How Argus Farm Stop uses a retail store, food hub, and Local Line to provide the ultimate sales channel for Michigan farmers

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Argus Farm Stop is an independent local food retailer that is changing the way their community members access local food. They work with over 200 farmers and food producers, and operate as an in-store farmers market. Their mission? To help grow the Michigan local food economy, foster relationships between farmers and consumers, and have their customers rethink the way they shop.

On average, today’s  Michigan farmers receive less than 20 cents of every dollar sold for their products.  Argus Farm Stop wants to give back to their community. Their farmers own and price their goods and receive 75% of the selling price. This is a significantly better margin than they receive in any other retail setting. Since starting 5 years ago, the team at Argus has returned over $5 million dollars to their farmers.

Breaking into new markets

It wasn’t long before Argus Farm Stop started to realize the demand for their local food was extending far beyond just the average consumer walking into their store. On several occasions, local chefs would walk in and clear out the aisles purchasing produce for their restaurant. Local schools, and even churches became customers, and the success of Argus Farm Stop started to outgrow just a single location.

Looking for a new way to service these customers – they decided to start a wholesale food hub! Since Argus Farm Stop already had great relationships with over 200 Michigan farmers, they started taking orders for wholesale clients for pickup in the store. For each delivery, the farmer would bring the products for the retail store, but also bring the pre-packaged products for wholesale clients who were coming to pick up. This was a great solution because it prevented the shelves from being cleared out by chefs, and allowed them to come in-store and pick up exactly what they ordered.

How Argus Farm Stop uses a retail store, food hub, and Local Line to provide the ultimate sales channel for Michigan farmers.

“Do you think we bit off more than we can chew?”

Success is great, but it comes with it’s own unique set of problems. At the time the Argus Farm Stop team was running both their retail store and new wholesale ordering, they were using their in store POS and spreadsheets to track everything. Unfortunately, this was difficult to manage and made the team feel like things were getting a bit out of control! More orders meant more inventory, more tracking, more payments, and more internal communication with the team.

After asking other food hubs how they managed it all, Argus Farm Stop found Local Line. They were very excited about the flexibility of the system, and how easy it would be to start using right away.

“Houston, we have SOLVED our problem.”

Since joining Local Line, both the retail store and the wholesale food hub have been thriving. Local Line has allowed them to properly organize their orders, track their inventory, and quickly reference invoices and payments after orders have been picked up. Communication between staff, customers, and farmer goes seamlessly and efficiently.

“It is so convenient! We can check when orders have gone out and what still needs to get addressed.” says Meghan from Argus Farm Stop.

With their new online food hub added to their in-store farmers market, Argus Farm Stop is reinventing the experience of shopping for local food in their community, in their state, and is setting a great example of a local food model that works.

How Argus Farm Stop uses a retail store, food hub, and Local Line to provide the ultimate sales channel for Michigan farmers.

When asking what their customers think of the system, Meghan exclaims, “Our chefs love it – especially those who are new to buying and using local food in their restaurants. It has never been so convenient to order local food! They can do it all online, and order whenever they need to. We’ve found that existing customers are increasing their orders as the convenience of ordering from home gives them time to explore the entire online catalog and order things they might otherwise miss.”

More than just your consistent everyday use of Local Line for the retail store and wholesale food hub, the Argus team is experimenting with seasonal catalogs for special occasions. Because it’s so easy to add an additional price list, this past holiday season Argus Farm Stop decided to offer local turkeys through their Local Line store. The idea worked amazingly, and is something they can keep doing for promotion-style opportunities in the future.

Crawl, Walk, Run!

“When we started we were a baby hub, and now, four months down the track, we’re a toddler hub. We still have a lot to learn and more ideas to explore. Stay tuned!” says Meghan.

The folks at Argus Farm Stop are an exciting example of the changing local food economy.  We are thrilled that we got to be a part of their food hub journey and anticipate even more great things in the future. To check out everything they are doing, visit their website!

How to Take Better Farm Photos for Instagram

Social media is all about content. Consumers like quality photos that represent your brand, story, and product! Good content increases sales, while bad content can be very detrimental to your business. Stop posting sub-par images today and start taking beautiful, sticky photos with these tips:

Pick a theme

Your Instagram profile is a grid of all your content. When first visiting your page, users will see a collection of your last 6-9 pictures. It is important when you are taking and posting photos to your profile, you are considering what the collection of photos will look like together. It’s great to have a mix of farm and staff photos, with some product photos. You want to share your story and day-to-day, however still show what you are selling.

A theme or general idea of what type of content you are posting, will reduce the likelihood of having a cluttered or unsynchronized feed and help you determine what photos you need to take. This also helps with branding purposes.

