As a farmer who is active on social media, I’ve witnessed first hand how the relationship between farming and social media has developed. In 2013, I sat in on a keynote speaker who blew my mind. Up until that day, I understood social media to strictly be a place to share party photos, delve out too much personal information, and communicate with friends. That talk was the first time social media was presented to me as a tool that farmers could use to help themselves. It was also before the term “influencer”. Back then we called influencers in agriculture AGvocates.
The speaker’s name was Andrew Campbell, known on most SM platforms as ‘Fresh Air Farmer’ and the creator of #Farm365. He was a journalist who had found success on social media as one of the first big AGvocates in Ontario. He had used Twitter as a platform to showcase his dairy operation and to interact with non-farmers in a way that made farming seem less like some whimsical old-timey concept and more like a real lifestyle and career. He used that success to launch a business in agriculture themed media ie. journalism, keynote speeches, etc.
Tell Your Story
The main message of Campbell’s talk was that modernity was clearly passing farmers by and that we needed to “Get online and tell your story!”
“We know today that 93 percent of Canadians know little or nothing about farming,” said Crystal Mackay, president of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (and my former boss) in an article for the Alberta Farmer . I was feeling that. As a farm kid fresh out of college working my first internship in the big, intimidatingly urban city of Guelph (and yes, I do see that as laughable now after all these years), I felt very much like my whole culture and lifestyle was a well-kept secret. As I moved on to work for bigger companies in bigger cities, I felt it even more. I was starting to feel like being a farmer was a rare and quirky thing to be.
Part of the basic message that was starting to go around the agriculture community was to tell your story so that consumers (aka the non-farming demographic), could get to know us and see us and understand where their food came from. It was also necessary to tell our story because there was an opposition forming out there with the intention of seeing farming end completely. In an article for Real Agriculture, Simon Hale both urged and warned us, “By not having a strong voice, we’ve let others fill the vacuum.” Opposing groups, such as animal rights activists and environmentalists, would attempt this through means of fear, misinformation and shock statement campaigns. It was working, and in the words of Miss Estranja, we felt very attacked. Farmers have been overwhelmed by the dread of being attacked or being called out for doing something wrong. Social media offered us a voice to defend ourselves. By sharing pictures of our daily chores or writing posts about them, we could show that we weren’t twisted individuals bent on torturing animals and killing the land. For so long we’ve stayed humble and quiet, but now we were being rallied to reveal ourselves. Young farmers, such as myself and the Peterson Brothers, took to it immediately. Older farmers are a little resistant, but seem to be coming around to the more innocent part of social media, leading me into my next point.
Uniting Our Rural Communities
Aside from being an obvious tool for advocacy, social media has so much more to offer the farming community. It’s not all business. The initial purpose of these platforms is to be social.
Farming is an extremely isolating career and lifestyle. I always say both career and lifestyle together because they are not separate. Farming is a way of life. Being a farmer means more than getting up and going to work. It means you live your work. You don’t have a structured schedule. You don’t have the same tasks any given day. You live where you work, often in remote rural locations. You are on call at all hours of the day. The choice to become a farmer is a heavy one and should not be taken lightly. It’s a decision that will affect your relationships, your physical health and your mental health. In fact, the mental health impacts of farm life is something farmers are just now coming to terms with as a serious issue.
With social media farmers don’t need to be alone. Keeping in touch is so much easier. No longer do friends and relatives have to drive by the farm to see if you’re still alive once a month or attempt to reach you on the landline you’re never in the house to use. Or a cell phone that has no reception out in the back forty. Now with smartphones and the internet you can stay in touch with what’s going on in the world and you can meet other farmers from further away. You can meet farmers that may be able to help if you have a problem that you just can’t wrap your head around. I have gone to Facebook or Twitter to crowd source problems: “Anyone know if calcium supplement for cows will work the same for rabbits?” Or “Anyone know how to get tractor grease off the cab?” I received answers to those questions within minutes.
Long Story Short
I believe social media is what has been bringing the agricultural community towards modernity. We are no longer forgotten and in the dark, we are here and present with everyone else. With organizations like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture working to get better internet for our rural communities, we will only continue to advance. I think this is a good thing, both personally and for the whole industry. I look optimistically for what the future holds for the relationship between farmers and social media.
Though perhaps not everyone does? There can be a flip side to all this. Where do you stand? Should farmers integrate into the social media realm or should they keep their practice to themselves in the fields?
Definition of ‘Agvocate’ – April 27, 2016 – Author: Ag More Than Ever
As the gap widens, farmers urged to reach out to consumers – December 31, 2018 – Alexis Kienlen for Alberta Farmer https://www.albertafarmexpress.ca/2018/12/31/as-the-gap-widens-farmers-urged-to-reach-out-to-consumers/
Staking a Claime for Ag in the Social Media Jungle – April 4th 2018 – Owen Roberts for Real Agriculture
Cyberbullying by vegan activists a source of stress for farmers – August 4th 2019 – Stephane Blais
How farmers use social media – May 11th 2018 – Timothy Wier – Farm Market iD
Ontario Federation of Agriculture – Issue of Mental Health and their position
Ontario Federation of Agriculture – Producing Prosperity Campaign