Why we need to treat our small-scale farms as businesses

Why do you farm?

When you ask a small-scale farmer this question, they often don’t say because they want to make money. Farmers love what they do. Whether, they do it because it’s in their family and they have a connection to the land, or they want to be able to produce food for themselves and their community – farming is extremely rewarding. You put a lot of effort in, and can see the tangible results of your effort. In other words, you plant a seed, tend to it, and one day you’ll get to enjoy the product!

As a non-farmer it may seem hard to grasp why people farm. It is extremely hard work. It’s labour intensive, time consuming and ongoing – it’s hard to take a day off! If you don’t work, the farm doesn’t run.

Yet, the hard work is worth it! Farming benefits those around it:

By practicing responsible agricultural practices that help feed the land that feeds us,

By teaching those around you about where their food comes from,

And by connecting cultures and sharing traditions over the universal love for food.

Farming does all of those great things for those around it, yet we must not forget, farming is also a business. There are costs and profits, employees and management, customer acquisition and marketing.

When you think of a farming business – what do you see? For me, I think of a large-scale operation owned by a huge corporation that does mass production of wheat or legumes using large processing machines. I don’t usually think of a smaller local producer growing a variety of seasonal vegetables or a rancher using pasture rotation to graze their cattle.

So, how come small scale farming hasn’t been seen as a business?

Farming is directly tied to one’s livelihood. Not in all cases, but often farmers live on the properties that they farm, and spend day in day out producing food. It is ingrained into every aspect of their lifestyle. Every action and decision is based on production. How much can I produce and what can I do to make it the best?

Don’t get me wrong – this is a great thing. It means farmers put everything into the products they produce, they respect the land and animals they use, and ultimately produce the best type of food – yet sometimes this may just be enough to survive, but not thrive.

Additionally, local food isn’t that accessible. For a consumer it’s hard to buy direct from a producer, so they often do the transaction with a middle-man like a grocery store. In a consumers eyes, a farmer has a lifestyle instead of a business.

According to Modern Farmer, only 41% of small-scale farmers turn a profit each year in the US. This means that the majority of farmers fail to break even and that 64% of small farmers have a second job to support their business. As mentioned above, small-scale farmers provide many benefits to their communities, so how can it be that many of them are struggling to survive? This is a huge problem.

So, what can we do?

Often so much time and effort is put into creating the product, instead of essential aspects such as risk mitigation and management, costs and profits, improvements to tools and practices, and goal planning and achieving. When all your time is spent devoted to production, you are missing out the opportunity to run your business efficiently and increase the likelihood of continuous production in the future.

In every business, there are two essential practices: organization and operation.

Organization involves planning for the near and distant future, aggregating and acquiring tools and resources needed, and tracking and analyzing your results. On the other hand, operation is the day-to-day tasks that occur in order to meet business goals. These practices are just as important for the business to thrive; however the order in which they are practiced is essential. Organization first, operation second. You can work as hard as you want, but if you have no way of tracking it, then you’re left unsure if you work has paid off.

By treating your farm as a business, you spend time on the organization side of your production. Taking time to organize, and set goals for the future creates a plan so that every action, every decision made in the future will lead you towards why you farm. You can’t succeed if you don’t know where you are headed.

Based on the current market, there are three things that need to happen in order for small-scale farmers to thrive:

1. Increasing the accessibility of local food to the market

2. Marketing the products to a consumer-driven market

3. Goal-setting and financial planning for the future

Small-scale farmers need access to competitive markets. They need to be able to reach their target audiences and have the ability for easy, comparable transactions to their competitors (grocery stores). In other words, they need to make ordering and receiving their products as a consumer easy and cost-efficient.

Next, farmers to need to market their products. They need to follow consumer trends and use online mediums such as social media to inform their target audience they’re an option. Buying local food needs to become a norm – and the farmers need to show consumers why it needs to be.

Finally, farmers need to plan and track these actions by creating business plans, financial models, and marketing strategies. The combination of these three things will allow for the transition from lifestyle to business achievable.

