Reflections on a new OFN shopfront


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With thanks to Neil Hickson for telling us his experience of starting with OFN…

Here we are nearly in August, and this is the worst growing season we have had in since we started the farm five years ago. With a winter which seemed to stretch from August to May, followed by what can only be described as drought (as far as I am concerned), it has all been a challenge.

Burscough Community Farm is in the middle of the flat and mossy West Lancashire Plain. This used to be part of the largest body of fresh water in England until it was drained a few hundred years ago, turning it into some of the best farmland in the country, in my opinion. Our usual battle is dealing with too much water as we are on a low lying piece of land.

We started running a box scheme four seasons ago with increasing success, but the difficulties of this season, the late start and our lack of field scale irrigation (soon to be sorted), meant that don’t have the range of crops that we normally would to run our scheme. As with every growing season, some things have thrived, so we do have stuff to sell, just not enough diversity for us to run our full veg box.

We met Nick Weir of the Open Food Network about 18 months ago, firstly via a bizarre teleconference call where the facilitator put her mobile phone in an empty glass water jug to amplify the sound (it works, give it a try). A few months later, I met Nick in person, and he took a group of us through the Open Food Network and what it could do for us, even helping set up our shop front. A big thanks must go out to Kay Johnson and ‘The Larder’ in Preston who is working so hard to connect consumers with small-scale growers like us.

Last growing season we carried on running our scheme in the shambolic way that we had during the first few seasons, getting paid with a mixture of cheques, bank transfers and cash; oh the hours we did waste getting the books to balance. Once the growing and harvesting gets started, you never have the time to sit around playing with computers.

Anyway, with this growing season as it is, we knew we needed to make a change, so I sat down at the computer and set out our ‘virtual stall.’

I am lucky enough to have the knowledge to set up our website, something that I have also done for Greenslate Community Farm in Wigan, where I work three days per week as a grower and ‘marketing web person.’

I did toy with the idea of setting up Burscough Community Farm’s own shop through the website, but that is more work and time that I never seem to have. I also wondered if being part of the Open Food Network would bring in new customers to us.

After some initial teething problems, I got in touch with Nick Weir and had a short chat which put me right on a few points. During our conversation, I mentioned to Nick that I had thought about setting up our own independent online shop within our site, and he suggested ‘embedding’ the OFN shopfront within our website, giving us the best of both worlds. By embedding, I mean that our OFN shop appears as part of our web page, so people can shop for their produce and make payments without ever leaving our website. Back on the OFN website, things are as they were before; we simultaneously appear on both sites.

You can find out more on how to embed your OFN shop within your website by going to the OFN online user manual here. Our website is set up on the open source WordPress platform so I can quickly go into the sites backend dashboard to edit the site’s pages. Please make sure you have clearance from OFN to embed their page on your site before going ahead, a quick email sorted this for me.

We had a page on our site that told people all about our Veg Box scheme, so it was a case of editing that page to remove all references to the Veg Box, and instead, giving people access to our shopfront via a new section on the page. I use the graphical editor plugin ‘Elementor’ to edit some of the pages on our website, so it was simply a matter of adding another section to the page and using an ‘HTML’ widget within the new section.

I re-typed the section of code below, substituting burscough-community-farm for happy-hens-farm, and .uk rather than .au. Finally, I changed the min-height from 35em to 100em and then pasted this into the HTML widget.

neil1

Here is a screen shot of the elementor page builder that we use on WordPress with the HTML code pasted into the HTML widget.

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If your edit your website in HTML, you just paste this code into the relative section.

So that was it, if you go to https://burscoughcommunityfarm.org/our-produce/ on our website, you will see our OFN shop front seamlessly joined into our produce web page.

It is early days for us on the Open Food Network and only time will tell if it is a success, but we have already had a few shoppers, and I have no reason to doubt that it will be a great way to run our business in the future.

Now I just have to go and get the growing part of the business back on track and design myself an irrigation system.

Neil Hickson
Founder and Co-ordinator
Burscough Community Farm