It’s all about composition

Composition is a skill that photographers take a career to master. The difference between a beautiful and an average photo is how the elements of the photos are placed within the frame. For beginners, make sure you are focusing on one element (such as an animal for example), and always have something in the foreground or front of the frame and something in the background. This will give your photo depth and make it appear more professional. Also, consider taking the photo from different perspectives and switching the angle. Don’t be afraid to get down on the ground if that’s what it takes.

Consider your device (it might be time to upgrade!)

Your Instagram page starts with your camera. At the end of the day you can’t change the quality of a photo after it’s been taken. You can clearly tell the difference from a high-quality photograph taken by a DSLR camera versus a photo taken by an older digital camera or mobile device. Make sure you are using the best device available to you. Don’t have access to a camera? The hardware on newer models of smartphones are changing the game for photography and can produce high-quality sharable photos.

Note – if a photo looks blurry or grainy – it’s not the best quality. The higher the quality, the more professional the photos appear.


In order to take a beautiful photograph – you need to have good lighting. Be sure to always use natural light. Flash photography and artificial lighting can be very hard to work with and often don’t look that great.

Also, if you’re taking photos outside, make use of “golden hour”. Golden hour is a term used in photography that represents the short period of time right after sunrise and right before sunset. During this time, daylight appears redder and softer due to the sun being higher in the sky. This is the best natural lighting to work with.

Slap a filter on it

Filters can work wonders for an image (if done correctly). Filters have allowed the average joe to create beautiful, bright photos without lighting in their favor. Consider playing around with different filters to enhance the natural beauty of your photos.

Note – often pre-made “free” filters provided by Instagram or free apps can appear over-saturated and reduce the quality of a photo. I would recommend using VSCO or any other applications that allow you to adjust parameters such as saturation, brightness, highlights, and shadows manually. This allows you to “create your own filters” that work perfectly for that specific image. This step may take some extra time versus a pre-made filter, however can make a world of difference.

Stay away from the zoom!

If you’re using a smartphone for your photography, refrain from using the zoom function. The lenses in our phones don’t have the same capacity as a removable, adjustable lens on a higher quality camera. Poor zoom can quickly reduce the quality and give you a blurry/grainy photo.

Taking photos of products? Consider this

Instagram is a marketing tool – therefore you must showcase what you actually sell. Product photographs are an important element of your page. Food must look appetizing, otherwise customers won’t want to buy it. Here are some quick tips:

  • Use produce that is bright in color and has the least amount of blemishes. We all know there’s nothing wrong with a piece of fruit that has a few bumps and bruises – however for marketing purposes, pick your best looking products.
  • Take the photos with natural scenery. Small scale farming practices are all about the good, natural and ethical production of food. Taking a photo your final product with natural scenery in the background helps connect the product itself with its production. If that’s not possible, consider using natural fabrics, textures and tones as the background of your photos – this will help make the link to handmade and natural production.
  • Avoid shadows. When you take a photo of something straight from above, shadows occur and can dominate a photo. Adjust the angle of shooting, to reduce the intrusion of shadows in your pictures.

We hope this helps get you started. We don’t expect to you become professional photographers overnight – however getting better at making your own content will save you the hassle and costs of having to hire someone to do it for you.

Happy shooting!

How to Become Great at Digital Marketing (Starting Today!)

Marketing allows your customers to understand your business, your products, and why you’re unique. Good marketing can help you reach your target market, increase your customer base, and ultimately, boost your profits!

Today, your business needs a mix of online and offline marketing, and this post is going to explain how to master and grow your online (digital) marketing. Let’s get started!

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is any type of promotion or marketing initiative using an online platform, service, or a type of technology. There are five main aspects of digital marketing. These include:

  • Devices – Any device or type of technology a consumer is using to interact with the marketing; including smartphones, tablets, computers, TVs, etc.
  • Platforms – These are the social media platforms, emails, websites, and any other application.
  • Media – This is any paid, owned and earned communications channels for reaching and engaging with audiences.
  • Data or Analytics – This is any insight data collected on target markets to inform businesses on how to best interact with their target audiences.
  • Technology – Any interactive experiences businesses use to market their product, such as in-store kiosks or email campaigns.

Each of these aspects require different strategies and can take years to master (but don’t worry, it doesn’t take years to get results!). Here are the best tactics to become a pro:

Create “likeable” and “shareable” content

Successful digital marketing all starts with good content. Content is anything from photos and videos to blog posts or recipes. It’s anything that you create to help promote or “market” your business. Bad quality content can be very harmful, while great content can make the difference between thriving and surviving at the end of the year.