This process won’t happen overnight – it will take time, effort, and critical thinking in order to create something that works specifically for your business however, in the long run, it will be worth it. So let us leave you with some food for thought – instead of farming harder, try farming smarter.

Wondering where to get started? We can help – we compiled a free guide to help food producers and small-scale farmers sell their food online. It outlines who to sell to, how to sell to them, and where to get started. Click here to read your free copy!

The new model for local food distribution in Northern Ontario

Located just outside Sudbury in Northern Ontario, Click Fork, an innovative new food hub is serving their community with fresh, local food in a place where it can be difficult to access. Click Fork is composed of three farms: Dalew Farms, Field Good Farms and Kipling Ridge Farms, and they sell a variety of products, including beef, poultry, produce, and grains!

Chantal and her family at Dalew Farms!

One door closes…

The farmers first met each other more than 10 years ago when they were supplying a local retail store, Eat Local Sudbury. The store provided a sales channel for nearby farmers to sell their products. The store was crucially important for the Sudbury community as it provided a central access point for fresh, local food. In Northern Ontario, access to local food is not always easy, since the farmland and urban areas are so spread out, making logistics expensive.

Unfortunately, in March 2018, Eat Local Sudbury closed its doors. With the loss of an important sales channel, the farmers began looking for a new alternative that would allow them to sell their complimentary products to a wide audience, in a way that worked for their individual businesses.

Isabelle, Ryan and their daughter at Field Good Farms!

Another one opens!

After several meetings, Chantal from Dalew Farms suggested providing their customers with an online platform after having success with her own Local Line store for her individual customers. She wanted a one-stop shop, where everyone’s customers would be able to shop and order their favourite products direct from the farmers – online. After connecting with Local Line founder, Cole, and discussing options, this became a reality. Click Fork, the online food hub, was born!

James and his family at Kipling Ridge Farms!

Oh, just check us out – online!

Since launching their online store, Click Fork has been a growing success. The online store allows customers to browse through products, sort by product type and by farmers, and then order from whoever they want! Additionally, the platform allows the hub to track all incoming orders, send invoices, generate picklists, and plan weekly distribution! Customer newsletters and pick up scheduling have all become automatic, which collectively saves the farmers hours of work each week.

Chantal from Dalew Farms says

“The logistics of a food hub are tricky! Everyone plays a different role in the operation of Click Fork. We all have our strengths, so it’s really great that the online platform gives everyone access to the tools they need to carry out their roles.”

Looking back, since Click Fork launched in July 2018, the online hub has accomplished its goal of providing a new sales channel to the farmers (they have over 250 customers!), and increasing access to local food for Sudbury residents. The farms are no longer limited by the number of customers that would physically shop at the Eat Local Sudbury store, and have been able to reach new audiences.

Moving forward

After a successful first year, the goal for Click Fork’s future is to increase available inventory and continue to grow their customer base. They also hope to increase the variety of products to service a larger diversity of shoppers.

“People say farmers are behind, but that’s not true. We’re right there with them – online!” – Chantal, Dalew Farms


We are so happy we were able to host the first online food hub in the area and play a role increasing access to local food in the Northern Ontario region. Want to learn more? Check out Click Fork for yourself!

Success Story: Thousand Hills Ranch

Located in Morden, Manitoba, a two-hour drive from Winnipeg, Thousand Hills Ranch is a family farm producing grass-fed beef and lamb. Thousand Hills Ranch works alongside their animals using holistic and regenerative farming practices to replenish their land and produce the best quality product.

Dean, a life long farmer, and Tiina, a city gal, married in 2007, after which they established the name Thousand Hills Ranch and began to direct market grass-fed beef in their community, eventually adding grass-fed lamb, wool, and body care products.

The Broken Record

Initially, like everyone, Tiina was promoting her products at farmers’ markets and taking orders through phone calls and emails. As their inventory increased, so did their orders, and Tiina found herself struggling to communicate effectively with customers.

Sharing photos and product information on Facebook was ok, but it was only working for those customers actively visiting their page. Tiina still didn’t have a good way to uniformly communicate with all their customers to share information, updates, and exciting news. As a result, when it came to generating new business, Tiina was ALWAYS pitching. Some days she felt like a broken record repeating her pitch multiple different times to customers asking the same things.

