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How the Internet Helped One Family Stay on the Farm

Feb 26, 2013

by Danielle Tsi

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Bernard Smith at Full of Life Farm thought he had it all worked out. Inspired by a compelling lecture on food and nutrition by Dr. Thomas Cowan in 2003, he found the motivation to start working towards his dream of returning to his family’s Oregon farm. He spent the next five years working on a business plan, researching farming methods, working on farms and learning everything he could about animal stewardship. In 2008, he and his family of four moved 650 miles north to his parents’ farm in Oregon, ready to start a new life.

But it didn’t turn out quite as he’d imagined.

“When we started I had visions that we would live ‘happily ever after,’ supplying pastured, grass-fed meat to the city of Portland, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Bernard said. “It’s too small a city to adequately support the many independent farms in the area and we were not able to charge what was necessary to earn a living wage, even though we had a presence at nine weekly farmers’ markets in Portland.”

By 2011, running out of money and tired of splitting his time between Oregon and his farm stand in Mountain View, California, Bernard knew that he needed a new approach if Full Of Life Farm was to be a self-sustaining business.

“I realized that price and convenience are the biggest parameters shaping the purchasing decisions of potential buyers. If I can offer quality meat at a reasonable price, delivered straight to your door within a few days of your order, that’s a compelling proposition that not many farmers are offering at the moment,” he said.

This meant a smaller pool of potential buyers spread out across a larger area, turning the farm’s online shop into a key distribution channel.

“My online sales are currently a little less than half, maybe 40 percent, of my total sales. But they are growing,” Bernard noted. “I don’t do any online advertising. I just listed my farm on Eatwild (an online directory for pasture-raised meats) and that’s where most of my online customers find me.”

Entering the world of online retail came with its own challenges, like offering his customers the flexibility to fully customize all of their orders.

“I was spending all my time packing orders and didn’t have enough time to do anything else,” Bernard shared. “I quickly learned to standardize our online offerings.”

Despite the variety of marketing and social media tools available today, the farm has a relatively low-key presence on Twitter and Facebook, preferring instead to build its relationship with customers the “old-fashioned” way, through emails and in-person conversations at the market. This willingness to let the market expand at its own pace is proving to be the most reliable strategy for driving sales.

Said Bernard, “Over the five years I’ve been in business, I’ve assembled a list of customers that have signed up for my emails. If I want to drive sales, I send out an email to my list. That direct relationship with people that have met me and know me is immensely valuable.”

After focusing on the Portland metro area and the San Francisco Bay Area for the past few years, 2013 will see an expansion of Full of Life Farm’s home delivery services to Southern California, a litmus test for their web store and supply chain.

“I think it’s important for aspiring farmers to really focus on the marketing and distribution of their products,” Bernard shared.“I’m not saying that production methods and ensuring the quality of your products is not important – it is, but up to a point. There’s no value in creating a great product if you’re not able to sell and distribute it, right?”

All photos courtesy of Full of Life Farm.

3 Featured Comments

  • Aristocrafts

    Aristocrafts from Aristocrafts said 4 years ago Featured

    What a wonderful way of joining tradition (old fashion healthy farm products) and modernity (selling online)! This is an amazing story, so inspirational! I'm greatful that with this kind of initiatives we are able to eat, and therefore stay, healthier.

  • bananauts

    Hannah Totton said 4 years ago Featured

    I've known the Smiths pretty much my whole life, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this on the Etsy blog. I've always been interested in their farm, and I actually wanted to work there last summer. My family has gotten a lot of meat from these guys, and it is unlike anything I've ever had. The meat is just incredible, so rich in flavor that it hardly needs any sauces or spices. The hamburger meat is to die for, and all other brands pale in comparison. When you buy from Full of Life Farms you not only get amazing products, you get to meet some incredible people as well. Michelle and Bernard are inspirational. You guys rock.

  • rowenamurillo

    Rowena Murillo from rowenamurillo said 4 years ago Featured

    I was just thinking about how the internet has changed the possibilities for artists, who no longer have to live in a city center to be involved in the art world. I never thought about how it might change things for small farmers. The internet changes everything.

