In the News

As the old year comes to an end and a new one dawns, I am reflecting on some of the news stories that came across my little desk recently:

With the employment numbers coming to light, many are calling for more research into why technology firms lack diversity. The Minority Media and Telecom Council cites the abysmal racial employment percentages: 70.9 white, 12.3 Asian, 7.2 Latino, and 3 black. These numbers said the MMTC, “closely resemble the statistics of the broadcasting industry in the late 1960’s.” It notes “troubling employment patterns and practices in the technology sector”.

The LA Times, in a widely read op-ed piece, speculated on the causes of the dropping percentage of female tech employees. They stand at 15%, which is lower than the peak female employment in 1989. Why are women, who make up 50% of computer science majors in college, leaving technology mid-career?

The number of homes within city limits that have no internet access, not even dialup, is shockingly high. Even where access is available, the price is just too high for most to afford it. See, it’s not just the rural areas that need better connectivity.

But there were good stories, too. Frontier is bringing 1Gb service to Oregon, as well as other areas, as they expand their services to more rural areas. The National Labor Relations Board determined that workers are allowed to use company email, after hours, to discuss work issues. This ruling protects workers’ rights to organize in a 21st century, remote-access workplace.

This year has many opportunities for us to determine what type of internet we want and how we are going to use it for work, home, and school. The FCC, after reviewing the millions of comments on net neutrality, may be ruling on changes to the internet in February. I hope they don’t muck it up.

More people are cutting their cable provider and picking up their entertainment online. (Comcast’s incredible bad, notoriously terrible customer service certainly isn’t helping things…) That’s saving them money and they get to watch shows when they want to. People are also moving their phones from expensive, big name companies to much more reasonable plans. (There is absolutely no reason to ever pay over $100 a month for smartphone service. I pay $35 for unlimited everything.)

Yep, change seems to be the only constant when it comes to technology.



Farm Tour 2014 – Oregon

IMAG0320CroppedI am simply incapable of resisting a farm. When the weather turns warm, I must visit some. There’s just no cure for this addiction.

This year, I’ve been touring western Oregon. It’s such a beautiful place. The land is rich and grows a huge range of crops from grains to nuts to grapes to, well, nearly everything. The farms are small enough that the crops create a beautiful patchwork across the rolling hills. As I was driving south out of Portland, walnut trees flowed into golden fields of wheat, which turned into vineyards, pastures, cornfields and rows of produce. Rain or shine, everything has a richness, an abundance about it.


Susan driving Amos and Gunter on Belle Mare Farm

My first stop was Belle Mare farm. Susan farms her 60 acres using horses, especially her Suffolks. She grows a variety of grains and raises animals, producing organically-grown (non-certified) animal feed for other farmers. The one problem she has is a lack of land-line internet access, although the lines are on her street. She makes up for it using wireless for now. Hopefully, the land lines will reach her farm soon. (P.S. Susan, see my last posting for some hints on how to prod the company a bit.)


Clare’s haflingers at Big Table Farm

She and I then visited Big Table Farm and tasted a few varietals from their winery. Amazing! I always enjoy a good Syrah, but they also had a Chardonnay that was just outstanding. They have a lovely web site and with great descriptions of their wines. The labels are very interesting, too.

On my second trip south, I travelled the Oregon Coast. Since many of the restaurants there purchase from local farms, I found that I was able to eat really well. Wines and cheeses are everywhere, along with tons of seafood. Not being of a particularly sporty nature, I enjoyed the culinary atmosphere and mostly tucked my toes into the sand on the beach while reading a good science-fiction between meals. (Yes, that’s my idea of the perfect vacation.) For those more prone to hiking, biking, surfing, etc., there’s so much to do. I strongly encourage a vacation there at least once in your life.

Oh dear, I’ve been talking about food quite a bit. It must be time for dinner…

Oh, that’s better. Good, fresh farm food is just the best thing for dinner. Okay, now I can talk about how these two farms, Belle Mare and Big Table, are using online technology to effectively communicate with their customers. They are both small farms in the same area but with different business models, each requiring a unique approach.