Killing 2 Birds with 1 Stone

Meanwhile, Thousand Hills Ranch and a small group of local producers were running a food buying club with the use of an online survey order form. The group wanted to expand their reach and remove the ‘exclusiveness’ associated with a buying club. One of the other farmers in the club  recommended Local Line, so Thousand Hills Ranch decided to come check us out! Ultimately, Tiina decided to use Local Line for both the online food market and their own orders.

Since starting with Local Line in September 2018, Local Line has saved Tiina hours each week on communicating with their customers. She loves their online store as it does the selling for her. Images, product descriptions, and product categories enable new buyers to take a look at what’s available without Tiina having to constantly repeat herself. On top of that, the real time inventory updates and automated order reminder emails takes the work out of manually communicating updates to products and inventory.

“The biggest benefit I found by using Local Line was how easy it is now to communicate! Updating and communicating changes to our inventory has become effortless. Furthermore, when I want to promote Thousand Hills Ranch to new customers, I can just give them a link to our online store and they can explore for themselves!”

Looking back, Tiina can’t imagine a time when she was doing all her inventory and customer communications without Local Line. We’re so happy she found the system she needs! Make sure you go check out Thousand Hills Ranch by their online store!

Success Story: Stone Horse Farm

Located 15 minutes south of Barrie, in Innisfil Ontario, Stone Horse Farm is a small scale, family-owned, pasture-raised livestock business. Lisa and her family produce chicken, pork, and rabbits on land that was first farmed in 1880. All the animals are raised with the highest possible attention to detail, with the goal of providing a natural diet and life for them and in turn, providing customers with the highest quality meats.

Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems

Lisa and her family started Stone Horse Farm in 2003. Over the past 15 years, they have been slowly growing their brand, mostly by selling at the century farm and local farmers’ markets.

By mid-2018, the growing popularity for Stone Horse products started to create just as many problems as opportunities. Lisa started to experience the frustrations of tracking orders from multiple sources. Various communication channels combined with fluctuating inventory created order errors, and Lisa found that half the time customers would reach out to order, she didn’t have what they were asking for in inventory.

Before Local Line: The Dark Ages

Before using Local Line, Lisa would receive orders from her facebook page, messenger, email, phone call, and text. During the day, each time she received an order, she would manually type them into an online notebook. Later that evening she would again manually copy them over into a spreadsheet. As you can imagine, this multi-step process was time-consuming and error prone.

After a couple months of these errors repeating themselves, Lisa started to think about better solutions. She needed a way to lighten the load, track and communicate her inventory with customers, and automatically generate picklists. Thankfully, that was the time that her Local Line sales rep reached out, wondering if there was a way we could help Stone Horse Farms!

Introducing Local Line, my personal assistant!

Now that Lisa’s been up and running on Local Line for over six months, she considers Local Line her personal sales assistant. We asked her what Local Line does for her and she said,

“Well…Local Line does everything for me! I tell customers it is my personal secretary and encourage them to use the embedded store on my website. Now, all of my orders are clearly listed for me before I ship animals to the butcher. I can be sure to have the custom work detailed before they need it, which simplifies my logistics and helps me manage customer expectations.”

For Lisa, the biggest benefit of Local Line has been saving her time and keeping her organized. And now that she’s back in control of her orders, Lisa is going to focus on increasing her inventory. As she scales up, she’ll use her Local Line account as a marketing tool to help drive new business.

We’ve loved being able to play a small part in all the success at Stone Horse Farm, and we’ll be with Lisa every step of the way as she continues her journey!


If you want to see all the great things Stone Horse Farms has to offer, check out their online store!

Ontario’s Local Food Revolution Gets Boost with New OntarioFresh Platform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 29, 2018

ONTARIO’S LOCAL FOOD REVOLUTION GETS BOOST WITH NEW ONTARIOFRESH PLATFORM

Greenbelt Fund launches new and improved Ontariofresh.ca with technology partner Local Line

Ontario’s largest local food network connecting buyers, sellers and processors has undergone a major upgrade. The Greenbelt Fund has launched the upgraded Ontariofresh.ca platform with improved functionality and design – and the platform continues to be free, as always.