To build great content, it has to be a mix of what you want to say and what your audience is interested in. This middle ground can be hard to find. Here are some tips:

    • Look at what your competition is doing – This can help you get insight into what’s working for them and how it may be able to work for you.
    • Create content that is helpful – This tip is more relevant for blogs; yet is important if you want to create written content. Your blog content should be engaging and useful for your target audience so that they actually read it. Put yourself in their shoes, if you were a consumer buying your product, what would you want to know? For example, if you’re a vegetable producer, share tips on how to keep produce fresh in the fridge or how to make stock out of peels and cooking scraps.
    • Tell your storyThis can be a great place to start with your content. Food is extremely personal, so people want to know more about where theirs is coming from. Share your background, how you grow food, and where you do it! This can be done through photos and videos too!
    • Look at your analytics This may be simple, however a great way to know what your customers want is to look at what they like. Use your social media and website analytics tools to see what content is getting the most traction. Something working? Keep doing it.
Don’t forget about mobile!

If you have a website that hosts your content and store, it’s extremely important to optimize for both mobile and desktop use. There is nothing more frustrating than clicking on a social media link to be sent to a website that hasn’t been formatted for mobile. A true mobile-friendly website is not only esthetically pleasing, however also functions correctly and seamlessly. Your customers should be able to access your website from any browser and device, and should get what they’re looking for – immediately.

Social proof!

Simply put, there’s a lot out there. Consumers have more choice today than they’ve ever had in regards to food. It can be extremely overwhelming to know which is the best choice. As a marketer, it is your job to convince them you’re the best choice. Use the power of social proof to show consumers why your business is exceptional. Try these methods for the best results:

  • Ask current customers to provide testimonials and share them on your channels
  • Share customer photos on social media by asking them to use a specific hashtag (#) to be featured
  • Collaborate with “influencers” that have a big following and get them to talk about you!
  • Post content that people will want to share and watch the follows roll in

Each of these methods are great forms of marketing – and they didn’t come directly from you to the consumer. The use of social proof strengthens what you have to say, because in short: you’re not the only one that thinks your product is great!

Use email!

Unlike social media or ads, emailing creates a direct channel from you to consumers and can be an extremely productive marketing tool. According to a survey by Mckinney iConsumer, email is still the most effective marketing channel – nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.

To make the most use of this tool – you need to build an email list right from the start. As you continue to grow your business, your list will continue to grow. It is important to note that smart digital marketing is not only about getting new customers and growing your customer base; it is also about creating lasting business relationships with your customers. Getting a repurchase from an existing customer is a lot cheaper than getting a new customer. Emailing allows you to keep communication open and generate personal relationships.

Focus on organic engagement

If you have a little bit of experience in social media marketing, you’ll know that it’s all about engagement. The higher the engagement, the more likely you will be able to sell something!

There are two main forms of engagement: organic and inorganic (or paid). Paid ads on Instagram or Facebook can allow you to reach a broader audience, however can come across as pushy and gets expensive – quickly.

Organic engagement comes from good content and is the most sustainable moving forward. It creates a long term following, trust with your followers, and is a great form of social proof! Ads can work; however, focusing on creating great content and an online community is much more effective and durable in the future. If you’re just getting started with digital marketing, spend your funds on the content, rather than paying for inorganic engagement.

Digital marketing is a broad and complicated topic. People spend years studying the ins and outs of what makes up a successful digital marketer. It can be extremely complicated, yet it doesn’t have to be. Picking and choosing what methods are tangible and work for your business can make a huge impact.

To get started with social media platforms and platform digital marketing, we’ve created some great resources to help you!

Start with signing up with Instagram. We found that it can be very effective at getting new customers and driving sales. This article outlines the steps to get you started.

Additionally, explore the world of email campaigning using Mailchimp, a program that allows you to schedule your emails ahead of time and automate the process. If you want to learn more about Mailchimp and how to use it to the best of your advantage, check out this post.

Now that you have the tools and tips to get started, there’s nothing stopping you!

3 Ways to Use Instagram Insights to Get More Customers

Tracking your analytics may seem like a tedious and overwhelming task, yet it really doesn’t have to be! It can help you determine what to post, how frequently, and if your hard work is paying off. As a small business owner and food producer, we understand that you are extremely busy – so why not make the most of your marketing strategies to grow your business, and measure your success.

Luckily, Instagram does a lot of the work for you! When you switch to a business account, you get access to Instagram Insights, an analytics feature. If you haven’t yet switched to a business account, or haven’t signed up for an Instagram account – this post will guide you through the process.

Within Instagram Insights, you get access to three main sections: Activity, Content, and Audience. These sections can tell you crucial information about who is interacting with your content and whether your marketing is paying off. To learn more about these insights and what they are telling you – check out this post.