Big Table Farm reaches out to more traditional customers, selling directly to the public. They have a web site, with a shopping cart, where you can buy wines right online. They also have a Facebook page that keeps people up to date on the progress of the new winery being constructed on the farm.

Belle Mare Farm, on the other hand, sells to other farmers. Farmers may not spend tons of time on a computer but they usually have cell phones, many of them smart phones. That’s why text messaging and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are a great way to keep in touch with those customers. You don’t really need a web site if you can make your sales through word of mouth, but you still need a way to keep in touch with those customers. Social media works for that. For those customers who have only traditional phones, giving them a call works just fine.

The way to determine how to best use technology for your small business is to create a marketing plan. (What?) Yes, a marketing plan. If you’ve never made one before, it’s always a good exercise in understanding how you interact with your customers. It can also show you new ways to reach more customers. My next entry will have more about Marketing Plans and where you can get templates and guidance.

What Makes a Farmers Market a Farmers Market?

When you shop at a farmers market, you see a large grouping of tents that have good, local produce ready for you to purchase. That sounds simple enough, but there is so much more to a farmers market than you may know. It takes planning, volunteer work, and monetary support to keep our local farmers returning week after week.

There are now over 50 local growers and processors that are actively participating in our local Port Susan Farmers Market. They must be in compliance with all local, county, and state regulations and must obtain the proper permits to provide samples or to sell wine. In addition, they must meet certain requirements in order to sell at a
farmers market. The Port Susan Farmers Market follows WSFMA Roots Guidelines in order to meet the consumer’s expectations of a Farmers Market:

  1. A Farmers Market is where a grower/processor can sell directly to the consumer and is most likely the small farmer’s best opportunity to profit from their land and efforts; and
  2. A Farmers Market is a marketplace where consumers can talk directly to the grower/processor, purchase the freshest produce and value-added products possible, and experience the health-giving effects of that freshness.

Volunteers have worked countless hours to make the Market what it is. A steering committee started planning the Market in 2011. That group then became the Board of Directors.  They spent hundreds of hours developing our market:

  • Bylaws
  • Vendor Rules/Guidelines/Policies, Vendor Handbook
  • Vendor Application Forms
  • Blank Vendor Sales Report Form
  • Business or Strategic Plan
  • 501c3

Vendor recruitment and market development have been ongoing for the past three years. Board members and the Market management have talked with vendors and spoken at meetings, including the Stanwood Chamber, the Lions, the Stanwood City Council, and others, to help promote and develop this market. We have volunteers setting up, running, and closing down the Market every week. Our volunteers have helped build not only a Market with a great vendor base but a great audience of shoppers for the Market, as well.

As a farmers market, we have been working for two years with the Snohomish Health District to create a Farmers Market Program for our vendors.  We’ve received assistance from Mayor Dianne White, Mayor Leonard Kelley, and Deborah Knight from the City of Stanwood.  Our manager, Leslie Collins, has attended the legislative session in Olympia in 2013 with the City of Stanwood to discuss the farmers market and our longer term goals of a four-season market.  All this was to lay the groundwork for future funding. Additionally, Leslie attends annual conferences, seminars, trainings, and webinars to help strengthen our market and learn how to better serve our vendors, community and program partners.

This year the market became qualified to receive SNAP/EBT benefits to increase food access for low income folks in our community. This means that the Farmers Market is truly a resource for everyone in our community. This process took months to complete and an investment of time and money to make it work. However, we’re already seeing benefits from it.

Support from the City and local business has been immense. Cash funding and in-kind donations, such as the space for the market, have made it possible to have a market at all. We received grant funding from USDA Farmers Market Promotional Program Grant and NW Farm Credit Services to help with our initial start-up costs. Since we were starting from scratch, expenses were not small. In turn, we’ve been spending money at local businesses for insurance, operating supplies, advertising, and power, to name a few. We also our refer vendors to local businesses for their needs and have helped increase foot traffic to our downtown core business during Market hours.

