A difference in 10 minutes a day

Farmers – are you frustrated by people who don’t understand what you do on your farm?

Do you wish more consumers knew how food was produced or more politicians had a sense of the realities of farming?

Many of us in agriculture have had these sentiments at some time and often feel helpless to do anything about them.

There is an answer though – social media.

It’s easy to use, reaches a wide base of people you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to interact with and it’s free. Three of the most popular social media tools are blogs, Facebook, Twitter.

Blogs are interactive websites with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, photos or video or other material posted by one or more user.

Facebook is a social networking site that allows users to become friends with each other and share photos, information, links and more through the site.

Twitter is a popular social media tool that allows users to connect with each other and share information through short posts of up to 140 characters.

Why social media for farmers?
Farmers across Ontario are starting to immerse themselves in social media as a way to connect with consumers, promote their products or just simply to have a forum to share news and thoughts from the farming world with the 98 per cent of Canadians who aren’t directly involved in food production.

Wayne Black, an Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) board member, farms in Huron County and started using Twitter about a year ago after some encouragement from his wife, a regular Facebook user.

To him, Twitter presented an ideal way to get messaging out to fellow OFA members, connecting with other farmers in North America, sharing ideas and concerns, learning about issues and current events and keeping in touch with family and friends.

“I use Twitter because it is brief, light on bandwidth and byte consumption and I took the plunge because social media was driving traditional media,” he says. “Farmers need to get their positive messaging out there before the naysayers or activists do. Media has a blank page and I want our good news stories and positive news stories, with the facts, filling that page before others have a chance to engage the reader.”

Trevor Herrle-Braun is a fruit and vegetable grower on a sixth generation farm in Waterloo Region, where he is part of the family’s farm and country market business.

He became interested in social media as a way to connect with his customers outside of business hours, answer questions, respond to problems and be transparent in the community.

“We can put a “personal” element, a connection to our business that people see us as approachable,” says Herrle-Braun, who’s been tweeting as @HerrlesMarket since March 2010. “It’s a way to educate our customers and community about agriculture in a high-tech region, how vegetables grow, what’s in season, what it takes, and the stresses, triumphs and fails.”

Stewart Skinner, a young hog farmer from Perth County, is an active blogger, both on his own website and as part of the “Farmers Matter” initiative.

His blog, http://modernfarmer.wordpress.com, is a collection of musings on daily life on the farm as well as thoughts and opinions on some of the broader issues facing the future of agriculture, such as supply management, globalization and local food.

He’s also active on Twitter (@modernfarmer) and Facebook, using those tools to help spread the word about his blog.

For Black, known on Twitter as @waynekblack, the biggest benefit he’s experienced is the ability to connect with people who are critical of agriculture but don’t necessarily understand what farmers do and why.

“I engage in conversation with people who are critical of what farmers do to shed some light on the subject so they can see from my perspective why we do what we do and how we do it,” he explains. “But all without bashing or criticizing their beliefs – you need to respect the other person’s opinions.”

He’s also had the chance to interact directly with MPPs, cabinet ministers and even the Premier, which he says has been great to help get a point across or shed some light on key issues from a farmer’s side of the fence.

From Herrle-Braun’s perspective, his engagement and building of relationships with key community members has led to a “getting things done” environment.

For example, this meant that he was able to mobilize support from the public and a regional councillor to keep his local road – and with that, access to his farm market – open during a recent water main construction project.

What you can do in ten minutes a day

In only minutes a day, you too can help make a difference by speaking up for food and farming.

The latest Ipsos Reid study on public attitudes towards food and farming, commissioned by AGCare and the Ontario Farm Animal Council, showed that Canadians want to learn more about where their food comes from – and they consider farmers to be highly credible, authentic spokespeople.

Your commitment to sharing your food and farming story doesn’t have to be big, but every little bit will help.

Consider this: if 50 farmers each spent only 10 minutes a day for five days per week using social media, that adds up to an impressive 2,500 minutes.

That could be two tweets from your phone while you’re waiting for a wagon to unload, for example.

The average employee working a seven and a half hour day five days a week racks up only 2,250 minutes.

This means 2,500 minutes of communicating and 50 credible sources speaking out about how they grow and produce our food.

“As a farmer you can be seen as the brand for our industry,” says Black. “But you also have to recognize that social media is transparent. Do not type anything you would not want to read on the front page of the Globe and Mail or on the bulletin board at the local coffee shop.”

This article was originally written for AGCare and published in the Grower, April 2011.

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