There are so many ways to stay connected with your customers. The Internet is the latest way a growing number of farmers are using to solicit more business, as well as a way to stay connected. Increasingly there are articles in the media about farmers who are on the Internet, building their customer base by building a website. But what if you’re not ready yet to head to the back office and build your own website? What if you don’t have knowledge and skills to build your own and if you’re starting out you probably don’t have the funds to pay someone to build it for you. Well don’t despair. There are options available for you too!
There are a number of different websites where you can place your products for sale, advertise your farm or invite visitors to your farm without having to go through the process of building your own website right off the bat. These sites offer farmers, growers and crafters a great way to have a web presence and test out this market without going through the hassle and possibly the expense of creating and managing their own website. Furthermore, you will find out rather quickly whether this is some place you want to be.
In this article we are going to look at a few possibilities available on the web, each of these can be good options for farmers to consider if you are interesting in having a web presence but are not quite ready to build your own site.
One opportunity coming to farmers if from SUNY Morrisville, where they are currently working on a state project that is building an e-commerce storefront for Ag producers. This project involves the Morrisville State College’s Computing and Information Technologies Professor, Kim Mills, Agricultural Business Assistant Professor Sheila Marshman and 20 producers and processors to develop a model for farmer-to-customer selling via the Internet. This online farmer’s market has some very specific goals. These include increasing the profitability of each participating farm by at least 10% in the first year with a 4-year cumulative profit in excess of $4 million for the more than 500 participating farmers from across New York State. The online farmers market will act as a virtual warehouse and storefront for the farmers of New York. The database behind the website will keep track of sales, orders and inventory. Keeping the farmers informed of the sales of their products and tracking their inventory listed with the database is also a huge part of this project. “This project provides farmers with a low-cost, low-risk opportunity to see how their products might sell in an online market”, states Mills. This is a golden opportunity for those folks who are contemplating getting into the e-commerce arena but aren’t certain whether this is the place for them to be. The new website at www.newyorkfarmmarket.com is expected to go live by the end of the year. If you are interested in being part of this project or would like more information about the Online Farmers Market Project contact Professor Kim Mills at 315-684-6746.
Another online direct marketing tool coming to New York state farmers is the MarketMaker™, which first developed by the University of Illinois Extension and faculty as a web-based network to connect farmers and processors with food retailers and consumers. Currently it is one of the most extensive collections of searchable food industry related data for the states of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. And it is coming to Kentucky and New York! MarketMaker™ was designed to “improve the access by Midwest farmers to regional markets via links with processors, retailers, consumers and food supply chain actors; all information can be mapped, located or queried by the user.” These sites are being built with land grant funds and will be open and accessible to all for no-fee. Each partner site will have its own unique site, but all sites will have a common database. New York States efforts will be housed and operated from the CCE-New York City office. New York will design and develop its own educational outreach and teach food entrepreneurs how to use the New York State site. Currently the NYS farmers markets, state and federally inspected plants, and farmer/producer database is being done. To see what has been done in Illinois visit: www.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/; Iowa http://ia.marketmaker.uiuc.edu; Nebraska http://ne.marketmaker.uiuc.edu. All farmers and businesses listed in the MarketMaker™ database will then be able to create, edit and update their own online profiles via secure password access. If you would like to be included in this contact John Ameroso, John Nettleson , or Dr. Khin Mar Cho.
Another way to get your products or your farm listed on the Internet is to become a member of a regional or state promotional initiative such as Adirondack Harvest, Fingerlakes Culinary Bounty or Pride of New York. These may or may not require an initial membership fee in order to join. Each of these examples has a related logo and web presence. For example by being part of the Adirondack Harvest Initiative your farm and what you have available and where people can get those products will be listed on their website. I would encourage farmers to look for the regional initiatives in their area that not only highlight their region but also are in line with the business and management philosophy of their farm operation. As well I would encourage folks to take part in the promotional and marketing initiatives available at the state level. Each of these programs has built credibility and logo recognition related to their initiatives. By being part of these ventures you are telling your customers that your farm business is in line with the sentiments of the larger program. Again these are low-cost, low-risk ways have a web presence and test that market without going through the expense of building your own website. However, generally these types of initiatives are ways to have information about your farm and your products on the Internet and are selling your product for you. This type of website is called a gateway website because they act as a gateway to information about your products and your farm business but are not a storefront to sell your product. A tip with these website is that having your information out there is great, but you need to remember to keep your information updated and current. If you add on more products or drop some products, change phone numbers or add on another way customers can connect with you then you need to ensure that your farm and product listings hosted on these various websites is relevant, current and updated. To visit the sites mentioned here go to: Adirondack Harvest (www.adirondackharvest.com); Fingerlakes Culinary Bounty (www.fingerlakesculinarybounty.org); Pride of New York (www.prideofny.com).
There are storefront websites available currently live and available for farmers to take part in. One is LocalHarvest which stated they are consumers’ connection to ‘real food, real farmers, real community”. In the “About Us” section it states that, “LocalHarvest maintains a definitive and reliable “living” public nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets, and other local food sources. Our search engine helps people find products from family farms, local sources of sustainably grown food, and encourages them to establish direct contact with small farms in their local area.” Their site features an online store, place to list your farm and post your farm story. This site is searchable by product, region, and type of farm or enterprise and also highlights the farmers markets across the country. This is a national site with a local focus. What is really great about this site is that new members are given homepage spot so regular visitors can easily see who has been added to the database. Creating a listing on LocalHarvest is free but you need to fit the criteria that are clearly laid out on the membership screen. This is again another great site for those who are considering getting into e-commerce but aren’t ready to build their own website just yet. To visit this website go to www.localharvest.org.
I have highlighted four options here, there are more options out there. These are four ways that you can begin your foray into the world of e-commerce, before putting out the money needed to create your own website. Each of these examples have advantages and disadvantages, determining which ones work best for you is just like assessing any other promotional and marketing angle you integrate into your marketing plan. Only YOU can determine what would work best for your business. Hopefully this article gave you a starting place to begin this process.
If you have questions about e-commerce, building your own website or the resources contained in this article do not hesitate to contact Bernadette at 518-483-7403 or email her at email@example.com.