We spend a lot of time understanding how the market impacts the economic development of the city and surrounding businesses.  This year we will be doing a more in-depth Rapid Market Assessment (RMA) to better understand these impacts. We want to constantly improve operations at the market for better vendor sales, a better customer experience and a greater benefit to all surrounding businesses.

So, you can see that our Port Susan Farmers Market is much more than a collection of tents. It’s people coming together every week to support our local businesses, invest in healthy foods, and create a great community life.

Oso Strong, Oso Compassionate

By now, you’ve heard about the massive mudslide in Oso that took the lives of 43 people on March 22nd. I live just downriver from there. Everyone here knows someone directly affected by this disaster. It’s going to take years for a full recovery, if that’s at all possible. Most of the folks who lost homes, families and…well…everything, still owe mortgages on those properties. The local businesses and farms are also feeling the pinch, with the highway being closed until at least next fall. So many of them rely on the tourist trade during the summer.

The stories I keep hearing of the lengths people went to help their neighbors and friends are amazing. Here are a few:

  • When the slide happened, the river started immediately backing up, flooding the homes and farms of those east of the slide area. One woman knew that her neighbors, whose farm was quickly being inundated, were down in Seattle for the day. So, she got to their farm, jumped on the back of one of the horses, and led the other 6 horses through chest-deep water to safety.
  • My volunteer fire department, Snohomish County FD #19, decided to turn their annual fund raising event into a benefit for the Oso firefighter who lost his wife, granddaughter and home in the slide. They will make up their annual funds some other way.
  • One Search & Rescue professional who worked on the site said that it was the first time in his many years of dealing with disasters, that local volunteers and family members worked right along side him.
  • People used their vacation time to come to Arlington and wash clothes for the volunteers. Students wrote thank you notes and they were included in the clean laundry returned to the search and rescue volunteers.

The list goes on.

If you’d like to help those affected by this tragedy, Snohomish County has a page that lists where you can donate or volunteer.

So many stories…so far behind…

Yes, yes, I know. I’m about 5 or 6 entries behind in posting. I have many topics to cover and can’t get to finishing any of them just yet. Patience, patience…

A lot has happened. I’ve met some great people, encountered some beautiful farms, and dealt with tragedy in my neighborhood. I’ll tell all in the next few posts.

Oh, and there’s this little bit of news about the chaotic FCC plans for net neutrality

A Warning and a Screaming Good Deal

First, a warning: there is a nasty piece of ransomware that lately been attacking unsuspecting computers. It’s the Cryptolocker virus. It attacks your system by encrypting it and then holding your hard drive for ransom. If you get hit with this, there is not a lot you can do to recover the drive. Some sources online suggest that paying the ransom is the only way to get it back. I say no way!

Prevention is your best ally. There are three things you should always do to keep yourself safe online:

  • Make sure you backup your system to a drive not on your computer. A backup service, such as Mozy, can put your backups on autopilot. Backing up to an external hard drive works quite well, too. Both of these are reasonably priced and really beat the loss of all your data. With a backup in place, you can replace your hard drive with a new one, reload your operating system, and restore your data without too much expense, certainly less than paying a ransom.
  • Download the free version of MalwareBytes and have it run scans frequently. This program finds Trojans and other malware on your system and eliminates them before they have a chance to do their evil deeds. Add this program in addition to your anti-virus.
  • Encrypt your system yourself. This protects you from all kinds of nasty things besides just Cryptolocker. Just remember that if you lose your password to unlock your encrypted drive, there is no way to recover it. Make sure you write it down and keep it, and copies of it, available.

Now, here’s the best deal I’ve found in a long time: Republic Wireless has the best prices on cell phone coverage I’ve ever seen. It starts at $10 a month for unlimited calls, text, and data. (I know!) If you want 3G or 4G, the plans are a bit more, as much as $40. (Again, an “I know!” with exclamation points!)

