New app connects farmers, customers

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Staying connected with your favorite farmers is starting to get a lot easier. This summer, Simon Huntley and his team at Pittsburgh’s Small Farm Central are rolling out FarmFan, an app designed to build brand loyalty between customers and local farms.

Small Farm Central has been working on the intersection of technology and agriculture since 2006, primarily by helping farmers build and maintain websites and its “Member Assembler” plan, an online tool for organizing community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.

Mr. Huntley says that he noticed a decrease in individual farm sales at markets over the last few years, something he attributes to a combination of greater availability of CSAs, more locally-grown produce at grocery stores, and an expansion in the number of farmers markets. “Sometimes in the small-farm agriculture world we can be reticent about talking about profits. But that’s a big part of it. Customers of farms want them to be successful,” he says.

He thinks he’s found a path to that success with FarmFan. “I wanted to bring the loyalty found in a CSA to the interaction found at a farmers market.”

Simply put, ”it reminds people to come to market.“ After customers sign up with a farm, they receive a before-market text message listing what a farmer plans to bring to the market that day. Farmers can also choose to build in loyalty-rewards programs — either credit toward future purchases or invitations to exclusive farm events — that customers earn with purchases.

Cost to farmers starts at $38 per month; learn more about it at http://about.farmfanapp.com

This season, Small Farm Central is running a pilot program with about 50 farms nationwide. Participating farms in this region include Clarion River Organics, Blackberry Meadows, Harvest Valley Farm, Breezy Hill Farm and Green“er” Acres Farm. Mr. Huntley expects that Small Farm Central will expand the program once it get some feedback from participating farmers.

In the age of interconnectedness and social media, why promote with something as quaint as a text message? That, Mr. Huntley says, is simple: “Text messages actually get read.”

In a related development, on Tuesday, June 3, Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance announced an app to allow its “Farm Stand” customers to use their Apple or Android device to browse products from more 30 local producers.

“The app makes shopping for local food more convenient to the consumer, and helps local producers gain access to buyers,” according to a news release. There’s also a Wholesale version of the app for chefs and grocers to use, “so please be sure to choose the Farm Stand, not Wholesale version of the App when downloading from the Apple or Google Play Store.”

Customers can create a list of favorites for easy ordering, adding items throughout the ordering period (1 p.m. Monday through 2 p.m. Thursday for delivery the following week). Penn’s Corner also sends ordering reminders and weekly specials.

Penn’s Corner says it’s one of the first online markets to offer ordering via mobile app in the country, using a white-label e-Commerce app that was developed for local food hubs, co-ops, and online markets by Local Food Marketplace, LLC (http://home.localfoodmarketplace.com/?content=mobile).


Hal B. Klein: thismanskitchen@gmail.com.

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