Ontariofresh.ca is an online marketplace where Ontario’s farmers and producers can market their products to a range of buyers. The platform has over 2,500 members from across Ontario, representing businesses at every point on the local food value chain, including buyers, sellers, processors and service providers.

Buyers looking to increase local food offerings can shop with confidence on Ontariofresh.ca because all products on the platform are Ontario grown-and-raised from start to finish, and processed or prepared foods must contain 80% Ontario ingredients by volume.

The new features members can expect on Ontariofresh.ca include a shipping calculator that compares shipping rates from various distributors in one place and new ‘Buy Local’ networks to increase member visibility and allow for cross-promotion.

“The new Ontariofresh platform brings our members even more functionality on Ontario’s largest online marketplace for local food,” said Megan Hunter, Communications and Program Manager at the Greenbelt Fund. “Members can connect more easily and use the shipping tool to get their local food onto Ontarian’s plates more quickly, and the platform continues to be completely free.”

“The Greenbelt Fund has invested in every aspect of our local food system, and Ontariofresh is part of that service to Ontario’s primary producers,” said Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Fund. “Increasing markets for local food across Ontario is good for rural economies, creates new jobs, and keeps our dollars in Ontario.”

Local Line is an easy-to-use e-commerce and logistics platform that helps food suppliers perform direct sales, increase their orders and save time on order fulfillment. Their white-label e-commerce, CRM, and inventory modules enable suppliers to control their brand and grow their business on their terms. Local Line was the ideal technology partner for The Greenbelt Fund when upgrading Ontariofresh.ca, as they bring unique industry and technical experience to the table. The Greenbelt Fund and Local Line have worked together over the past year to rebuild the platform, significantly improving its design and functionality.

For original post, click here.

Can Local Line Help Your Direct-to-Consumer Food Business?

 

 

 

It’s becoming more and more popular for consumers and chefs to source food from local farmers and suppliers. Because of this, companies like Local Line have formed as a kind of go-between, bringing farmers and customers together. If you own a direct-to-consumer food business, using a service like Local Line is a great way to bring in new customers and boost your overall sales. But before you get started, you should weigh the pros and cons of the service to see if it’s really the right option for you.

Diversify Your Farming Income

It’s really important for farmers to diversify their income. For many, this means doing things like hosting dinners and events at their farm to bring in extra cash and partnering with restaurants. But what if you don’t have time to visit restaurants to see if they’re interested in sourcing food from you?

This is where Local Line could come in handy. The company lets you create your own online store that showcases the fresh food you have available to sell and the price. Your customers, whether they’re individuals or restaurants, can use the system to order food online. Once the order is placed, you simply deliver the goods.

Charge Restaurants and Individuals Different Prices

When you use a service like Local Line, you have the ability to create online catalogues that show your current inventory. All of your products are displayed with prices, and you can have multiple catalogues. Each catalogue you create is private. This means your customers only see the prices you want them to see.

Using this feature, you can create separate catalogues with different pricing for individual customers and restaurants. This way you can give restaurants discounted prices when they buy in bulk without upsetting individual customers who might accidentally come across a catalogue with lower prices displayed. Also, when your customers view specific products in your catalogue, you see it in real time. You can use this feature to promote high-interest items by creating an occasional “sale” catalogue.

Attract New Customers

One of the biggest benefits about using a service like Local Line is the access you get to the company’s existing customer base. When customers search for locally sourced food in your area, they’re able to view your company information and your public inventory catalogue. If they want, they can place a new order online or contact you for more information about your company. Just being visible in the app search engine makes it easy to connect with chefs, nearby restaurants, and local residents looking for fresh food.

Set Delivery Options

When you use Local Line, you’re responsible for delivering all of your orders. This means before you start using the service, you should have a plan in place that allows you to keep up with your deliveries. Some things to consider include whether you need to hire a delivery driver, the type of delivery schedule, and if your current vehicle can handle delivery work.

