“We farm relationships.”
It was the summer of 2009. I’d started my first farm job, and when it came to growing food, I had more excitement than practice.
So when I heard Mari and Laura, my bosses at the Green Mountain Girls Farm, say they farm relationships, I didn’t really know what they were talking about. In truth, it would take years to understand the depth of this phrase.
That summer, I learned how to transplant seedlings, milk goats, move pigs on pasture, and set up a farm share pick-up.
It was at those pick-ups, when I got to know the farm share members, that I began to understand: this is what it was about. The food brought us together, but it was really the relationships that grew the farm.
When I started Good Heart Farmstead with my husband in 2013, I set up an email newsletter.
I know, you thought I was going to say something more romantic, like: I scattered peas and oats across the tilled soil, these first seeds an offering to the earth, a cover crop to grow nitrogen and organic matter before we asked for anything in return.
We did sow a cover crop, but I also started an email newsletter.
Other farms we’d worked on had printed newsletters for their farm share members. Each week, members would pick up their veggies and a printed copy of the week’s farm news, harvest list, and recipes.
This was my goal, too:
To offer not only food, but a way for our members to see beyond the share and into our daily workings. For our members to be able to connect to the full cycle of the farm, from seed to harvest, through words.
But we didn’t have a printer.
And when we got one, it cost more money to buy paper and ink and print newsletters each week than it did to send an email — and like many beginning farmers, we were bootstrapping it.
At the time, I just wanted to give our members the weekly harvest list and recipes.
I felt disappointed that we hadn’t got to the printed newsletter stage yet. When we did try printing out recipes to share at pick-up, I was disappointed to see how many people didn’t take them. Didn’t they want this? Didn’t they ask for recipes?
Sometimes, it’s not about the offering, it’s about the delivery.
Who really wants an extra piece of paper to misplace?
So email it was.
At first, I only emailed our farm share members during the summer and fall season, and stopped when our deliveries paused in winter. That morphed into monthly emails during the off season, just to keep in touch. Now I email our members nearly every week of the year, even when we’re not delivering, simply to stay connected and let them know what’s happening on the farm.
Like anything on the farm, that first email newsletter was a seed.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but these simple weekly emails would bloom into one of the most important tools on the farm. Why?
Because an email list grows relationships.
It’s a way to open a conversation and keep it going.
It’s a way to share what’s happening and also to hear the responses. There’s nothing like seeing a reply from a member like this:
Thank you for the food!! Such a nice thing to rely upon amidst everything else that is cancelled, closed, or altered! Here’re a few pics of meals I made this week while stuck at home! Hope your family is doing well.
I got the goodies and, seriously, just PEERING inside the bag made me feel more alive. Thank you soooo much for growing such vital, beautiful, vibrant food. It is all delicious and beautiful. Thank you thank you thank you.
Guys, our share is such a bright spot in all of this. Thank you thank you thank you for growing for all of us. (And I YELLED out loud a big “Yessssssss pea shoooooooooots!!” When I read this weeks list.)
And this, too:
Sending lots of love up the hill to brighten up this beautiful morning. We are grateful to be in community with you and eat the delicious food you grow.
The food brings us together, but it’s the relationships that grow the farm.
Now, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s the relationships that keep us together.
When we can’t linger in conversation at the farm share pick-up; when we can’t see each other’s smiles behind our masks; we can still connect.
What’s more, as a business, we can still grow — because in every email I send, I also let folks know how they can sign up for a farm share and what we’re doing to deliver them food every week.
Now more than ever, we need organic farms to thrive.
Because when organic farms thrive, when they bring healthy and safe food to their communities, those communities can thrive, too.
If you’re a farmer, we need you.
We need you to not only grow food, but also to grow relationships.
To offer a connection that bolsters your community and helps you run a thriving business.
And email is a powerful tool to help you do just that.
So stop worrying that you might annoy someone with an email and simply reach out. Dust off your keyboard and say hello. Ask your people what they need. Let them know how you can help.
Plant the seed of relationships alongside the lettuce and kale and tomatoes.
Maybe you don’t know where to start.
Maybe you do have an email list, but aren’t really sure what to write or how to use it.
I put together resources for you to help you grow your farm with effective email marketing.
You can get all the details here.
And be sure to check out these posts to help you grow relationships:
Are you wondering how to grow relationships with your customers? Wondering how to make marketing easier and more fun? Leave your questions in the comments below and I’ll help you grow.