Farmers are certainly not strangers to technology. From the invention and adoption of complex harvesting mechanisms decades ago to iPads in the fields tracking weather and crop yields, farmers have been using technology for eons. As for social media engagement, farmers’ generally humble personas probably make them the least inclined to engage in the kind of self-promotion necessary to become an Instagram superstar.
Increasingly, however, small growers are starting to use social media to communicate with and educate consumers, solicit volunteers, and network with other producers.
“That's one of the amazing things about the Internet, we have access to tell our story to the world,” says peach grower Nikiko Masumoto of Masumoto Family Farm in Del Rey, Calif. “The stories that we share try to open the heart of farming, not just promotion or marketing, but actually a whole picture of what we do, challenges, hopes, dreams, successes and lessons learned.”
The farm’s Facebook page has more than 3,000 likes, while Masumoto tweets out farm pictures and information to more than 1,700 followers. She sums up the farm’s social media strategy in four tiers: telling its story publicly; sharing information with potential eaters and supporters; connecting with likeminded individuals and groups – markets and chefs, for instance; and as an avenue for listening to customers in order to improve the farm’s operations and service.
And in a marketplace where farmers can feel isolated, by miles and culture, from the consumers who eat their food, Masumoto says social media engagement serves as a bridge of conversation.
“One of the benefits of that in the sustainable agriculture community has been the ability to create a sense of shared belonging and purpose across the great farmer-eater divide,” she says.
But does spending time building a following on Facebook or retweeting Mark Bittman’s latest column result in an actual bump in farm sales or volunteerism?
On one hand, Elizabeth Henderson of Peacework Farm in Newark, NY, says that while she’s been able to attract more than 600 followers to Peacework’s community supported agriculture Facebook page, “all those likes do not equate with actual, active CSA memberships."
But an orchard manager in Northern Michigan reported a 15 to 18 percent increase in web traffic and a spike in fruit sales after he grew his farm's Facebook community to over 10,000. And Veggies For All, a nonprofit food pantry farm in Unity, Maine, has attracted new volunteers and donations over the last 18 months, a bump that corresponds with a bolstered social media presence. Program director Sara Trunzo says that while the tweets and posts may only account for a portion of the increased activity at the farm, the awareness social media engagement has built is undeniable.
“Social media usage has made our project much better known among those in our region,” she says. “We’ve engaged folks in a dialogue about hunger in the context of the overall food system and community—and done so with hope, lightness, proactivity.”
The moral of this story? Follow a farmer.
Photo credit: Masumoto Family Farm's Facebook page