Arcenio and Karin are former U.S. Marines turned farmers. Their farm, Wolf Creek Family Farm, is based out of Peculiar, Missouri. What started as a large home garden on five acres has turned into a legacy spanning over fifteen years, involving their five children and various family and friends along the way.
As their five acres expanded to forty, their mission to provide fresh and wholesome food straight from their farm always remained. They now focus on fresh, sustainably grown produce and naturally raised pork and eggs.
We sat down with Karin to learn more about their journey with online sales.
Nina (Local Line): Can you tell me a bit more about Wolf Creek Family Farm?
Karin Velez (Wolf Creek Family Farm): We are a small family market farm in west central Missouri. We are on 40 acres, but we cultivate about four acres of that for fresh produce. And then we raise hogs and chickens on pasture, using the chickens for their eggs.
We have a 75-member CSA, which is how we originally got started with farming; we started on our little homestead on five acres and thought that you know, we could put that giant garden of ours to use and make a little bit of extra money. It turned out that we really liked that. That was 15 years ago.
In addition to the CSA program, we still sell at four farmers’ markets throughout the week. In 2020, we also pivoted to online sales for home delivery because markets closed, and we ended up keeping that after they opened back up.
N: This is my favorite question to ask; what is the story behind your farm name?
K: When we lived on our little five acres, and we went by a completely different name, that was kind of a combination of my husband and his last names. And we always used to joke that we should have named the farm Coyote Creek because we constantly had coyotes running through the backside of the property trying to snatch up our chickens or our livestock.
N: How did you hear about Local Line, and why did you decide to start using us?
K: We’ve always had some sort of online presence or online sale mechanism. From day one, I used a local directory to advertise our CSA. As the farm evolved, our needs evolved. We needed some sort of platform to either do sales or manage the CSA, or a combination of both.
We were using an online platform for a very long time, but when they switched their business model, it didn’t really work for us. So we quickly moved to something else. At the time, we had just switched over to using our Square’s credit card processor for online sales and stuff, and it was working a little bit.
When 2020 hit, we needed to find something better. I had heard about Local Line on a podcast a while earlier and thought, let’s give it a go.
N: How do you use Local Line?
K: Every Monday, I go out and estimate the harvest for the week and put that into our Local Line store. Our CSA members, who have already pre-paid for the season, get a share of what we’re harvesting. If they want additional items, they can jump into Local Line and place an order that way. We list our pork inventory as soon as it comes back from the butcher and we list our eggs when they become available.
We also have customers for delivery that are not in the CSA program. They can place their orders every week before our delivery day every Thursday or opt for pick up at our multiple farmers’ market locations. This is a popular option for those who’d rather order and pick up and ensure they have the first ripe tomatoes coming in for the season. It works out well for us because we already have guaranteed sales before we get to the markets. The worst thing in the middle of the summer is when you’ve been working all these months to get all this wonderful produce and then you don’t sell out at the market. Pre-selling for the market works well for our customers, and it works well for us too.
N: We often hear from farmers who start with online sales that it's a challenge for them to be able to predict their inventory for the week. Do you have any tips?
K: Honestly, it’s just a lot of practice. But, there also has to be an understanding with the customer, which is where building strong customer relationships come in. We make sure to be very engaged with our customers and communicate with them frequently. Your customers must understand that this is an agricultural product, and things happen. I might estimate that I’m going to be able to pick x, y, and z this week, but we might have severe rainstorms, or too many that we’ve picked have bug damage and can’t be sold.
So my tip would be to start by underestimating your inventory. That way, you’re underpromising and overdelivering. If you happen to have more, you can pivot those sales to an alternative sales channel such as selling at the market.
The best way to get better is to keep really good records of what you’re harvesting. Record keeping is hard to get into, especially if you’re super busy. But start with this. Walk through your fields with a little notebook and write down what you anticipate harvesting that week. Go back at the end of the week and see how accurate you were. This will allow you to grow confidence over time.
N: You mentioned the importance of nurturing good customer relationships. How do you guys go about doing this?
K: As many ways as possible. A lot of our customers are from the market. I don’t think we would ever not have at least one farmers’ market location.
In addition to that face-to-face interaction, I try to keep up with customers through an email newsletter. I know it’s an extra step that a lot of people don’t want to take, but it’s important. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and you don’t necessarily have to include a whole bunch of pictures. You can just send them a note that says this is what’s going on at the farm right now and we appreciate you as customers.
If we send one email in the middle of the month, it spurs people, even those who are regular customers, to jump online and place an order.
N: Let’s talk about order fulfillment. What is more popular? Delivery or pick up?
K: The most popular fulfillment option differs based on the time of year. In the winter, delivery is very popular because we don’t have any year-round farmers’ markets. As the markets open up again, delivery drops off. Customers want to get back to the market and experience the atmosphere. I do notice that after a few weeks and the novelty wears off, some customers transition back to choosing delivery over pick up.
N: How did you get started with delivery?
K: It was difficult at first because we didn’t have the right platform. We were trying to work with an online space that wasn’t really designed for farmers or agribusiness. We wanted to offer specific delivery days, not delivery on demand. So that was a real struggle, but that struggle allowed us to understand better what we did need from an online platform.
Initially, we offered two delivery days by zone. We did counties North of us on one day and counties south of us on the day, and my husband and I each took a day. We found that delivery days were shorter, but it took too much time out of our week. Yes, you’d only be delivering for half the day, but it’s such an interruption that, really, your whole day is just blown. Now, we’ve consolidated all deliveries to one day. They’re long days, but when you’re home, you’re finished for the week.
Getting the hang of delivery takes a bit of trial and error, and your customers are going to adjust to what works best for you. If they want to keep ordering from you and you’ve done a good job cultivating that relationship, they’re going to work with you whatever your delivery schedule is. At the end of the day, it just goes back to communication.
N: You guys have been using Local Line for a while now. What is the biggest benefit you get from Local Line?
K: Being able to sell by the pound and by the pack, all within one system. For the longest time, we had to create a line item or product for bone-in pork chops 1.0 to 1.1 pound for X dollars. This resulted in eight different options for bone-in pork chops. With that, the customer or we would lose or win based on the weight of the pack we ended up selling.
Now, we can list 25 packages of bone-in pork chops in stock in a range of 1 to 1.75 pounds per package. When we go to package the order, we input the exact weight and charge the customer for that price. They’re paying for precisely what they ordered, and we’re getting exactly what we’re owed. It’s a win-win for everybody.
The great thing about Local Line is I’m still able to list products by the piece or, for lettuce as an example, by the head. The inventory and pricing for that product are based on the unit, not by weight. I have the flexibility to select which option works best for each product. It’s a HUGE lifesaver.
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N: Many farmers, when they haven’t started with online sales, think that it can be a lot more work. What do you think? Is selling online more work?
K: It’s a different kind of work. If you’re a direct seller, you will have to work for your sales no matter what. Whether it’s standing at a farmer’s market for five hours or delivering directly to your customers. Whatever it is, you’ll have to put some energy into selling.
Is it more work than other sales channels we have? No – it’s an additional sales channel, and you just have to work it into your routine.”
It will not be perfect the first time; nothing ever is. Just know that there will be some mistakes along the way, and most likely, your customers will understand. Be gracious, tweak your processes, and you’ll figure out what works for you at some point.
At the end of the day, selling online is absolutely going to be better for your bottom line than if you never start.
Thanks so much to Karin for sitting down with us to tell us more about Wolf Creek Family Farm’s journey with online sales and learn about how they use Local Line. If you want to keep up to date with Karin, check out their website here or connect with them on Instagram!