Profiles of Farmers in Sustainable Agriculture

2012 Annual Report for FNC12-870

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,634.25
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Tim King
Whole Farm Cooperative

Profiles of Farmers in Sustainable Agriculture


General summary/Customer comments

This project has one major goal: To improve sales of sustainably produced agriculture products for our group and the other members of Whole Farm Cooperative.

So states the introduction to our grant proposal. Unfortunately, our project may have had a positive effect on the cooperative's sales, as expressed by numerous customer comments, but it has been unable to stop a precipitous decline in sales for the cooperative.

Here are some customer comments obtained from two surveys of customers.

"I just looked now at your new website home page and love it! I really like the personal information about the producers and their farms, and your photos are lovely.

When I saw the photo of the garlic on your web site I remembered to order garlic."


"Your Facebook page for the farm coop is great! I discovered it a couple of weeks ago and posted it on my profile page. You almost have to get the coop out there on social networking sites to keep it alive these days.

The website addition of profiling producers is also a good idea. I was looking for photos and information that I could print and create a farm coop display with when I found exactly what I needed. Two weeks ago a few church members (Immanuel Lutheran in St. Paul) hosted coffee hour to promote the coop. Violet Holmquist and Family Farm, and Fruitful Seasons Dairy were both perfect for the display!

Keep up the good ideas!"

Karen Osen

"I use Facebook and 'liked' the WFC page when I became aware of its existence. I am unlikely to visit the WFC website very often as I hardly ever place an order, so the Facebook page is a nice way to keep WFC on my radar."


"I love the pictures of the animals."


Objectives/Performance Targets

We’ve made substantial changes to website.

We have eight articles in other publications linked on the website. A lot of information about Whole Farm Cooperative and its producers is included in these articles.

We’ve created a welcome banner for new customers at the top of the home page on the website.

We’ve posted dozens of photos of producers, and their farms, to the website including Roy Perish, Bromeling farms, Marty Primus, Herman and MaryAnn Hendrickson, Alan and Violet Holmquist, Roger Pietron, Fruitful Seasons Dairy, and Valasquez Family coffee.

We’ve posted nine new producer profiles to the Producer link on the website. We have three more completed.

Based on suggestions from customers we worked with PC Handyman, a computer repair and programming business, to change the order link on the website home page so it was easier to find. We also got PC Handyman to redesign the top of the website so it is more attractive. We conducted a survey of customers to discover the need for these things. We’ve paid PC Handyman about $300 for these services. Because of the complex nature of the website we were unable to make these changes ourselves.

We established a Facebook site in May of 2012.

We currently have 161 friends at the Whole Farm Coop Facebook. The number grows every week. We have put 100s of photos and pieces of useful information on Facebook since we started it last May. We put new photos and information on it every week. Whole Farm Customers like the Facebook a lot. We even have a radio commentary on wild rice harvesting posted.

Although it has been a struggle to get members and staff to post to the Facebook recently, we have been working with member Marty Primus to put chicken photos and information on Facebook. Many customers have commented on that information. We have worked closely with members Roger Pietron, Fruitful Seasons Dairy, and Norman Botz to get them to send us material. We have posted their material to Facebook.

Right now, we also have a link to Dan and Gilda Gieske’s story in the Peach newspaper, information about the film American Meat (at the request of Kristin Wilson on staff), photos and a list of Camphill cookies, a link to an article about why organic vegetables are more nutritious, a radio recording about collecting wild rice, and many, many more things.

We have posted recipes to the Facebook site and have especially promoted chickens, ducks, salmon, wild rice sausages, and turkeys. We have been in regular contact with staff member Kristin Wilson and have worked closely with her to make a top quality Facebook page. Staff chose not to post to Facebook.

We have created PDF files of 8 different profiles. Those are currently printed and in a spiral notebook available to staff, members, and customers. Staff member Kristin Wilson also has those on an external zip drive. Kristin has been laid off so we have to track those down. The profiles are also on the website. We have four more profiles written. At the request of a store customer we've prepared a one-page profile of Marty Primus for display in their store. I've attached a sample profile.


Since we began last May we have written and published 10 articles in newspapers, newsletters, and the World Wide Web. Most of these articles are linked to the Whole Farm Cooperative website or facebook. These articles were either about Whole Farm Cooperative or mentioned the co-op. They included:

• MISA newsletter, summary of project
• Browerville Blade, announcement of project
• Todd County Country Courier, description of the project
• Long Prairie Leader, description of the project
• Senior Perspective, Holmquists profile
• Senior Perspective, Herman Hendrickson profile
• The Land, Fruitful Seasons profile
• Valasquez Coffee newsletter, our article about them
• Pietron salmon profile, The Land
• Swany White mill profile, The Land

We attended the two-day State Sustainable Farming Association annual meeting in Chanhassen. Although the conference was poorly attended and organized we introduced quite a few new people to WFC. At that meeting we directly sold $125.00 of Whole Farm Coop products.

For that annual meeting we created two posters, using photos and customer comments obtained through this project. The customer comments reflected how customers were using Facebook and the improved website.

Robert Bromeling attended the state Organic conference.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

First year observations and the future

Through customer surveys we have learned that some of our customers do not want to use Facebook. Others simply don't use it. Since we update Facebook almost weekly those customers miss that ongoing information. Most of those non-Facebook customers do look at the website. We update that monthly or a bit more frequently. It is not as rich in information but perhaps what is there is a bit deeper. Some customers principally read the emails sent out by staff and order from those. We are contemplating upgrading emails to html quality so we can include images with our emails.

So, there is not just one medium that is most useful in communicating with our customers. All three of these media should be kept lively and informative.

By sending regular high quality information out to our customer base we have seen a steady growth in Facebook friends. But it was slow. When we attended the Sustainable Farming Association annual meeting new people were introduced to the cooperative. We saw a dramatic, brief, uptake in new friends. We are not aware if this translated into new customers or additional sales.

I've attached a graph we prepared of "friends" growth.

Since the cooperative has decreased deliveries to the Twin Cities for 2 - 3 months we are beginning to explore a mail order service for things like wild rice, maple syrup, and other products.

Ultimately, we believe the sales for Whole Farm cooperative have declined because it has had no active sales effort for a number of years. Social media, email, and web marketing can assist an active sales effort but they cannot replace or substitute for it. The co-op has relied on reputation and word of mouth and that has been inadequate.

Our website: