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
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 June
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 at it.”
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 our website.”
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 feel.
“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 really happening.”
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’
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
“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 swing.
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
“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
chronicles the goings on at her 120-acre Brambleberry Farm (www.brambleberryfarm.biz)
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 problem.
“Ultimately I think it's a source of hope.”