The service Local Line offers is a great option for business owners who want to attract new clients and increase sales. But it’s also a useful tool for farmers with an existing customer base because it lets you process orders online.

For the original post, click here.

4 Ways to Forecast Your Growth Properly

A common mistake we see amongst food suppliers looking to grow their businesses is inaccurately forecasting their costs and profits. Let’s end this today. Here are four ways to start accurately forecasting in your business:

Know your margins

This should be the first step in any business. Determine how much you need to break-even and how to make it a profit. Knowing these numbers will help you determine which sales channels you should target, what your quota should be, and when it’s the right time to offer other services such as delivery and discounts to your customers.

Set accurate delivery costs

Delivery can be a make or break it point in your business. Make sure you know exactly how much delivery costs per hour and how to calculate it accurately. If you’re guessing these costs, there is a high chance that you are losing money. To help you out, we created this post and a calculator that does this for you.

Determine your minimum order value

After you’ve determined your delivery costs, you have to set a minimum order value to offer delivery. You don’t want to lose money when offering a service to your customers – instead you should profit. This post outlines how to set this value along with a calculator. All you have to do is fill in the blanks!

The Power of Pricing

Pricing is an aspect of your business you should never neglect. Slight increasing in prices can have a great impact on your annual profits. For example, a price increase of 5% can increase profits by 6%! Do the math and figure out exactly how much you can increase your profits with slight price increases. Need help? Fill out the form below to get a copy of our Price Increase Calculator:

Get your numbers straight and start growing your business today! 

 

5 Tips for Getting More Customers Today

If you looking to expand your customer base, here are five tips for getting more customers:

Sell with Neighbours

If you only sell produce, that’s ok, but when trying to target new customers, creating more of a “one-stop-shop” for their local food needs will increase the likelihood that you get orders. Think of this as like your own online farmers’ market! Connect with other producers to set up co-selling and co-delivery with neighbours. This is a great way to share costs and increase sales. For more on how you can make this happen, here is an example of farmers in Northern Ontario who used Local Line to set this up.

Know Your Customers

The best way to get more customers is to know who you are selling to. One of the best ways we’ve seen suppliers increase their sales is selling and promoting at locations that play into a customer lifestyle. For example, many food suppliers live by the philosophy that food is linked to health and wellbeing, such as raising livestock in pastured conditions or using organic production methods. This philosophy resonates with their customer base – therefore selling at events or locations that are hubs for like-minded people will increase their likelihood for sale. Determine what type of customers need your products and understand their ways. Where do they shop? Where they do frequent? Determine this and meet them halfway. For example, we’ve had many pasture raised meat suppliers find success selling to independent gyms, crossfit and yoga studios.

Invest in Your Online Presence

Whether it’s investing time or money, it is essential to invest in your online presence. The future of local food is online. Being online has many benefits such as decreasing chance of lost orders, reaching more customers, and increasing the professionality of your business. Everyone is online, including your customers, therefore you should be too. If you have an online store and presence that is modern, easy to use and professional, not only will you see some immediate results, but you’ll thank yourself long term when your brand grows.

Create a Referral Program

This is a big one. Word of mouth is extremely important in the food industry. Your customer base is bound to have friends that would love your products too. You should be tapping into your existing customer network to generate new leads. So how do you ensure that customers will refer you to friends on your behalf? This post gives you 6 steps to creating your own referral program.

Referring a friend is a win-win for everyone. Your existing customer is rewarded for their loyalty by receiving a discounted price. Your new customer is learning about your business from the most trusted source of marketing: word of mouth. And, most importantly, your business just earned a new customer from an existing one!

Use a Variety of Marketing Platforms

In addition to using a referral program, use various different marketing platforms. Use social media to promote your brand and showcase your products. Instagram can be a great tool to show pictures of your farm, production and team for your customer base to get a sense of who is growing their food and what sets your production apart from the competition. Attend food shows and festivals to make connections within the industry and create relationships with chefs and retailers. Hang up promotional material at customer hotspots, such as gyms, farmers’ markets, local shops, etc. There are many different methods to promote your business. Using a variety will increase the likelihood the material reaches your audience.

What your customers want from their shopping experience!

