Farmers are embracing Facebook and Twitter to survive and even thrive, establishing a more intimate communication channel with consumers that other marketing tools have been unable to rival.
Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is a weekly column showing how everyday people are using technology in unexpected ways.
It’s a match made in social media heaven: farmers, especially smaller ones, struggling to find a niche, and urban dwellers searching for more fresh fruits and vegetables in their concrete jungles. While the idea of a farmer sitting on his tractor with the midday sun beating down on his brow, tweeting his latest crop information may seem incongruous, it reflects a growing reality.
Many farmers are tweeting #AgChat, which has its own site, to discuss crops, tell stories, shop advice and help promote their crops. City dwellers, meanwhile, don’t often know they can use Twitter for an immediate farmer’s market — whenever and wherever — with just one click.
Earlier this month, Illinois’ McHenry County Farm Bureau brought a social media consultant to its meeting to help farmers who participate at various farmers’ markets use Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube, as useful and economical ways to familiarize the public with their products.
Taciturn farmers are also finding the idea of social media, which is more about conversations and forming relationships, easier than advertising, which centers around a sales pitch, for promoting their products.
“It’s here whether we like it or not,” said Gary Pack, owner of Twin Garden Farms in Harvard, Ill. “We’re not used to promoting ourselves.” But, if that is what it takes to serve their customers, the farmers are willing to give it a go.
Beyond exchanging information about fruits and vegetables, social media can help plant the seeds of a deeper connection with consumers by holding Facebook contests, for example, to determine the name of a new baby lamb born on the farm, or to host a recipe exchange for in-season raspberries.
For consumers, a social media relationship with farmers can help consumers determine organic farming practices, treatment of animals, and pesticide use, among other things — information that many consumers consider as valuable as the flavor of the food. Social media sites refine the process of buying produce online, offering more direct communication between farmers and consumers.
Buying directly from local farmers restores a sense of control over the types of agribusinesses consumers are supporting and knowledge about the quality of food they are feeding their families. And, with more attention placed on “farm to fork” initiatives and “eat locally” movements, the melding of the urban and the rural is becoming more popular and profitable.
Social media tools provide healthier sales for farmers and healthier checkups for consumers. Down the road, maybe Twitter and Facebook might get a mention in the annals of agricultural history — after irrigation, the cotton gin and McCormick’s reaper, of course.