Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:00 AM
Technology 'frees us up to actually focus on our farming'
By STEVE BROWN
A new online software tool helps both farmers and customers who participate in community-supported agriculture.
Customers can change pickup locations and times and farmers can sell, track and distribute their crops in ways "that would have been downright impossible using our old system," farmer Sid Maroney said.
Maroney, who coordinates the 15-year-old farm share program at Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim, Wash., said the Farmigo software is a welcome addition to the operation.
"We're excited to finally jump on the technological bandwagon," he said. "Customers have been asking for this for years. We heard from a couple of other farms how Farmigo turned their business around, and we listened."
One of those farms is Helsing Junction, near Rochester, Wash. Sue Ujcic, co-owner and partner in the organic farm, said the CSA had 800 members before starting the online system last year.
"It went to 920 right away, bringing in new revenue right away," she said. "We've got about 1,000 now."
Maroney said he entered all 175 existing members of Nash's CSA into the software manually, "and now folks are signing up online."
At the farm website new members can choose among pickup options and different shares, choose terms of payment, enter contact information and pay.
The Helsing Junction CSA has 50 pickup options and offers additional products from other farms, including fruit, pastured poultry, sauerkraut and mushrooms.
"Farmigo allows us to track more products and involve more farms," Ujcic said.
Once they've become established, members can cancel their delivery while on vacation, then schedule a makeup box when they return, Maroney said.
The Farmigo program is available 24 hours a day.
"People will often make decisions at 11 o'clock at night they probably wouldn't at 11 o'clock in the morning," he said. "They can say, 'I can do that right now.'"
The farmer benefits by managing the data more effectively instead of relying on a spreadsheet.
"It's not a pain in the butt anymore," he said. "It also allows us to maybe add some items onto the CSA for short terms. If we've got more berries or eggs available this week, for example, we can alert people either in a specific area or in general."
This means more profit for the farm, he said.
"We'll be retailing instead of wholesaling when we've got more of a particular item," he said.
Ujcic said Farmigo offers two levels of service. A basic level, for which the farm pays 0.5 percent of sales, "is the signing-up version," she said. "We got the Pro version, which has extensive farm management support. You can track each box you send out, generate reports on revenue, on cash flow (and) on harvest totals."
That version costs 2 percent of sales. Fees are charged only during the months of delivery, with no up-front fees or fixed charges, according to the Farmigo website.
"They're always updating the software, too, at no extra charge," Ujcic said. "It's tailored to your operation, to your website, to your farm."
Having the online connection has replaced most of the hundreds of e-mails Helsing Junction used to get, she said. "(Co-owner) Annie (Salafsky) and I didn't want to be data managers. This frees us up to actually focus on our farming."
Nash's Organic Produce: www.nashsorganicproduce.com
Helsing Junction Farm: www.helsingfarmcsa.com