83 comments

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 4 years ago

    This Eatsy story is so inspirational. And since I love receiving mail, of course I would love getting family-farm-fresh food delivered right to my door!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 4 years ago

    What a great story!

  • CreativeTherapy

    Stefanie van den Brandt from CreativeTherapy said 4 years ago

    Well done to Full of Life! It's hard work staying afloat when you have to put in so much effort to create a product, and on top of that find ways to sell it. It comes down to finding the balance between personal service and online service. On the one hand side, the internet has allowed small businesses to flourish when without those methods they wouldn't maybe have had the opportunity, on the other hand brick and mortar shops are disappearing due to online shopping. I think society needs some time to adjust and regain the right balance.

  • maggiesraggedyinn

    Mary Robertson from MaggiesInn said 4 years ago

    I hope you find a way to turn your business into a wonderful success story. You seem to have a great product with great story behind it. I can just imagine how hard all your family works. Bravo!!!

  • ArtDecoDame

    Desiree from ArtDecoDame said 4 years ago

    Very inspiring story!Best of luck to you all!

  • minipotterybyanita

    minipotterybyanita from potterybyAnita said 4 years ago

    How wonderful that technology can help keep a farm alive! I was raised on a 100-acre farm and it's heart-wrenching how many thousands of acres are lost to "urban sprawl" each year. As I read someone say one day, "Once farmland is lost, it's never turned back into farms again." So, glad to read this success story! ♥♥♥

  • untamedrose

    Breanna from untamedrose said 4 years ago

    Interesting read! :)

  • artfulnotions

    Murray Bolesta from artfulnotions said 4 years ago

    Speaking as a member of the last generation of family farms when they were predominant in America, I believe that we may be going full circle, back to them, in part due to the need for better food than Corporate Food - a response to the obesity epidemic. A key economic issue is the cost of the land, worlds away from what it was. Best wishes for success!

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 4 years ago

    YES !!! Terrific a pacific northwest resident I'm happy to see the online venue an option and will try it out. Best in sales and this feature is sure to get the word out. it did for me.

  • MustangADayChallenge

    LindaLMartin Artist from MustangADayChallenge said 4 years ago

    A simply wonderful story and a fantastic idea. Moves the family farm right into the social media age but keeps it simple and focused. I wish I had this out let 30 years ago when I had my farm.

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 4 years ago

    Very inspring ! Thanks for sharing with us !

  • tyler126

    Wendy Tyler from StudioSeventyFour said 4 years ago

    very inspiring, thank you for sharing this story

  • paramountvintage

    kristin from blackmoonsky said 4 years ago

    what a wonderful story! having the resources and option to sell online can really sustain a local, independent business. i'm so happy to see that it is helping your family and farm :)

  • peacesofindigo

    Dawanna Young from peacesofindigo said 4 years ago

    Brilliant. What a great story and I love your vision. It sounds like you're well on your way to your 'happily ever after'. :)

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 4 years ago

    Well done!

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 4 years ago

    Such a fascinating story!

  • lanejagoda

    Jagoda Lane from JagodaModernArt said 4 years ago

    Great story, your ability to adapt to new challenges is a big plus. Good luck!

  • StringBeardCraftery

    Stephanie from StringBeardCraftery said 4 years ago

    Lovely farm! Those piggies are adorable!

  • Aristocrafts

    Aristocrafts from Aristocrafts said 4 years ago Featured

    What a wonderful way of joining tradition (old fashion healthy farm products) and modernity (selling online)! This is an amazing story, so inspirational! I'm greatful that with this kind of initiatives we are able to eat, and therefore stay, healthier.

  • fineartstoneware

    fineartstoneware from fineartstoneware said 4 years ago

    Interesting story! I live in the country, too, not on a farm, but I understand the need for customers via internet.

  • ArigigiPixel

    Gina from ArigigiPixel said 4 years ago

    Great business idea!

  • LetsAllMakeBelieve

    LetsAllMakeBelieve from LetsAllMakeBelieve said 4 years ago

    Love this :) Looks like a beautiful place to be!

