2012 SFJ Auction…

Harnesses and Saddles…or lessons in what not to do if you don’t want to lose your shirt. No waving. Don’t arrange your hair. Try not to scratch your nose. Otherwise, you could become the owner of a lovely chuckwagon or a full set of brass-fitted show harnesses. Not that I would mind having something like that, but the wallet would be screaming. (Not to mention the trouble I’d have getting it home. Me, with my little econo-car…) I did buy a lovely set of hip-drop bells that I adore. I believe they will be staying in the house, adorning my walls, however, rather than hanging out in the tack room.

One event I really enjoyed was the Washington Young Farmers Coalition roundtable discussion. Sixty-five people showed up for it, which was many more than was expected. The room was full of folks. I jotted down some of the questions and answers as far as I could. Here are some of the questions posed along with some potential ideas for answers:

  • What can we do to effect national legislation concerning farming? Monitor the farm bill and the two micro bills currently going through congress. Contact your congressional representatives and let them know your opinion.
  • How can we integrate other businesses on the farm? Choose complimentary businesses or ones that you might be able to do in the off season, such as tree-trimming, metal fabrication, farrier services, farming-related classes, distribution services, etc.
  • How can young farmers acquire land and deal with debt, especially student loans? That’s a good question…
  • Can farms be run as non-profits? Sure, just provide goods and services for underserved customers. Teaching self-sustainability classes or growing crops for low-income customers both would work.
  • What’s the best way to interject energy into the local granges? Get involved in the local community. Get to know the other farmers around you.

There were lots of other suggestions, as well:

  • Fight legislation that impedes your ability to farm.
  • Start seed swapping events with other farmers and market gardeners.
  • Engage older farmers in an inter-generational network. It’s great to learn from experienced folks and farmers love to talk about growing things.
  • Get involved in farmland preservation.
  • Combine resources across farms.
  • Crop mobs! They are great to have on your farm or to participate in one.
  • Look into IDA savings plans as a way to save for farms.

People brought up lots of others subjects as well, but my brain was so full of farming goodness by the end of the roundtable, I just couldn’t add anymore.

It was so great to be in a room full of such enthusiasm. I was impressed by the level of intelligence and knowledge of the participants and felt that, even with all the pressing issues farmers have to confront, the future of farming is in good hands.


Broadband? What’s that?

After listening to the State of the Union address, and hearing the President’s mention of bringing broadband access to rural places, I have one question: what does he mean by broadband? If you can’t use Skype, is it still broadband? What about streaming videos, connecting to virtual private networking, or playing World of Warcraft? If you can’t conference online, what use is it for your small business or farm?

The President was talking about wireless broadband covering our rural spaces. Will it provide these kinds of services, the ones suburban America already enjoys? Satellite certainly doesn’t. Cellphone wireless won’t provide many of them, especially VoIP. In the State of the Union fact sheet, it only discusses high-speed internet, without giving specifications or a timeline of any kind.

It will be interesting to see how this initiative will take shape. Here’s my hope for the best.

O Canada

Yes, I’ve been bad about keeping up with the blog, but I’ve been doing a bit of vacationing over Thanksgiving. I traveled to Vancouver, B.C., and enjoyed the congenial ambience of Canadian hospitality. Seriously, I adore Canadians.

British Columbia is experiencing the same food revolution we are having in northwest Washington. There are more local, organic, artisanal farmers springing up all over and folks are gaining a greater appreciation for real food. I saw that everywhere I went in Vancouver. (What a great town! Everyone should visit there, if only to see how proper governance creates better living. But I digress…)

Anyway, I will try to write more, time allowing.

Small Farmers and Social Media

I’ve heard from a number of small farmers and small farm advocates that there isn’t a place for high tech in a community-based agricultural endeavor. I say that there is. In fact, I believe that the latest internet tools can enhance a small farming community and can lead to a greater connection with those who appreciate locally-grown, organic foods.

Just as email has become a replacement for a great deal of paper sent through USPS, social media can facilitate conversations with customers when time or distance is a problem. Social Media can also act as an amazingly immediate news service, uniquely geared towards an individual’s needs. Let me explain.

In Los Angeles a couple of years ago, there were a number of very fine chefs who could not afford to open any kind of eating establishment because the cost of real estate was exhorbitantly high. (Ah yes, the good old days…) They were past the apprenticeship stage of their careers but couldn’t get to the next level for lack of capital. These enterprising gourmands could, however, afford taco vans. Essentially, they took some kitchens-on-wheels and renovated them enough to accomodate their culinary specialities. They could park, cook, serve, and go. The biggest problem they had was that they couldn’t park in the same place everytime. So, how did they let their local customers know where they were serving?

They signed up for free accounts on Twitter, or Facebook, or the social medium of their choice, and posted their information on the sides of their vans. Interested customers friended or followed them either online or on their cell phones. They knew exactly where they could get their garlic vegetable soup, or allspice cupcakes, or chicken cordon bleu. The customers were waiting when the van pulled up each day.

It was a low-cost, inventive, quick business model that worked, getting fresh, gourmet foods to customers without all the hassle. (No wait staff to have to pay, either.) They could even drive out to the farms to pick up their fresh produce each day, eliminating the wait for deliveries. Lots of chefs in lots of cities are now following this model and doing quite well.

So, how can this translate to a non-movable small farm business? Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios:

  • You run a CSA, providing baskets of fresh, organic, heirloom produce delivered to customers. Some of your customers have never seen Cherokee Purple tomatos, or Hokkaido pumpkins, or Collard greens and really don’t know how to cook them. A Facebook account is a great way to provide a listing, including pictures, of what you have included in the baskets that week, and links to recipes you’ve found online. You’re providing important information to your customers so that they can enjoy your produce even more.
  • You have a large section of U-pick crops on your land. You’d like to let people know when your fruits and vegetables are ready for harvesting. You need an immediate notification service to reach those who would be interested. A Twitter account might be just the ticket. Each entry may be only 140 characters in length but you can tell people an awful lot in that space. You can even provide links for more information.
  • You run an artisanal dairy, making unique cheeses. You’re larder is just jam-packed with a well-aged assortment of tasty comestibles and you need to move some stock. Any social media outlet will let you remind folks to meet you at the farmer’s market, ready, with cash in hand, to stock up on your fine cheeses.

Social media can give you direct access to your customers, without an outlay of money. It also eliminates the need to maintain contact lists. Customers have the ability to follow you at their discretion and to forward your information to others who would likewise be interested. Social media accounts, unlike websites, are free. Yep, free. What they do take is a bit of time. Unlike posting static information on a website, you create a conversation with your customers and, sometimes, even customers you don’t yet have.

How do you get your customers to follow you on a social media site? How did they become customers in the first place? Wherever you post information for people to see is where you can add your Facebook or Twitter information. Easy-peasy, pudding and pie…

Incidentally, my twitter account is @ruraltechgeek. If you want to know more about uses for social media, look me up there.