Now, that you understand what analytics are and what they are telling you, it is important to use them to help you! Here are our three best tips to help you get started:

Set a Key Performance Indicator (KPI)

A key performance indicator or KPI is a measurable parameter that can be used to evaluate success. As success looks different for each business, you must determine which parameter works for you to measure. If your business thrives on community and communication with your audience, track engagement. If you are looking to build your customer base and following, track reach.

Note: Reach is the number of unique visitors to a piece of content and engagement is the number of comments and likes on a piece of content.

By determining what you’re tracking, you have the ability to determine what success will look like for you. Create a spreadsheet and update results each week. Within a few weeks you will be able to see trends and adjust your strategy to meet your goals!

Calculate Engagement Rate for each of your posts

Engagement Rate represents the percentage of your followers that are engaging with a certain post or story. It is not a value that Instagram calculates for you, however it can easily be calculated two ways:

Method 1: Engagement Rate (%) = [(Number of Likes and Comments) / Number of Followers] x 100


Method 2: Engagement Rate (%) = [(Number of Likes and Comments) / Reach] x 100

Method 1 calculates the Engagement Rate against all of your followers. This value determines how many of all your followers are actually engaging with your posts. Low values can be due to many factors such as posting times, hashtags, videos versus photos, and more!

Method 2 calculates the engagement rate against all the followers you actually reached. It determines out of all the people that saw your content, how many actually engaged with your post. This value can be useful for when analyzing the content itself. For example, if this many followers are seeing the content, why do only 10% like it?

Both methods provide powerful insights into your posts and engagement with customers. By playing around with types of content, hashtags, posting times, and more – you can use the engagement rates to determine which gets you the best results. Similar to your KPI, make sure you are tracking this value over time to get accurate results.

Posting times

In the Audience section of Instagram Insights, you will find information about your followers such as top locations, age range, gender and followers. This information can give you insight about your followers and when they’re engaging with your content. Most importantly, use the followers section to track at what time of day and which day of the week your followers are most active. Schedule your posts to match peak use times. This will increase possible engagement your customers will have with your content.

These are just three ways you can use Instagram Insights to grow your following and increase customer engagement. There is still much more to be learned and to explore in this space. By fine-tuning your strategy using real-time data, you are able to better use the system. Don’t let analytics scare you off, but instead use them to help you run a more successful business!

How to Use Instagram Stories as a Marketing Tool (Like a Pro)

Instagram has proved an extremely useful tool for marketing. Many businesses are using it to increase their customer engagement and develop their brand. As a food supplier, Instagram allows you to share your story and show transparency in your food business. Your profile can be personal, unique, and approachable!

Unlike creating a post on Instagram, Stories are a temporary image or video that you can share with your audience. They are formatted for mobile-viewing and are visible for 24 hours. Stories show authenticity, as they are quick and easy to digest, versus a curated Instagram profile feed. They can be used to talk directly to your audience and allows them to “talk right back” by using direct messaging on the app. You can’t market on Instagram without using Stories.

How to use Instagram Stories:

Step 1: Open the Instagram application to your newsfeed. This should be where you can view all the posts of the accounts you follow. At the top of the page, under the Instagram logo, there are profile pictures of the accounts you follow with pink circles around them. These are the stories of the accounts you follow. You can click through these to see what others are doing!

Step 2: To create your own story, click the camera icon in the top left corner above the picture of your logo. It will prompt you to your camera. You can also get here by clicking your logo in the top left corner. Note, if you have not granted Instagram access to your camera or microphone, do this. It must be granted in order to create a story.

How to use Instagram Stories as a marketing tool - Local Line
This is what you will see when you enter Stories mode. Note all of the icons on the screen.

Step 3: To update settings, click the settings icon in the top right corner. Here you can change who can see your story, saving preferences, and more. Set these settings to best meet your needs. To go back to the newsfeed, click the arrow in the top right corner.

At the bottom of the screen, you will see these icons from left to right: a square, a lightening bolt, a big white circle with a lighter circle around it, two arrows forming a circle, and a happy face emoji. 

Square: This will prompt you to your camera roll. You can use any of the photos on your device for your stories.
Lighting bolt: This will update the lighting options for your camera – such as flash and low-light setting.
Circle: This is the trigger to take a photo or a video.
Circle of Arrows: Flip the camera.
Happy face: This is where you can find face filters for silly photos or videos.

Additionally, there are also a series of words that you can scroll through. These mean:

Type: Allows you to type on a coloured screen if you do not want to have a photograph/video.
Live: This is a setting that will let you live-stream with your customers.
Normal: Regular camera/video.
Boomerang: This will allow you take a “moving” picture.
Superzoom: Different filters for video-taking such as Surprise or Paparazzi.
Focus: Take a portrait by blurring out backgrounds around a subject.
Reverse: Play videos in reverse.
Hands-free: Allows you to take videos without having to hold the centre button.

These many options will allow you to create content specific to you. Play around with the options and determine what you like best!