  • econica

    Natallia from econica said 4 years ago

    well done! Being a city girl, I always dreamed about moving to the country side, where I can have a hobby farm with chickens and a cashmere goat! :) well, some day!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 4 years ago

    Wonderful story! Kudos to you and your dream.

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 4 years ago

    Great story to read. I love good healthy food and this hits the spot.

  • ebkriley

    EBK Riley from DeeAndFee said 4 years ago

    This post shows so well how the use of new technology can sustain older, yet important, vocations like farming or craft work. Full of Life Farm and the approach outlined here give a real sense of what can be done when old and new ideas and methods are merged to bring about a new kind of success.

  • BozenaWojtaszek

    Bozena Wojtaszek from BozenaWojtaszek said 4 years ago

    Great story! Keep up the good work!

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 4 years ago

    So refreshing to hear of someone who can make it work without constantly using social media to bombard people with self promption.

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 4 years ago

    That should be "promotion".

  • valeriephoto

    Valerie from valeriestitchery said 4 years ago

    Congratulations. Being a farmer is one of the hardest and financially riskiest jobs there is, but I'm so glad there are people who are willing to take on the challenge so the rest of us get better quality food. It's great that Bernard just modified slightly, without turning to a social media and advertising blitz, but was still able to turn things around.

  • HandpaintedThreads

    Maureen from HandpaintedThreads said 4 years ago

    Nice story with a happy ending. One thing made me chuckle.....the “old-fashioned” way, through emails....how times have changed! ;-)

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 4 years ago

    Interesting story! We raise cattle and understand the ups and downs of the market. So glad your new approach has worked for you and your family!

  • andiespecialtysweets

    Jason and Andie from andiespecialtysweets said 4 years ago

    Thank you, Danielle and Full of Life Farms! This is such great information and so timely for us as well as other wanna-be farmers : )

  • honeypixels

    honeypixels from honeypixels said 4 years ago

    BEAUTIFUL farm! Keep up the awesome work.

  • HuellaHuella

    Fabiola Friedman from HuellaHuella said 4 years ago

    I've enjoyed this wonderful story! Farmers are the backbone of a nation!

  • mcbbelk

    Marie Christine from jewelryaccessible said 4 years ago

    Hope it becomes my story too!

  • OttavaDesigns

    Ellen from OttavaDesigns said 4 years ago

    Super story! I congratulate you on your bravery.

  • PruAtelier

    Jeanne B from PruAtelier said 4 years ago

    Wonderful story! I so enjoy when I hear of today's farmers and where their creative thinking for staying afloat leads them. Now, if only the factory farms would disappear we would all be able to eat better and be healthier, while supporting the backbone of any country....its farmers!

  • jennstars9

    Jennifer from JenniferRPhotography said 4 years ago

    What a great story! Love how the business just opened up more business online! Thanks for sharing this inspirational story.

  • brendabordas

    Brenda Bordas from brendabordas said 4 years ago

    Your story is a great example of how families ways of making a living have changed. I am so glad to hear stories of how people are valued by not having only social media interaction. Many of us are loooking for wholesome products.

  • cwebsbiz

    Sally from CWebsBiz said 4 years ago

    Wonderful article, very inspiring and helpful!

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 4 years ago

    Interesting and inspiring!

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC said 4 years ago

    Wonderful and moving article. Love the farm life and love unprocessed food. I try to shop the local farmers market every chance I get. Remember, "Lettuce Turnip the Beat and shop the local farmers market." I like chicken and my husband likes beef and we both like pork.

  • FranceGallery

    France Gallery from FranceGallery said 4 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading your story!!

  • thevicagirl

    VaLon Frandsen from thevicagirl said 4 years ago

    What a great story. Love it.

  • bradenhammondglass

    Braden and Kristina from BradenHammondGlass said 4 years ago

    Love everything about this story - thank you for sharing this!

  • bradenhammondglass

    Braden and Kristina from BradenHammondGlass said 4 years ago

    Love everything about this story - thank you for sharing this! Grass-fed is the only way to go!

