Five years ago, after retiring from corporate life, Ipek Kursat followed a dream she had nurtured for years—"the dream of sitting at a small knoll on my property that overlooks a grassy area, and seeing a few sheep grazing below," she says.
"I wanted to create a tiny corner of the Earth that would be happy and verdant. You know, everyone's pastoral dream. I am glad I made it happen, starting out with two ewes and a ram, who quickly became two ewes, a ram and six lambs, and it grew from there."
Today, Kursat's chemical-free DewGreen Farm, which sits on a hill in Ashfield, Massachusetts, produces pasture-raised heritage pork and Icelandic lamb, as well as chicken and farm-fresh eggs. It's also one of many farms across the country and abroad that have tapped into the Internet, and Weebly, to sell their goods, educate consumers or simply make the public aware of their presence.
Whether they sell raw milk in England or gourmet microgreens grown on a half-acre California microfarm, run hay rides, set up corn mazes, teach horseback riding or provide manure-removal services, farmers, like other entrepreneurs, are working their own bit of digital acreage.
"It is just necessary in this day and age to have an accessible online contact and information place," said Denise Severt, aka Grandma, a retiree and owner of Grampa's Farm, which operates three weekends each fall, welcoming families to see what old-time farm-life was like, pick pumpkins, take hay rides, pet animals and see a 40-foot windmill.
"We direct people there to see what we are about and get directions etc. We also have group tours and that is where they go to register and see the dates and times available. I believe it has been a huge asset," said Severt, who designed the website for the business, the brainchild of late husband, James Severt, or Grampa.
Severt rents out cropland on the Merrill, Wisconsin, property, which has been in the Severt family for four generations, and keeps miniature horses and miniature donkeys. The Grampa's Farm enterprise supports the farm and its expenses, she said. As for the Weebly website—she started with the free version and later upgraded—Severt considers it "pretty easy to use," although someone else has helped her update it.
In the central New Jersey horse country community of Colts Neck, Slope Brook Farm, a small mom-and-pop enterprise, offers sweet corn, hot peppers, Jersey tomatoes, pumpkins, alfalfa bales, KuneKune piglets, sunflowers and barn supplies, as well as hay rides and manure-removal services. While Slope Brook's website includes a store that accepts PayPal, farmer Dianna Orgo says it hasn't generated revenue—perhaps piglets are best purchased in person—but is reviewed for research.
Other farms on Weebly include Oak Meadows Farm, a 10-acre family farm near Ferndale Washington, that also sells pastured meat and eggs; its site includes a list of places consumers can buy its products, a price list, a photo gallery of farm animals and operations, and links to farm resources.
Down Home Acres, a small "sustainable and ecologically sound farm" that grows vegetables in Unadilla, New York, provides information about the farm and its Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA).
In Massachusetts, Kursat sells grass-fed meats from DewGreen Farms and through a CSA with another farmer who produces pastured beef. Kursat raises the lambs and chickens and her DewGreen farming partner raises the hogs. The pig and sheep pastures total 12 acres.
Kursat says she chose Weebly "because it offered the best free service and seemed easiest to use." She designed the sites for both DewGreen and the Ashfield Meat CSA. She doesn't use the DewGreen site to market the farm because most of her business and focus are local, and the local food movement is important to her.
"The DewGreen website draws people who are looking for information on the breeds of sheep that I raise, and people who are looking for how-to information. How to build animal shelters using hog panels gets the most hits, for some reason," said Kursat via email. "The CSA website has been useful to people for seeing the varieties of meats and CSA shares we offer, and to make online payments using the PayPal links I set up."
The farming itself is not for the faint of heart or body. Anyone thinking of tilling his or her own little green acre would do well to heed Kursat's words.
"The hours are not too many, as they can be at a salaried job or most other businesses," she says. However, farming is seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, rain, shine, heat or cold, lifting 50-lb bags, moving hay, setting up and moving fencing, cleaning out barns and so on, as well as doing the books, managing customer relationships, developing sales channels and all the back office stuff. There is relentlessness to it, if you will, so you have to really love being out there and being in the office."