Step 4: After you are happy with a photo or video to share, you can edit your post by clicking on the icons at the top of the page! Instagram provides many tools, such as adding text, drawings, hashtags, account mentions, etc. These are called Stickers. They help add actions to your posts and increase engagement. You can access them by clicking on the square icon located at the top of the screen.

Here are some stickers you should use:

Poll sticker: Ask your customers what they want by asking questions with customized answers. Instagram will show the results and let you make educated decisions. For example, what day is best for delivery? Monday or Tuesday?
Questions Sticker: This sticker allows your followers to ask questions relevant to a topic. For example, ask which day is best for delivery, and let your followers send you their responses. It is an informal way to speak directly to your audience.
Hashtag sticker: Hashtags can be a very powerful tool at reaching potential customers. A hashtag sticker will link your story to the hashtag and automatically get added to the Explore page. Remember, that hashtags can also quickly come across as spammy, therefore make sure to be critical when using a hashtag.
Location sticker: Add the Geotag (location)! Same with adding a hashtag, this sticker links your story to all posts in the same location, which helps increase your exposure.  

In addition to these stickers, there are many more! There is a lot to discover on stories, therefore play around with the features when you’re first starting out.

Step 5: Tap the Your Story button to post your story publicly, Sent to to send it privately to selected accounts, or Save to download it to your phone to post at a later date.

Instagram Story Highlights

Keep your stories on your profile forever! Instagram stories only last for 24 hours, however the app lets you make a Highlight, which is a curated collection of chosen stories to stay on your profile. These highlights can be used for:

  • Frequently asked questions – use the Questions sticker to ask your customers for questions. Save these stories as a highlight to easily answer any questions new visitors may have about your business.
  • Farm tour – film a farm tour on your stories and save to your highlights. This will help show new followers where their food is produced and who’s doing it!
  • Products – showcase popular or new products on your story and save as a highlight to keep them visible on your profile.

To create a highlight, go to your profile. Underneath the bio section, you should find a circle with a plus sign. Click this and it will guide you to an archive of your past stories. Pick which stories you would like to use and add a title. The highlight will show up on your profile.

Stories and highlights can be a very useful marketing tool to help your business account connect with more followers and in turn help you increase your customer base. Use the tips above and before you know it, you’ll be an Instagram marketing pro!

4 Ways to Increase your Instagram Following

Our last post covered the benefits of Instagram and how to create an account. Instagram is an extremely powerful tool that focuses on visual content to help you showcase your business and products. Food is a very visual industry, so why not make use of a tool that amplifies that?

Just like any marketing tool, you need to build a following in order to get customers. When first starting out with Instagram it can be overwhelming to reach your audience, so we have compiled some tips to help you get started! Here are the best Instagram practices to help your business increase its following:

1. #teamfollowback

Just starting your profile? Network amongst your community by following other local suppliers, restaurants, retailers and other customers. This will give them a nudge that you moved to Instagram or help you get traction with potential buyers. Additionally, when you’re looking to increase your following, it is important to follow customers back. Just like being personal through direct messaging or commenting, following your customers shows you care (as funny as that sounds). As your following grows, this will be less important, however when first starting out be sure to practice this!

2. Check your insights!

When you switch to an Instagram Business account you have access to Insights. Insights gives you data about who’s looking at your content. It will help you determine what’s working and what isn’t! If you haven’t set up a business account, check out this blog post.

To access your insights, click the stacked lines in the top-right corner on your profile. Click Insights. Within Insights, you’ll see three main sections: Activity, Content, and Audience.

Within Activity, you see:

    • Interactions. It will give you insights such as number of profile visits and website clicks.
    • Discovery. Tells you more about who you’re reaching.
    • Reach and impressions. Reach is the number of unique visitors to your content and impressions is the number of times your content has been viewed.

Within Content, you see:

    • How many and which posts you’ve posted that week.
    • Post and story engagement. For example, which posts are most popular and how many people are engaging with it.
    • Promotions. This is only relevant if you pay for Instagram ads.

Within Audience, you see:

    • Locations. Where your followers are located. This can be split up into City or Country.
    • Age Range. It is interesting to see what age range you are attracting with your content.
    • Gender.
    • Followers. Shows you when your followers are most active on social media. This can help you determine when you should post to increase engagement.

Check your insights frequently to help you determine if you’re reaching the right audience and if your content is popular. Additionally use the Audience header to determine best posting times! Tracking your progress is essential for determining what works and what doesn’t. It also can help you make decisions that will help you increase your following.

3. Promote on all your platforms

If you are using multiple social media platforms – cross-promote! Post on your Facebook page to follow your Instagram account. This can help drive customers to follow on all platforms. Additionally, if you have a mailing list, add links to your social media channels in your emails. Sometimes in order to increase your following all you need to do is inform your customers.