There are, of course restrictions and stipulations. You definitely need to have broadband at home. You have to use their one phone, Motorola’s Moto X, which costs $299 but is a good Android phone. Over the course of two years, which is how you should always price cell plans, you would only pay $240. That’s amazing! That’s what many people pay for just two months of service.

What makes this possible is the software that Republic Wireless has pioneered. It essentially pushes everything, including your calls, through the internet, if it’s available. If it isn’t, then calls, texts, and data go to cell service seamlessly. This plan isn’t for everyone, but for those who have good access to wi-fi, there’s nothing wrong with saving some green.


Old Books and New Markets

I’ll admit it, even though I love high tech, I really enjoy buying old books. The other day, I found a copy of the Department of Agriculture Yearbook for 1914 and couldn’t put it down. One section I especially liked listed the large public markets within major U.S. cities and showed interesting pictures of them. Some of them still stand, such as Faneuil Hall in Boston and Seattle’s Pike Street Public Market, due to some dedicated urban renewalists who saw the potential of these buildings. Others, such as the Pearl Street Market in Cinncinnati, were razed during the era of urban flight in the twentieth century. Those markets still standing in major cities have indeed become the hub of urban life. I’m certainly glad that Seattle’s was preserved. I visit there whenever I can.

Another fascinating section of this book were the results of a study conducted on the lives of farm women in 1914. They found that many suffered from, “Loneliness, isolation, and the lack of social and educational opportunities.” Most felt heavily overworked without any recompense, since every drop of money went into the farm. By far, though, the largest complaint was the lack of education. They had no way to learn about better farming practices that would make their lives easier. That’s now changed. Even though we want to learn more about how people farmed in the past, we’re doing it on the internet. As more farmers get broadband, more opportunities are made for them.

Oh, there are a couple of articles from this book that might work for modern small farmers, such as “Apple Sirup and Concentrated Cider” and “Cooperative Marketing”. It’s just so interesting seeing how people thought about things 100 years ago.

We Have a Winner!

A short while ago, I started a contest on new ideas for sustainable entrepreneurship with the award of a book, ECOpreneuring.  I received a great reply from Stephanie at You Grow Food Aquaponics ( So, she has won a copy of John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist’s book, ECOpreneuring – Putting Purpose and the Planet before Profit. (It’s one of my favorites.) Congratulations!

Here’s what she said:

We are just in the construction phase of our new aquaponics business: You Grow Food Aquaponics (  We are four professional people who are living in the rural community of Hope BC Canada.  Hope produces no food commercially for local markets, creating a food desert.  We love where we live and we want to eat where we live too!  Aquaponics is the `How` of what we do, and food security and community  development form the `Why`of what we do.  Through tours and education we will connect kids and the community with their food sources.  We aim to be open-sourced and support and encourage others in aquaponic startups.  Most importantly, we want to provide local restaurants and local families with year round, nutritious, locally produced food!

Rudy and Stephanie in front of one of the greenhouses.

So, of course, I had to go see what their aquaponics farm was all about. (Any excuse for a roadtrip…)

Stephanie Hooker and Rudy Kehler took time from their busy schedules to show me how their process worked and what they wanted to accomplish as farmers. Their operation is small but is quickly growing as their proof-of-concept is realized.

They started with a small greenhouse and a 4 by 4 foot tank, topped with a bed of basil. That worked great. Then came two larger greenhouses with fish tanks, one large pump, and trays and trays of little plants. There are a few more tanks to add, but it’s looking extremely promising that soon there will be greens and fish year-round in the town of Hope. Their goal is to provide fresh, local food in a place where food is brought in from other places.

To see how You Grow Food Aquaponics is growing, go to their Facebook Page and Like them, or visit their web page. Oh, and Stephanie, your book is on it’s way.