  • kcparade

    Kim from TimeNSeasonTreasures said 4 years ago

    I really enjoyed reading this as well as the comments. I am impressed with your balance of selling online and maintaining the one on one customer relationship.

  • solocosmo

    Jessica Grundy from solocosmo said 4 years ago

    This was worth the read....I'm so happy for you and your family being able to sell online and I'm sure you will only continue to grow!!!

  • bananauts

    Hannah Totton said 4 years ago Featured

    I've known the Smiths pretty much my whole life, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this on the Etsy blog. I've always been interested in their farm, and I actually wanted to work there last summer. My family has gotten a lot of meat from these guys, and it is unlike anything I've ever had. The meat is just incredible, so rich in flavor that it hardly needs any sauces or spices. The hamburger meat is to die for, and all other brands pale in comparison. When you buy from Full of Life Farms you not only get amazing products, you get to meet some incredible people as well. Michelle and Bernard are inspirational. You guys rock.

  • christineshmisteen

    CHRISTINE SHMISTEEN from TheArtOfFinerThings said 4 years ago

    interesting comment from hannah! (above) I hope you spread the word to your friends. They seem awesome, and I hope their internet sales jump from this blog post!

  • FibreFilia

    Lorraine Follett from FibreFilia said 4 years ago

    Great story and some interesting comments that have followed. Give or take a few scattered years I have been involved with farming all my life - that's 60 years of seeing the ups and downs, the small and huge watershed changes - most of all, from the mum, dad and kids family farm to the global, supermarket farm. Like Bernard, I've done the commute - to keep the farm AND the dream going - it's hard in so many respects, so you have my utmost respect - not just for your style of farming which is close to mine, but just for hanging in there, keeping your mind open to useful change while at the same time farming with integrity and recognising customers as people. All the best to the Smith Family - keep up the good work.

  • Motleycouture

    Motleycouture from Motleycouture said 4 years ago

    Very inspiring to see how people make life changes. Wonderful story!

  • BritshMaid

    Penelope Neil from StarTribeVintage said 4 years ago

    great stuff! I'm loving the new wave of 'back to the land' that's happening in recent years; here in Australia most of our cattle is pasture fed - i say most, I haven't researched it but it could well be all, with grain coming in only in the leanest months (though the cows are still in the fields). Even our McDonalds burgers are 100% pasture fed! I've never tasted feed lot beef in my life, but it would be hard to beat grass fed beef for taste I think. I live in dairy country now, the same town I grew up in (they always come back!) It's hard to make a business work in a rural area, but it's better than being cramped up in the 'big smoke'. Right now it's just past midnight and all I can here is rain and frogs. Love it.

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams said 4 years ago

    Wonderful that technology is helping this family return to healthy farming practices and still make a decent living. I buy organic produce and free range eggs but grass-fed meat is just too expensive. Wish the healthy products were more affordable for the average family. Seems like prices have gone up on everything but paychecks have not... But I am happy for this family and admire their persistence. Best wishes to them for growing success.

  • PotteryHeaven

    Martina from PotteryHeaven said 4 years ago

    Its heartwarming to read stories of people going after their dreams and finding a way to obtain them! Very inspirational and I love that Full of Life Farms is going back to basics with communication - in a technology age its nice sometimes to really "talk" to people. Great job!

  • WoodlandCottage

    WoodlandCottage from WoodlandCottage said 4 years ago

    What a great idea--a melding of the traditional farm with the most modern technologies. Thank you for sharing, and giving new hope for family farms!

  • rowenamurillo

    Rowena Murillo from rowenamurillo said 4 years ago Featured

    I was just thinking about how the internet has changed the possibilities for artists, who no longer have to live in a city center to be involved in the art world. I never thought about how it might change things for small farmers. The internet changes everything.

  • yonderpine

    Amber from Yonderpine said 4 years ago

    I love this! I personally order most of my produce and groceries online and find it to be super convenient. The selection of "real food" in our supermarkets is slim so it's really great to see more local and regional family farms offering product online. Lovely story!!

  • Sugarcookielady

    Susan from Sugarcookielady said 4 years ago

    Inspiring!