4. Interact with followers beyond posting pictures

A great way to hook followers is being personal! Interacting with customers via Direct Message or starting conversations through commenting can have a lasting impact. Food is very personal and customers want to get to know who’s producing theirs. Just like selling in person, when selling online you want to maintain customer service! Don’t underestimate the power of personal communication!

There are many other methods to increase your following, however these are the four best ones to help you get started! Social media marketing is all about networking. You need to put work and effort in order for people to get hooked – just posting the occasional picture will not get you results. When done properly, Instagram can help you get new customers and build brand recognition. Follow these tips and watch the follows roll in!

How to Sell Food with your Neighbors

As the demand for locally-produced, environmentally friendly, and socially ethical food continues to rise, consumers are looking to the food industry for new solutions. Due to the high cost of marketing for small food suppliers, direct-to-household sales are often not an option for many. Food hubs offer a platform for food suppliers to get brand exposure and guaranteed sales. They are a great place for communities to come together over the love of fresh, local food, while also supporting the local economy.

Food hubs are often started by a group of farmers looking for a better way to sell their produce. Take Click Fork for example – after the closure of a local co-operative grocery store, four farmers lost a major sales outlet. Instead of continuing to lose business, they decided to join forces and create Click Fork, a Northeastern Online Farmer’s Market.

“We all have the same mindset and approach to how we’re growing food, and that’s based on ecological and/or organic principles, and we all direct market.” – James Morin, Owner of Kipling Ridge Farms in Verner, Ontario.

Since starting a food hub, these farmers have seen an increase in their sales and have saved money on marketing and distribution. This platform allows them to thrive in their market, while continuing to do what they love. For more on Click Fork and how they got started, check out this article.

Does this sound like something that fits for your business? Where should you start?

Let’s backtrack a little. To start off, what is a food hub?

According to the USDA Food Hub Resource Guide, a food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers. In other words, a food hub is a centralized platform where consumers are able to purchase local food direct from the farmer through a business or organization. The hub acts as the overarching body that lets all of this happen.

In order to be considered a food hub by USDA standards, the hub must:

  1. Aggregate, distribute and market primarily locally produced foods from multiple suppliers and sell to multiple outlets.
  2. Provide technical assistance to producers when needed to reach buyer requirements.
  3. Consider the suppliers as valued business partners (they cannot be interchangeable) and commit to buying from mid to small sized producers.
  4. Use product differentiation strategies to help suppliers get a good price. These include marketing, branding, and food transparency.
  5. Have a positive social, environmental, and economic impact on the community by promoting suppliers that carry out production practices or environmental services.

Food hubs are essential. It is hard as a small food supplier to make the jump from selling at farmer’s markets to selling to large grocery chains and restaurants. Food hubs provide a platform for farmers to sell into a new market and reach more customers. Two (or many) is always stronger than one.

If starting a food hub or becoming a part of one is something that interests you, it’s important to know your stuff. Here are 6 tips we found important to know:

Safety first!

This tip is pretty straight-forward. All food businesses must adhere to the Health and Safety Standards set in place by the local government. In a food hub, you have a longer supply chain than a farm-to-customer system, as there might be warehousing and increased travel involved. Make sure to always be on top of the regulations and implement them successfully into your distribution and processing procedures.

Treat yo’ farmers!

When you go back to the principle of a food hub, it all comes down to the farmers. They are the lifeline of the business and the reason you may have started it in the first place. Be sure to maintain and grow healthy business relationships in order to ensure success for all in the long run. Unhappy farmers = unhappy business.

Details matter!

As a food hub owner, you need to know everything about your business. A local food hub is run on the principle that you are sourcing the freshest and best quality produce a customer can get. Customers are taking more effort and buying into the system that is better for them, their local economy and the environment – so you need to make sure they know why they came in the first place. You need to be the expert of everything you buy and everything you sell. Not only do you need to be an expert, but the knowledge must seep into every aspect of your business. Whether that’s your sales personal selling to customers, the warehouse crew (if applicable) packaging and sorting through products, or the delivery team bringing products door to door, you need to empower your employees to be able to answer questions and vouch for your business at all times.

Sell all year long!

Like market season, a lot food hubs only operate in the summer months due to the high influx of beautiful produce and warm weather. This is a mistake. The issue with skipping the winter months is the loss of exposure in the 6 months your business isn’t operating. Customers still eat in the winter, so give them something to order. Be seasonal and diversify your product range to match demand.

Grow one inch at a time

Success happens over time. It takes a while to grow a customer base and increase your sales. Most failure is seen when a business tries to grow too quickly. Take everything one step at a time. Start with a few different suppliers and offer a few pick up locations. As demand rises, get customer feedback and consider adding more stock and more suppliers. This way your business will grow organically and continue to support the local food economy.

