Montana Arnica Web Page
The SARE project is designed to create and maintain a Web page to help increase the market for Montana Arnica farm products and provide a model that other sustainable producers can follow.
The project team developed a Web site, www.montanaarnica.com, to help potential buyers learn about Montana Arnica’s medicinal herb business. After two years of experience, and numerous Web queries, the project is updating and improving its Web site to become more responsive to customer needs.
Previous to the development of the Web page, the farm had used a direct-mail flyer to let customers know about its certified organic medicinal herb business. However, use of the flyer limited exposure to only those people the business knew about. It was not comprehensive enough to properly communicate to customers the many distinctive facets of the business. And it didn’t allow for price changes during the season. Project coordinator Rod Daniel says he believed that a presence on the Internet would solve all three problems.
With the help of project cooperator Cris Jones, a Web site was created two years ago that has brought hundreds of inquiries and several new customers. Jones not only learned how to build and maintain the project Web site, he has helped others customize pages for their businesses. Jones has been updating the Web site with completion scheduled before the beginning of the 2003 crop season.
“The results of our Web site project have corroborated our initial feeling that such a site can give potential customers a way to find out about us, rather than us having to first find out about them,” says project coordinator Daniel.
However, he says, even though more than 100 prospective customers have contacted Montana Arnica in the last two years, and at least a dozen of these have placed orders, the Web site has not increased sales as much as had been anticipated. That failure is the result of several unforeseen factors, one of the greatest being the devastating wildfires of the 2000 farm season.
“Because we lost our irrigation water for three weeks after transplanting several acres of valuable bedding plants, and because the five months of smoke that settled over our county prevented our seeding crops from maturing, we suffered devastating losses,” says Daniel.
The cumulative effect of the physical and economic losses prompted the farm to make major changes. At the same time that the Web site came on line, the farm eliminated dry herbs from its product line. In addition, Daniel took a full-time job to pay off the accrued debt. Also, he says, AERO, the organization through which he had intended to communicate the SARE project results, discontinued its yearly farm club meetings. Those meetings were intended as the project forum.
Daniel says it would be a stretch to suggest that the project has had any benefits on sustainable agriculture as a whole, but he says the Web site has benefited his small organic farm. He adds that farmers from all over the United States have benefited by learning about Montana Arnica and its farming practices.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
Other farmers, says Daniel, might benefit as well by marketing their farm products and promoting their farming practices via the Internet.
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
The process of building a Web site has become easier over the last three years, so Daniel says there’s no guarantee that others would benefit from Montana Arnica’s Web-building experience.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
As the project team analyzes in greater detail the results of its Web site, it plans to communicate its findings through the AERO Sun Times as well as to share its experience and Web design with other producers.