September-October 2005 Volume 13, Number 5
Newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).
The Internet is a Farming Tool
Today’s farmers and ranchers are harnessing a powerful new set of tools for sustainable agriculture. The World Wide Web, listservs, and electronic newsgroups let community-based producers see what others are doing and share ideas. Web sites allow them to tell the stories of their farms and products to people all over the world. E-mail is an efficient and widely accepted way to contact colleagues and customers. This issue of ATTRAnews shows how farmers are using these new tools to build community-based sustainable agriculture.
In this issue:
More and more farmers, ranchers, and producer groups are using the Internet to increase their markets. They offer information about their farms on Web sites to show consumers what’s available, while most actual sales still take place on the farm or by phone. Delivery is often at designated pick-up points, via community supported agriculture (CSA) buying clubs, or through local restaurants and grocery retailers.
Farmers can create and maintain their own Web sites or — much easier — they can list their farm and products on Web directories run by other people. Listings are usually free, and offer exposure and publicity for the farm. The quality of these sites varies. However, a lower quality national site that is well publicized may attract more people to a farm listing than a top-quality local site that is not well publicized.
Local Harvest is an example of a comprehensive, well maintained group Web site. Launched in 1998 by Guillermo Payet of Santa Cruz, California, Local Harvest is a "living" directory of family farms, farmers’ markets, and other small-scale, locally oriented food businesses. Farmers can update their listings at any time.
Local Harvest allows consumers all over the country to find local farms, farmers' markets, CSAs, restaurants, and food co-ops. The online store where customers order products for mail delivery offers options for local delivery or pick-up, enabling farmers to sell online to nearby customers.
Other nationwide farm-marketing directories include the New Farm's “Farm Locator”, which helps consumers, brokers, restaurateurs, and other farmers find the farm services they’re looking for, and Farmstop.com, which lists farms that welcome visitors. Many state departments of agriculture also offer online marketing directories.
Producers who want to develop their own Web sites are faced with a baffling number of choices. What’s the best way to navigate the maze of Internet service, site design, software, order fulfillment, customer relations, Web commerce, credit card processing, catalog creation, and inventory management? Here are some good places to learn about the options.
This online tool lists many of the best sources of information about sustainable and organic agriculture. If you need to solve a farm production problem, chances are good you can find answers at one of the sites on AgWeb.
Ecological Agriculture Projects
By NCAT Agriculture Specialist Steve Diver
Weblogs, or “blogs,” are simple text-based Web journals that allow anybody to post articles, news, views, and photos. These user-friendly platforms are one of the fastest growing segments of the Web in terms of public participation.
Blogs about farms and CSAs can be a good way for farmers and ranchers to keep in touch with their customer base and wider network. Stories and photos of ranches and farm life, livestock, and cropping systems are very appealing. In fact, farm photos are one of the all-time best outreach and networking tools. Digital photos on blogs make it easy to show a new product, conditions in a field, or how to set up a particular piece of equipment.
Many Web sites — some free — offer space for people to post their own blogs on the Internet. These Web pages are created automatically, so users don’t need Web editing skills. Here are some entry points to the “blogosphere:”
A Web page is a modern business card. The Internet also provides many other worthy tools for sustainable agriculture. Farmers and ranchers are creating e-mail newsletters for their customers and CSAs, announcing crop availability and farm events. This is a chance to let readers know about critical issues that affect agriculture. Creative authors can produce highly entertaining newsletters, like the vivid tales of life at the Two Small Farms CSA.
The Internet offers farmers the chance to do their own research about challenges they face on the farm. By joining “listservs,” discussion groups, and Web forums, producers can exchange information on practical farming and ranching topics. Portals like ATTRA’s AgWeb provide access to scientific research and agricultural databases.
Producers can find the latest market news on the Internet, too. New Farm’s Organic Price Index tracks the prices of conventional and organic products in several U.S. cities. Grassroots reporters also post the week’s prices from many farmers’ markets across the nation. Some Web sites, such as www.oatlink.com, bring together buyers and sellers of specialty produce.
In addition to this list, ATTRA offers many more publications on marketing farm products and on sustainable agriculture. All are available for free from ATTRA at 800-346-9140 or www.attra.ncat.org.
Electronic subscription and delivery services are a niche that meets customer demand for high quality organic produce with the convenience of home delivery. These services avoid the problems faced by many CSAs of providing more produce than customers can use or too many items the customers don’t like or know how to prepare. Companies like Boxed Greens of Arizona and Door to Door Organics, which serves the mid-Atlantic region and Colorado, offer both occasional and regular home delivery. Produce selection can be predetermined or customized for each customer.
Diamond Organics is an example of a larger scale organic food retailer that sells directly to consumers via mail order catalogs and the Internet. Founded in 1990, it offers a Web site with an extremely wide variety of organic produce, specialty items, and organic foods in all categories. Orders can be placed online or by telephone or fax and delivered the next day.
Much of the information in this issue of ATTRAnews is based on a series of special training sessions conducted by NCAT staff this past spring. Holly Born, Janet Bachmann, Julia Sampson, Nana Mejia, and Teresa Maurer presented the workshops to help farmers use the Internet for marketing. The Internet Based Services Project involved participants from seven southern states representing 11 organizations that serve limited resource and women farmers. The project was part of a training partnership with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, who received funding from the USDA Risk Management Office of Outreach. If you would like to learn more about the workshops or training materials, please contact Teresa Maurer at 1-866-442-6085 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using Search Engines
Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet
ATTRAnews is the bi-monthly newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The newsletter is distributed free throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.
Teresa Maurer, Project Manager
Comments? Questions? Email the ATTRAnews editor Karen Van Epen at email@example.com.
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