Track everything in one place

When you are running a business where you are sourcing from multiple people and selling to multiple people, there is a lot of room for error. Make sure you keep track of all orders (incoming and outgoing), all deliveries, and all inventory in one place, so you can never lose anything! The best place to start is using an online platform! This allows you to automate many actions such as taking orders and tracking inventory in real time, which saves you from having to do it manually.

There is a lot that goes into starting and running a successful food hub and we’ve barely scraped the surface. If there is one take away, always remember to take one step at a time and to know your stuff. Starting a food hub and growing a successful business takes time. You’ll have to try out a few different things before you figure it out, so don’t get discouraged!

How to Get Started with Instagram as a Farmer

Instagram is a great tool to help you market your business! It’s all about visual content and is great for showcasing your production process, your family & employees, and your products. Ultimately, it’s meant to portray authenticity, and allow your customers to understand your lifestyle. If you are a small-scale food producer, Instagram is a great way to create an online brand and drive demand for your products.

Why instagram?

It is a hub for literally everything! Over 25 million businesses use the application and 200 million instagrammers visit at least one business profile every day. There’s a ton of opportunity to engage potential customers and showcase your brand. Instagram is a powerful marketing tool!

Here’s a little background on Instagram.

Instagram is a social media platform that is made for sharing photographs and videos from your phone. Each user has a profile where they can upload photos and a news feed that shows content uploaded by those who you follow. When you upload a photo, it will be displayed on your profile and on the newsfeed of the people that follow you. It has an emphasis on fast and easy visual sharing.

But why is it helpful for food producers?

Food is a very visual industry! How many times have you seen pictures of a beautiful dish and thought, “I would eat that!” The goal of using Instagram as a marketing tool is to convince consumers to buy your products. This platform lets you upload photos and videos on your feed or on stories – a 24-hour quick, engaging photo/video format for smartphones – in a way that connects you with customers and keeps them up to date. It’s personal, simple-to-use, and extremely powerful! On top of this, it’s free, so there’s really no reason to not at least try it!

Let’s get started:
Step 1: Setting up your account

The first step is to download the app. Instagram, unlike other social medias, is meant to use on your phone, therefore to sign up and use the program, you must have access to a smartphone or tablet. When you first open the Instagram app, you will get prompted to sign up. Be sure to sign up using a business email address.

The next step is to enter your info:

Full Name: Enter the name of your business. This will allow your business to be recognizable amongst visitors.

Username: This is the name of what people search to find your business. It starts with @ symbol. For example Local Line’s username is @locallineinc

Please note: If the name of your business is already been taken, you may have to get creative.

Step 2: Building your account

Now that you have an account, it’s time to optimize it to start increasing your followers. Start with choosing your profile picture. This is an image that is associated with your account. We recommend using your logo as it keeps consistency with the branding of your business or a picture that best represents your business. Remember, that Instagram automatically crops your photos into a circle, therefore leave room in the corners for this.

Your Instagram bio is a short (150 character maximum) and concise summary of what you do! In your bio you can also urge followers to take an action by adding a URL such as your online store or business website. If using a URL, be sure to shorten your link using bitly to keep your profile from looking cluttered.

If you want to change anything later, you can always update your profile at a later date by clicking on the “Edit Profile” button.

How to use Instagram as a farmer - Spray Creek Ranch

Here is an example of an Instagram profile by Local Line customer Spray Creek Ranch.

Step 3: Switching to a business profile

At this point you have an account and profile ready to go! The next step is to make your public profile a business profile. To do this, go to the Settings tab. It can be accessed by clicking the three stacked lines located in the upper-right corner of the homepage. Click the settings button located at the bottom of the page.

How to use Local Line as a farmer - Local Line

In Settings, scroll down to Account. Click Switch to Business Profile. Instagram will lead you through how to switch. Note, in order to create a business profile, you must already have a business Facebook page.

How to use Instagram as farmer - Local Line

This will let your profile appear as a business to your followers. It will also give you access to analytics that will give you insight on posting times, followers, engagement and more. In a business profile, you are able to add location, category, phone number, email and directions. These features can help you increase your sales.

Now you have set up your account properly and are ready to start instagramming!


How Castor River Farm used Local Line to Reduce Order Errors Exponentially in Under 6 Weeks!

Operating for 30 years and selling direct to customers for the last 12 years, Castor River Farm specializes in rolled oats that are rolled daily. They also grow and process many different types of grains into flours including barley, Red Fife wheat, rye, buckwheat, spelt and many more. Additionally, they also produce pork, limited beef, chickens and eggs, maple syrup and soaps. Located 20 minutes from downtown Ottawa, this farm focuses on using natural and organic production to bring high quality products to their community.