  • FireSpiritDesigns

    Tricia from FireSpiritDesigns said 4 years ago

    I love this story because it truly embodies the "American Dream". It's truly inspirational & I sure wish they delivered on the east coast!!! :D

  • BodaciousDesignz

    Barbara from BodaciousDesignz said 4 years ago

    We have Lagare Farms on Johns Island, in the Charleston, SC area. They are doing the same thing. It is a struggle.The farm has been around since the colonial days. They also have tours of the farm, and summer camps for the children.The City of Charleston has been creeping into Johns Island, and now they want to finish I 526, which will ruin the farm life, on that island. And then the rich need their 4 lane highway to Kiawah, and Seabrook Islands. They don't understand the heritage of those winding roads, with old Oak trees, with Spanish moss, on either side of those roads. That is part of the Southern Charm! Once those beautiful old trees are gone...the charm is gone. www.legarefarms.com

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 4 years ago

    Great story!

  • royroadfishcompany

    John from royroadfishcompany said 4 years ago

    I am probably way off the hook, but this a etsy blog, and I don't see a link to your Etsy shop...

  • debbymaar

    Debby Maar from MaarvelousCreations said 4 years ago

    So good to hear a story of a farmer trying to make farming successful these days. My grandfather was a farmer and had cows and we always had a freezer full of beef from his cows. I miss having that now. I think it;s great that you can bring the meat to the customers!!!

  • deadsetbabes

    dead set babes from deadsetbabes said 4 years ago

    great story, thank you for sharing it!!!!

  • designlab443

    Tracy from designlab443 said 4 years ago

    Nice story.

  • anahitaking1

    Anahita King from AnahitaKingStudio said 4 years ago

    Offering meat eaters an alternative to factory-farmed animals raises awareness all 'round.

  • Shanay8625

    Shanay Worthy from ShanaysCreation said 4 years ago

    Great story.

  • nativestrandsjewelry

    Rachel from PeppersJewelry said 4 years ago

    Great article demonstrating how a farm family is beating challenges using the internet.

  • gaiadesignstudios

    gaiadesignstudios from GaiaDesignStudios said 4 years ago

    What a great story!

  • ka1231

    Kari from ThoughtofYouFabricAc said 4 years ago

    Very interesting article! I hope sales continue to grow!

  • carley465

    CAT Tillinghast from CATTATTING said 4 years ago

    Very interesting article and perspective on things. I hope things continue to grow and improve.

  • ElegantRoseBoutique

    Melissa from ElegantRoseBoutique said 4 years ago

    Great article! Wishing you much success!

  • SimpleThymePrims

    ronda Tedder from simplethymeprims said 4 years ago

    What an inspirational story...good luck!

  • paulajeansgarden

    Paula from paulajeansgarden said 4 years ago

    Etsy helps keep my farm going--love it!

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 4 years ago

    The internet is definitely a great way to get the word out about your product...I remember the old days and how we had to go about doing it....Much easier this way! Congrats on your success!

  • miriammcgowan

    miriam from MizMiriam said 4 years ago

    never give up wherever the road takes you. learning in the journey who can survive and thrive.

  • birdieemcgee

    birdie from birdieemcgee said 4 years ago

    Great story! As an artist who often works on farms I am interested in the factors that lead some farmers to the internet-while others still remain out of touch from it. Some people make the effort to hike into a nearby town once a week to use the internet at a library, while others may have wifi right from their fields! It is interesting the way they have become intertwined for some, and now anyone can become a farmer using the internet to research.

  • jewlsgifts

    Jewls Gifts from JewlsGifts said 4 years ago

    great read, thanks for your story :-)

  • redgarage

    redgarage from RedGarage said 4 years ago

    I live in rural CT and many small farms have had great success with this approach, really nice to here stories like this,thanks.

  • redgarage

    redgarage from RedGarage said 4 years ago

    I live in rural CT and many small farms have had success with this approach, it's really nice to read stories like this,thanks.

  • GrowingUpWild

    Kelly Engel from GrowingUpWild said 4 years ago

    I love this story. So wonderful to see the family farm finding a way to thrive. Best of luck to you!

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