Your customers are your business’ lifeline – therefore it’s your duty to give them what they want to ensure their loyalty. Getting to know who your customers are and what they want from their shopping experience is a recipe for success. So what do they want, and how are you going to give it to them?

After working with many food suppliers and their customer bases, here is what we found is important to many customers:

Customer reviews

As mentioned in various different articles, food is personal and word of mouth is a very, very powerful tool. People want to hear from others why they loved your products and why they picked you instead of another supplier. You have the power to give this information – provide customer reviews on your website, online store or social media platforms. In a study conducted by Bazaarvoice network, they found that review volume shows a positive correlation with increased orders – in other words, customer reviews work! In order to get this started, ask some of your customers if they would like to write a review for you.

Up to date and easy to use ordering software

Customers want an easy to use and modern online store to visit. Many food suppliers use out of date and cryptic ordering methods that it is harder on them and their customers. Give your customer base a uniform, beautiful online store that showcases your products and is simple to use! There is a higher chance of abandonment before purchase if your system is slow, ancient and/or confusing. Don’t let this be you.

Giving back to reliable customers

Customers want to be appreciated. Reward your customers that have bought from you for a long time. Offer discounts after they spend “x” dollars, free shipping if they purchase over a certain threshold, or store credit when referring a friend. All of these methods are a way to show those reliable customers that sticking with you was worth it!

Standing orders

A standing order in the food industry is an agreement or pre-purchase between supplier and customer to get a certain product every week or harvest over a season. Think of it like a subscription box with a farmer or food supplier, where on a recurring date you receive a package of fresh, local food to enjoy without having to think about placing a weekly order. This is a really nice option to have for customers, because it allows them to enjoy local food without having to take the hassle of continuously ordering. Additionally, standing orders can be really beneficial to you, because it ensures sales without having the stress of meeting a certain quota every week/month.

Deal with returned orders professionally

No business owner wants to deal with returned orders, however your customers want to know that if something does happen, there is a set return policy to resolve the situation. To get more information on how to set the best returned order practices, read this post.


Giving your customers what they want not only helps your customer base, but also helps your business.

Happy customers, happy business. 

Don’t leave your customers hanging – Standing Orders

As consumers, chefs and retailers, we love the idea of buying local because everyone knows that the local food industry supports community members, is grown by dedicated and hardworking individuals, and is often much better for us due to the use of holistic farming practices, but sometimes sourcing from the large industry seems a lot easier due to logistics and access. It’s simple –  it boils down to convenience.

At Local Line, we  make buying and selling local food easy and convenient. Our e-commerce platform provides a straightforward ordering mechanism for customers by offering services such as order and logistics management, customer communication and invoicing mechanisms for suppliers – all wrapped into one service. But we’re not done there!

This week we launched a new feature – standing orders.

A standing order is a purchase order covering a repeated delivery of goods in specified quantities, at specified prices, and according to a specified time schedule.  It is comparable to a subscription box where your customers can expect your products on the same time schedule. Standing orders are essential in food. Unlike buying clothes or other products, the relationship between food supplier and customer is continual. A standing order allows your customers to order once and continuously get your products week by week during a season.

Pre-booked sales for you, convenience for your customers.

Here are some additional benefits you can expect when you use our new standing order feature:

Save time on organizing orders

A great benefit of implementing standing orders is all that time you would save on managing your orders. If you’re a food supplier that offers a CSA program, weekly harvest box, or supply a restaurant or retailer with the same scheduled order, it’s hard to have to manage the same order every week. Standing orders allow you to automate the process and save time on tedious tasks such as order taking.

Produce to order

A standing order system allows you to pre-determine what needs to be produced. This allows you to predict what is needed and avoid under/over production. This reduces waste or lost customers due to insufficient inventory.

Create lasting relationships with customers

As mentioned previously, the relationship between buyer and supplier in the food industry is continual. Offering standing orders allow you to be able to create better partnerships with your customers and conveniently service them over a season.


Sound like something you could use? Try standing orders today with your Local Line membership for the low cost of $25/month. If you’re not yet using Local Line, click the button below to view a demo to see how Local Line can help your business.