How Castor River Farm used Local Line to reduce order errors by 50% in under 4 weeks

No more errors!

As George at Castor River Farm continued to grow his customer base over the years, he prided himself on maintaining a strong relationship with his customers. As the number of customers continued to increase, he was able to keep up with the production demand, yet when it came to deliveries and logistics – he kept facing order errors. The more customers they serviced, the higher chance of an order error. It became harder and harder to track what needed to go where.  He knew he needed to address this and quick.

“Around 10 customers, we didn’t have a lot errors when it came to getting customers their orders. When that number jumped to 30, there was an exponential increase in the amount of errors I was seeing. This was the biggest problem in my business”.

How Castor River Farm used Local Line to reduce order errors by 50% in under 4 weeks

Maybe, maybe not?

George knew something needed to change to deal with the error problem. After being approached by Jordan from Local Line, he considered the thought of starting an online store, but was scared it would take away the personal touch he had when connecting with his customers.

After thinking about the switch, he asked his five best customers whether they would want an online store: “Everyone of them was pushing for it! They were the ones that actually convinced me to move my business online”. Soon after that, George opened his new online store!

How Castor River Farm used Local Line to reduce order errors by 50% in under 4 weeks

A successful switch

After having used the software for only just six weeks, George has seen immense changes in his business. By using the picklists and instant invoices features on Local Line, he is able to easily pack and get the orders where they need to go seamlessly and efficiently. The errors that he so badly wanted to address disappeared. “The biggest problem in my business was my order errors and now that has significantly reduced. The only errors I’m still seeing are from the few customers that have yet to move online and use the system!”

Additionally, the fear of losing personal relationships with his customers has dissolved. George is still able to connect with his customer base through emails and conversations, however his online store allows them to order seamlessly. Additionally online ordering has brought forward some of his shyer customers place their orders more frequently.

“The system has exceeded my expectations on what it would do for my business. My customers love it. I’ve seen more customers, larger orders, and fewer errors in only 6 weeks. It’s awesome.”

Moving forward, George hopes to explore and use Local Line’s other features including the accounting and analytics tools to continue to grow his business. However, most importantly, he hopes to continue to reduce the amount of errors seen in his business.

We are so happy we were able to help George in finding a solution to his business’ biggest problem! Check out Castor River Farm’s awesome online store here to see all the great things they’re producing!

How Mustard Seed Co-op is Making Local Food more Accessible with Local Line

Recently celebrating their 5th year, Mustard Seed Co-op is a co-op grocery store stocking everything local! Walking through their doors, you’ll see shelves and baskets full of fresh local food, and get a sense of community you wouldn’t get at a conventional grocery store. Located in Hamilton, Ontario, this co-op empowers individuals and encourages healthier and stronger communities by enabling people to buy and sell local food.

Staying current

As their business grew, Stacey was looking for a new way to connect with their customers. Everything was online and she wanted the Mustard Seed Co-op to be there too! They began with selling their annual Holiday Bag  that customers could order online. This was a very popular yearly seasonal product amongst customers, however they were turned off by the additional fees associated with paying online using PayPal. The ordering method was time-consuming and took way too many steps. With this in mind, it was time to find a solution for the high fees and move their business further online.

Local Line - Making local food more accessible: Mustard Seed Co-op

Making local accessible!

When Stacey connected with the Local Line sales staff, she knew this was the answer! With their new online store, customers are able to purchase weekly bounty boxes and check out without any payment processing fees.

Each holiday season, Mustard Seed Co-op brings back their annual Holiday Bag, which is curated to feature 10-12 local producers. Additionally, a local artist designs the art for the jute bag it comes in. This past year with their new ordering system, they saw double the online orders from the previous year! Switching to Local Line was showing them immediate results.

Further, Mustard Seed Co-op is now able to showcase and sell staple grocery items completely through their online store. They offer the same comprehensive services as large-scale, conventional grocery stores, and they do it while supporting Ontario local food producers. Local Line allows them to track their orders, send product lists, manage pick up and delivery logistics, and collect payments. It allows them to stay modern and let their mission reach a wider audience in their community.

“We want to make local food more accessible to our community! Being online allows us to stay current and best serve our customers. With Local Line, ordering is made easy and our customers aren’t turned off by surprise purchasing fees. It also helps us manage deliveries and pickups! It’s everything we need to sell food in one system.”

The future of Mustard Seed Co-op

Moving forward, Stacey is hoping to continue to increase awareness of their online platform to customers to get even more people ordering online! Further, they hope to continue to serve their community members and see where the future takes them.

We are so happy we got to be apart of their online journey. To see all the great things Mustard Seed Co-op is selling, check out their online store!