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.

Earthineer Redux

Since I last wrote about, Dan has been adding lots of new features and more are on their way. There are currently Communities, Newsletters, Messages, Friend Feeds, and Photos. The new features will include Pins and Trading. Personally, I’m really interested in the ability to trade with others in my area, either equipment, crops, or whatever.

Check it out! Earthineer is free and full of great information.

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.


I’ve found Twitter invaluable in obtaining the information I really need, and in a timely manner.

One aspect of social media that I’m finding very fascinating is the alternative economy that is springing up. I’m seeing concert series, such as w00tstock, selling out just from retweets, without a dollar spent on advertising. (In fact, every concert I’ve gone to this year has been unadvertised and some of the audiences have been huge!) Products, services, and events are finding instant and widespread markets, if individuals think them compelling enough. It’s side-stepping conventional advertising.

People are circumventing traditional monopolies, such as Ticket Master, to sell their events. They are using third party manufacturers, such as Cafe Press or Jinx, to develop, sell, and ship their branded products. They are essentially creating a more grass-roots way of making a buck. There are a lot of dollars to be made this way, too, and for very little cost.

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve learned that, according to the American Farmland Trust, Farmer’s markets have increased by 16% since last year. Sixteen percent! That’s incredible. There are now 6132 farmer’s markets throughout the United States.