Posted January 12, 2006: Relationship marketing
is critical to small-scale farming success, and many farmers
are increasingly finding the web an effective tool for staying
in closer contact with customers. From maintaining a connection
through the winter months, to making customers feel more a part
of the farm and its operations, to previewing what’s going
to be at the farmers' market this week or broadcasting on-farm
special events, Internet newsletters serve a variety of purposes.
And while many CSA farmers still prefer an old-fashioned
hardcopy newsletters stuffed into subscribers’ weekly
shares, others say email distribution holds a number of advantages.
“It’s a great way to cut down on the costs and
environmental impacts of printing on paper,” says Sara
Ruch of 14-Acre Farm (www.14acrefarm.com)
in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania. “Plus, it makes it really
easy to forward along to others who might be interested, so
it's definitely helping to spread our name, which in turn
helps the bottom line.”
Through the vehicle of the 14-acre Farm newsletter (like this
issue), Ruch shares her own as well as customers’
favorite recipes (including tips on how to prepare some of
the less-common vegetables), fosters local community by promoting
on-farm events such as weekly thematic potlucks, provides
subscribers with history lessons about in-season produce,
and even offers an advice column on farm-related topics.
Basically, she says, the newsletter is a way to share the
personality of the farm.
Ruch echoes the sentiment of many a farmer after a few months
of chronicling farm life for customers: “The most surprising
parts for me were how many compliments I get and how large
our email list is growing.”
Newsletters have proven such a hit with customers—many
of whom joined a CSA in the first place for a vicarious farming
experience—that some farmers archive past issues on
their websites. Some farmers even print them out and assemble
them in press packets that easily paint a picture of the farm
and its philosophy.
Keeping it current and interesting
“Having received email newsletters myself, I know how
important it is to have good content,” says, Lisa Kerschner
of North Star Orchard (www.northstarorchard.com),
a small farm in Coatesville, Pennsylvania specializing in
unique varieties of high quality fruit. “If it doesn’t
have good content, I won’t read it. If you’re
merely sending out an advertisement, people will stop looking
With that in mind, Kerschner peppers her
e-newsletter with recipes, “critter chronicles,”
book reviews, and critical information customers need to know.
|"Having received email newsletters
myself, I know how important it is to have good content.
If it doesn’t have good content, I won’t read
it. If you’re merely sending out an advertisement,
people will stop looking at it."
“Customers really know what to expect,” she says.
“They know when we’re coming back to market for
that year…and it also helps with the tail-end of the
market season.” And if bad weather is forecast, Kerschner
says, customers can rest assured that North Star Orchards
will not be deterred and that a trip to the farmers’
market won’t be a waste of time. Through the newsletter,
customers are also notified of specials, which they can then
order through the farm’s website. “At the markets,
these folks are thrilled to pick up their special orders,”
The newsletter was both the vehicle through which the farm’s
CSA was built and how it keeps growing, Kerschner says, adding
that it also creates a bigger draw at the farmers’ market.
“We know our emails have been forwarded to the friends
and extended family of our customers; in return, those friends
and family members come to market,” she says. “We
doubled our CSA membership in 2005, mostly due to email and
Kerschner listed ill-timed computer glitches as the single
most frustrating aspect of producing a newsletter. Despite
the challenges, and while some farmers swap outside production
of their newsletter for a full or partial CSA share, Kerschner
wouldn’t trade it for the world. “I think that
if you want to use the email as a means to get personal with
your customers, then doing it yourself is the way to go.”
Farm Blogging--a.k.a. Flogging?
Evermore tech-savvy farmers are also utilizing websites in
growing numbers and discovering the world of blogs. No, a
blog is not some trendy new vegetable all the chefs are raving
about; it’s a personal diary or journal that’s
published on the Internet.
Atina Diffley, co-owner of Gardens of Egan, a 100-acre mixed
vegetable organic farm south of Minneapolis, prefers the blog
to a newsletter because it offers a more immediate and intimate
“It creates a powerful connection with the farm,”
she says. “Our blog link is advertised in the stores
we sell to and on some of their websites. I try to write in
the present tense and create a visual image of farm life.
I've been surprised by how many people read it and write to
me. They have a strong interest in our daily farm lives and
stresses. It reads more like a story then a dry newsletter.”
Farmers like Atina and her husband, Martin, also feel blogs
give them personal contact with customers they otherwise might
not see on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.
||"Articulating the little farm
things that happen on a daily basis creates a stronger
sense of what is really happening."
“For me it takes some of the isolation out of farming,”
Atina says. “Articulating the little farm things that
happen on a daily basis creates a stronger sense of what is
Diffley isn’t the only one blogging poetic about her
farm either. One of last season’s interns, as well as
a young farmer the Diffleys mentor, each had her own soapbox
on the Diffleys’ website (www.frontiernet.net/~atinagoe/).
Kate Newkirk of Wintergreen Herbs & Vegetables (which
also produces free-range eggs, pasture-raised broilers and
pork, and dried tea herbs) (www.wintergreenherbs.com)
in Winslow, Maine, started her blog this past season when
the farm switched to an online ordering system for its CSA
customers. “Each week we mail them a link to the CSA
order form and a link
to the blog.
The motivation for starting the blog, Winslow says, “was
to give our customers an idea of the trials, tribulations
and triumphs of farming.”
“Being that it is part of the CSA ordering, at pick-up
time there are usually many comments about how the week has
gone from sympathy to hurrahs! I guess that means the blog
allows them to get emotionally involved.”
Like many farmer/writers, Newkirk says one of the biggest
challenges is juggling the regular farm chores with keeping
the blog current, particularly when the season is in full
It's not all about the customer
Motives for launching and for continuing a newsletter or
blog range from the simple to the sublime.
|"I simply like to write about
my day-to-day experiences on the farm and, evidently,
people like to read about it."
“I simply like to write about my day-to-day experiences
on the farm and, evidently, people like to read about it,”
says Donna Janeczko, who’s elegant, entertaining and
popular blog (www.mountainfarmstead.blog-city.com)
chronicles the goings on at her 120-acre Brambleberry Farm
in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia and offers
a variety of useful links, tips and references. You can check
out her favorite rural blogs, too.
“It's a resource for people to realize that not all
of society is completely out of control,” David Von
Eeckhout of Hog’s Back Farm (www.hogsbackfarm.com)
in Arkansaw, Wisconsin, says of his newsletter. “No
matter how crazy their week is, they can sit down at some
point and read about what's happening in the fields, what
birds I saw this week or how we solved some seemingly insurmountable
“Ultimately I think it's a source of hope.”