of that passion that you have for your farm into telling your story. The website is an ideal place to put that energy because your website is the spot perspective customers study when they are seriously interested in your farm.
So now that I have you fired up, spend some time and write some content!