The ups and downs of sharing life on social media
Milton ON – There’s no doubt that the advent of social media has changed how we communicate.
With a few taps on a tablet or smart phone screen, you can share images, information, and opinion with pretty much anyone, anywhere.
That has both advantages and disadvantages, as three farmers active on social media shared at the recent Farm & Food Care annual meeting as part of a panel discussion looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the online world.
Carrie Mess is a dairy farmer from Wisconsin who has added blogger, tweeter and all-round agvocate (advocate for agriculture) to her resume since launching her blog, The Adventures of Dairy Carrie, in 2011.
Her online efforts at openly and honestly depicting life on a 100 cow dairy farm with her husband and his parents led to her being named Social Media Farmer of the Year in 2014. She’s also had her writing featured in the Guardian and Huffington Post.
She’s got a profile on pretty much every social media platform out there, she says, and her blog has gone from 5,000 views in the first year to over two million by the end of 2014.
“It’s important to find a platform we like. Having lots of followers can be cool but one-on-one conversations are where the change happens. You don’t need to have followers to have that kind of connection,” she believes.
“If I don’t talk to my customers, someone else will do it for me. When ag makes headlines, it usually means something bad is going on,” she says, adding that although farmers have passion, knowledge and trust, anti-agriculture activists like the Food Babe have passion too. “She may be wrong but she’s passionate and won’t let being wrong stop her.”
She advises farmers not to educate people about farming, but rather to influence them instead. Her challenge to the farmers in the audience: “once a week, share something from your lives in agriculture on social media or if you’re at the grocery store and you see someone with a product you had a hand in, shake their hand and say thank you. And don’t forget to smile or you’ll be creepy.”
Sarah Schultz is a nurse married to an Alberta grain farmer. She blogs about food, farming and raising two little boys who are the fifth generation on their family’s farm at www.nurselovesfarmer.com.
She got her start as a mommy blogger – moms who write about being moms – about five years ago and didn’t start writing about farming until she started seeing a lot of online guilt and shaming, as she puts it about what to feed children.
“Women from town who married a farmer are the best advocates for agriculture,” she says. “I get called a bad mom all the time for feeding my kids GMOs instead of a strict organic diet.”
She tackles issues head-on and with some success – an article she wrote last fall about glyphosate application to pre-harvest wheat went viral, for example.
The worst thing that has happened to her as a blogger so far was when a local activist made a complaint to the College of Nurses that she was selling GMOs on her website, she says.
“I was accused under my profession as a registered nurse, but it was dismissed. I don’t give health advice and I don’t blog as a nurse,” she explains. “Besides, there are disclaimers out the wazoo on my website.”
As a result of her online activity, she was recently invited to be a guest on the Dr. Oz show, an invitation she ended up declining due to his long history of anti-agriculture views. The show she would have been on featured several anti-agriculture activists. She did participate in a booth at South by Southwest where GMOanswers.com had invited her to talk to consumers about GMOs, an experience she’s glad she had.
“It doesn’t matter where you are or who you know, you have the power to be published and reach people anywhere,” she says.
Andrew Campbell is no stranger to Ontario agriculture – the Middlesex County dairy farmer’s goal of sharing a photo a day on Instagram about life on his dairy farm for an entire year has been widely covered.
Although most feedback has been positive and he now has more than 16,600 Twitter followers, he and his family did have some scary moments last winter when an anti-agriculture group on Facebook was discussing what actions they were going to take against his family.
“One activist said he was going to drive up and down the roads until he finds our farm. What do you do when someone says they’re going to find your family?” Campbell asks. “We’ve never been faced with this before although we’ve been agvocates for a long time.”
Campbell credits organizations like Farm & Food Care, Dairy Farmers of Ontario and Dairy Farmers of Canada with providing a lot of support, and maintains he won’t let a few “radical nutcases” dictate what he can’t and can’t do on social media.
“We just want to talk about what we do on our farm and now a lot of farmers across Canada are posting photos and using the hashtag #farm365,” he says, adding he talks about technology, the equipment they use on their farm, and the landscape they live in in his posts. “This isn’t just a farmer thing to do, it’s an ag-everybody thing to do.”
This article was originally written for Ontario Farmer, April 2015.