City Farm was developed in 2000 as a project of the Resource Center, a non-profit environmental education organization. The farm sits on a one-acre plot of land at Division and Clybourn and is known for the thirty varieties of tomatoes it produces each year.
In addition to providing high-quality food to restaurants and other patrons in the city and educating the public on sustainable farming, City Farm shows residents what is possible for urban farming.
City Farm recently came under new leadership when Andy Rozendaal was hired as the new Director of Urban Agriculture for the Resource Center, and the success of the farm has allowed the stakeholders to reassess how they can make use of their assets. The farm is doing good work - it provides quality food to the Chicago community, and it attracts employees and volunteers who are passionate about the work that this organization does.
However, City Farm does not yet have a very large presence in the community. The organization has not yet leveraged social media options, which is a ripe area for non-profits to utilize as it is low-cost and relatively easy to maintain. Also, City Farm's physical presence is lacking - even though it is located at a prime intersection, few people in the area likely know that it exists. The farm is also right across the street from a shopping plaza with a large Dominick's, but even people shopping for groceries don't know that they could walk across the street and pick fresh produce right out of the ground.
Because of its location, City Farm also has struggled to find an efficient system for keeping track of invoices. They primarily use physical, paper-and-pencil methods for tracking the sale of their product, and this also leads to a reliance on the customer to let them know how much they purchased. This is not just inefficient - it also leads to issues of non- or underpayment.
Finally, City Farm brings in new volunteers each year, and these volunteers are vital to the success of the farm. However, there is not currently a clear way to communicate to the new volunteers what they actually should do when they arrive at the farm.
After meeting with people at City Farm, our team discovered that they had not really considered how social media might help them build a bigger presence. Right now, the farm primarily networks through person-to-person contact. Some of the people who work at the farm also work in the restaurant business, which is another important way that they make connections in the city.
In order to reach a wider audience, though, City Farm needs to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. They have recently hired a volunteer coordinator, and it would be ideal if this person could take over the maintenance of the social media accounts after we've set them up.
City Farm has had some signage created previously: a design firm created a logo for the farm pro bono, and there are a few banners that have been printed with this logo. There are also some signs that have been painted ad hoc (on reused material, like street signs) by volunteers.
City Farm has focused on making sure they have portable signage that is easy to transport to farmers' markets, but they still do not have strong signage on the outside of their location that directs people to the farm. They have a bus stop right outside the fence, but there is no information about the farm available at that location that would attract the attention of those waiting for the bus. There are large letters that say "CITY FARM " on the Division Street fence, but the Clybourn side does not have any signage.
The client agreed that additional outer signage would be helpful. The farm could also use internal signs that identified the vegetables - these would be helpful for the volunteers, and they would also give the farm more of a "museum" feel, inviting visitors to (carefully) investigate the rows of vegetables.
After talking to the client, it seemed that the biggest barrier to establishing an electronic invoicing system is power. There isn't a supply of electricity at the farm, so any computerized system would be fully dependant on the battery life intrinsic to a machine. This was one of the biggest issues we thought we would encounter in trying to figure out a physical solution for this issue, but after additional communication with the client, they were willing to work on a power solution once an optimal invoicing system is selected.
We also had a difficult time establishing exactly how they are accounting for materials and payments at the moment. With the amount of unknown variables, the best option for the scope of this project was to provide City Farm with a recommendation for how they might implement an invoicing system, and this will inform the changes they make in the future.
Our team was enthusiastic about producing a video for City Farm, based on the interests of the people on the team. Once we spoke with the client, we discovered that there was a video already under production to promote the farm, which had been our initial idea. So, we determined that the farm could use a video to provide instructions for volunteers.
When volunteers arrive at the farm, they often don't know what they need to do or who they need to talk to. They also often don't even know what to wear or bring to the farm, so their first experience might be a negative one (if they wear nice shoes, for example). Volunteers have been guilty of walking on the produce in the past as well, so the client wanted the video to emphasize how volunteers should navigate the farm.
There is some signage, but it doesn't currently convey a strongly branded message. The fence space could be used more effectively, and additional signs, with a consistent message, could direct more traffic to the farm. Internal signs would help both volunteers and visitors identify the produce.
There is not an effective invoicing system currently in place, but implementing one is not within the scope of our project. Providing City Farm with options will save them the legwork of the research process once have the infrastructure to support an electronic system.
Since a promotional video was already being created, we were able to fulfill another of City Farm's needs by creating an introductory video for volunteers. This will provide volunteers with the information they need before they start coming to the farm.