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McHenry County farmers reap fruits of the Internet

Websites prove to be fertile ground for marketing

(Josh Peckler –
Bobette Von Bergen, owner of Von Bergen's Country Market in Hebron, checks email orders Tuesday on her phone. Von Bergen's Country Market along with several other farms in the McHenry County area are using websites and social media to improve business.

Three years ago, Cody’s Farm in Marengo finally started posting things about its business on the Internet.

The farm launched a website and began using Facebook and Twitter after it was suggested at a fruit and vegetable conference, said Sharon Purdom, who markets Cody’s Farm.

“Everything is on the Internet,” said Purdom, and the farm operation was really encouraged to get a website and be involved with the chamber of commerce.

Purdom’s husband, Don, and son, Cody, are the farmers, and worry about growing the crops. Sharon Purdom worries about making sure there are people to buy the goods.

Posting information online helps draw young people to the family farm and food stands, she said.

For years, farmers would promote their goods with stands on the side of the road and at farmers markets. They would advertise with local newspapers and radio stations. Now, a website is another way.

Dan Volkers, manager of the McHenry County Farm Bureau, said many specialty growers need to rely on websites to attract customers and increase sales.

Farms also use the Internet to track commodity prices, he said.

On the Cody’s Farm website is a list of what the Purdoms grow, what is in season, and when it’s available. There are pictures of events at the farm. And Sharon Purdom has been encouraged to start a blog to talk about the experiences of being a farmer in McHenry County.

But nothing will ever beat happy customers, Sharon Purdom said. “The biggest, No. 1 draw is word-of-mouth.”

People send emails through Cody’s website to ask when strawberries will be in or to help organize school programs, Sharon Purdom said. “It’s basically the way our world is today; it’s the way our world communicates.”

Bobette Von Bergen owns Von Bergen’s Country Market in Hebron, with her husband, Mel.

They’ve been farming since 1965 and have had a market since 1979. The family launched a website about three years ago.

The Von Bergens are able to update their site from their own computer and keep lists and pictures of what they offer.

They promote special sales and link to other sites, attracting customers – some from as far as Indiana.

“We’re not very good at keeping it up, but we try,” Bobette Von Bergen said.

“When people call, they say, ‘I saw you had this on your website,’ ” Bobette Von Bergen said. “Let your fingers do the walking.”

Email is a two-way street to their business, Bobette Von Bergen said. She sends information about offerings and asks questions of others to help the business.

“Without email, I don’t know what I would do,” Bobette Von Bergen said. “I don’t like to phone people and bother them.”

David Woodruff has been running W&M Land Corp. for more than seven years. He started his website because the company is a specialty grower – an organic nursery.

“If you’re going to be small, you better be niche,” Woodruff said.

In the farming world, Woodruff has found he has two ways of promoting his business. One is the “old-school” way of the setting up a stand at a farmers market. The other way is the Internet.

He estimates half of his business comes from the Internet.

In January, he updates the website of what he will have available. Also, the Internet helps him run the business.

“The big thing is finding organic sources of seed is so much easier,” Woodruff said. Before the Internet, organic farmers had to search through catalogs to find the right seeds. “It was very laborious and limited the ability to get stuff,” he said.

Woodruff has a few domains that come up when people search for organic food.

“A lot of people call us because of that or email, or order online,” he said.

Once, he said, his website led someone to drive five hours from central Indiana to get a specific type of tomato.

“In today’s world, where do we all go?” Woodruff said, leaving the answer unspoken: the Internet.

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