For 20 years, Kelly and her husband have run Affinity Farm, a certified natural produce farm in Moscow, Idaho. They found Local Line at the peak of COVID-19 in March 2020. It was then that they decided to transition their business from selling predominantly at the farmers’ market to 100% online. During this transition, they completely sold out of their produce!
We spoke with Kelly to understand more about their switch to selling online, and learn how this transition from in-person to online worked for them!
Nina (Local Line): How did you start farming?
Kelly: We have been farming for 20 years! Environmental and societal ethics motivated us to start farming, so we bought a piece of land and started showing up at the farmers’ market.
What do you grow and sell?
We sell all the veggies you can grow in our climate. Which is basically everything from tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, greens, and so on. We don’t grow melons or okra, or some of the more warm-season crops. Overall, quite a wide variety.
What are your main sales channels?
Pre Local Line, we have a booming farmers’ market! Over 10,000 people a day come through our market. It’s a small town, but the community is super committed to the market. It is known regionally, so people also come out of town to visit. Selling there has been our focus. We also do some wholesale and had a CSA for a few years.
Focusing on selling at the market didn’t prepare us for COVID in some ways. We would harvest whatever and show up at the market and sell what we had on offer. We were never really focused on targeting specific quantities. After years of farming, we had a pretty good idea of what we could sell at the market, but we were never really dialled into numbers.
COVID started and really threw us for a loop! We thought selling at the market was a really good marketing strategy because of the popularity of our market. We had thousands of people to sell to! For our wholesale customers, we felt as if the relationship was very vulnerable in that it was dependent on what they wanted that year. Whereas the farmers’ market felt very secure. Which is funny to look back at now because when COVID came that completely changed.”
How did you manage your sales before using Local Line?
We didn’t have any ordering system before Local Line. Technology is not our favourite thing so we were always resistant to setting up an ordering system.
How did you hear about Local Line and why did you decide to start using us?
Word of mouth! Just as COVID happened, there were a few organizations in Oregon that hosted workshops and webinars about selling online. Through these workshops and talking to other farmers around us, Local Line came up and the features it offered seemed to fit best with what we were looking for.
We brought the platform to our market and they decided to sponsor Local Line for its vendors. We wanted to all choose the same one for consistency and ease. If we’re all in one place, people will find us easier.
How do you manage your sales now? What happens after a customer places an order?
We open the store Tuesday and accept orders until we close the store on Thursday. We also did a CSA this year, where we let people place pre-orders for our CSA day. This was a very short turn around window. Our ordering stopped on Thursday at 9 and our CSA pick up was Thursday at 4. We also had pick up days at the market and a local brewery for regular orders on Saturday mornings.
At 9:00 AM on Thursday, we download all the orders using the detailed pick list function. We want to know who the person is and what they ordered. We would pack and sort all of the orders based on pick up location, time, and customer name. Then we pack the cooler based on location and time slot, where the later pick up orders are at the bottom and the earlier at the top.
Our market had an aggregated pick up location where farmers could drop off their orders and the market volunteers would organize based on customer name. This made pick up very convenient and time efficient for us.
What was the most difficult step when transitioning online?
The hardest part for us was to predict required quantities of products for the following week. We would open the store on Tuesday morning and the ordering window would be until Thursday morning. On Tuesday we would have to predict what we would harvest on Friday for Saturday pick up. Because we sold primarily at the farmers’ market in previous years, we weren’t necessarily sure about the quantities of each product we needed to harvest. Suddenly on Tuesdays, we had to know exactly what the inventory would be for that week. It was a completely different view of our farm than we’ve ever had before.
I was also very intimidated by setting up my online store and getting online. This is definitely not my strong suit, but I was blown away by how easy it all really was. The Local Line platform was very user friendly. I was very impressed. We’re farmers! In a way we’ve chosen to not engage with technology. We don’t have a website. We hardly had an online presence at all for 20 years. It was a huge pivot.
How did you overcome this?
We overcame this by adjusting the inventory numbers as we went along, estimating the numbers available inventory on the low side rather than the high side to avoid over harvesting.
Next year will be different for us. We are changing our business model significantly. We are transitioning away from weekly green production that we’ve done forever and moving towards a fall-winter CSA because now we can extend beyond the farmers’ market which closes at the end of October. And partially because now all of our customers are used to the online ordering process. Having an online platform opens our view to that.
How are you accepting payments?
We use Square via our Local Line store. When using a credit card processor, they take a certain percentage of each order. But to offset this, we decided to raise the prices slightly. It all worked out.
How are your customers reacting to your online store?
Great! It’s funny because originally we were worried about setting a minimum order. We can’t be processing a $2 parsley bunch. But then in the beginning, we didn’t have a lot of variety because we normally start at the market in June. This year because we were plugging into Local Line, we tried really hard to have products available in May to trial our new platform. We wanted to be present when all the customers from the market were transitioning online.
When June hit, through our CSA and larger orders we were receiving online, the minimum order did not matter anymore. It was the same customers ordering from us week after week. The average order size was surprisingly large. That blew us away! For a lot of the summer it was around $30 per order. Most people were actually going way beyond what we would have set as a minimum order.”
How do you promote your online store to your customers?
I’ve had an Instagram account for a while now, but I mostly used it for farm connections. I had about 200 followers or something. I didn’t have a lot of local customers following me. Now, I’m up to over 600 followers and that transition largely has been customers. I’ve started posting more about products we had, when the store was open, and what was listed on it. I think that was effective.
The farmers’ market also did their own promotion, which helped us farmers get even more exposure.
What is the biggest benefit you get from Local Line?
Not going to the market. We went to every market for 20 years straight. It takes us 16 hours a week at the market each week! It’s exhausting!
We didn’t attend a single market this year and we sold all of our produce.
We didn’t change our farm plan in the spring when COVID started. Our farm plan was really dialled into our market and we held our ground on that. We were nervous that we wouldn’t sell all of our stuff, but we did! So I think the biggest benefit was changing our sales model. Even if COVID was not here, I’m not sure we would return to the farmers market.
Between our wholesale customers, CSA, and online sales we made the same amount of profit this year as we have in past years. It was crazy and we sold all of the produce that we grew! [It’s] mind blowing that we could get away with that without the market. It always felt like a necessary evil.
What is your favourite Local Line feature?
The user friendliness of it! Pretty quickly it became this really easy system to use. I was able to get in and use it really effectively. I really liked listing inventory and watching it tick away as the season went on.
Another interesting feature of having an online store is creating product descriptions. At market we would have to explain to customers what faba beans were and how to use them multiple times a day. Every year the faba beans came on, we’d be like “oh no! Now we have to have the faba bean conversations again!”. It was really cool to be like I only have to write that description once.
Also, the price of Local Line is absolutely reasonable and great. I felt that you all were very receptive and responsive. The support team was really helpful.”
What is your advice to others who might be considering Local Line?
Not to be intimidated! It was much easier than we thought. People found us more than we thought they would.
Also, to make sure you have a look or brand. A lot of our customers comment on how much they like our photos on our online store. We have a stainless steel table in our shed where I take all of our product photos. This makes our storefront look very sleek, which I think is very effective. Our farm personality came out. I would encourage people that you can be yourself online!”
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
We’re super grateful! All the farms were in a crisis moment in the spring and it turned out to be okay! We just continued to farm. All summer long our farm life felt completely normal. Because people found us online, our sales were completely normal.
I just feel really grateful. I’m so glad that platforms like yours exist and that they’re easy to use.
How to get started with selling online, who to sell to, and how to sell to them!