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Perspective: The power of farmers on social media

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How many times have your checked Instagram today? What about Facebook? The last time I checked my Instagram, I saw a cute little Goldendoodle puppy wearing sunglasses. So much for staying focused at work. These days, the average person spends more than two hours a day on social media. That’s two hours a day checking in on family, keeping up with businesses, following the whereabouts of celebrities, seeing numerous advertisements, and even watching dairy farmers feed their cows.

The line of communication between farmer and consumer has always been an interesting one. Decades ago, if someone wanted to learn from a farmer, they would have had to locate the nearest farm and travel there in hopes that the farmer would be open to showing them around. Fast forward to today, where you can hop on your favorite social media platform, find a farmer’s account, and watch their day-to-day activities. Now consumers can see exactly what goes into their food without even having to leave their couch. That’s the power of social media, and many farmers now are using it as a tool to talk directly to consumers and to build communities.

I’ve interviewed countless farmers across the United States, as well as several in Canada and the United Kingdom — most of whom I found thanks to their social media channels. These farmers are showcasing their busy lives and doing their best to better educate consumers on what they do and how they produce food commodities. They discuss the good and the bad, showing that agriculture is hard work and that most farmers never really have a day off.

One such farmer is Katie Dotterer-Pyle of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Maryland. Katie has several thousands of followers on Instagram, and she uses that space to showcase the daily tasks at her dairy farm. Some important topics she covers are animal health, the health benefits of milk, and that dairy farmers care for their cows. Katie also talks about some of the harsh realities that she and many in the dairy industry are facing, such as milk prices plummeting, multigeneration dairy farms closing, and even farmer suicide rates being on the rise. The transparency Katie showcases is important. It shows that Katie and the countless farmers out there are real people with real struggles. It also shows the impact of consumer choice. What consumers decide to spend their money on trickles down to the farmer and can have severe impacts on their livelihood. Sometimes those consumer choices are justified and sometimes they are just completely misguided.

While farmers such as Katie talk candidly and honestly about what farming is like, the power of the internet and social media also means there is a ton of misinformation out there. If you are reading this and are a member of the agriculture industry, you already know this and are probably just as frustrated by it as me. Katie has a pretty cool saying that is helping combat some of that misinformation: “Ask farmers, not Google.” Such a clever way to spread awareness and teach consumers where they should get their information from.

It’s difficult to endure social media’s dark side. Many farmers receive mean comments from users and even death threats. And the sad thing is that other than their close communities helping defend them, these farmers are mostly on their own. The industry too often does not act to protect them. I’ve heard stories of people wishing the worst upon farmer’s kids like, “I hope your kids eat tainted meat,” or saying things like, “I hope your business goes under.”

As harsh as some of the comments might me, farmers, like usual, keep on trucking. They keep on showcasing their job and informing the public as best as they know how. It’s a noble cause these farmers are dedicated to, and they handle it oh so well.

As in all things, there is an important lesson here for both farmers and consumers. For farmers, it’s to go where your audience is. If the consumers are on social media, bring your message there. Consumers aren’t usually going to go out of their way to learn about agriculture. Find what they like, and adapt your message to that format.

The lesson for consumers is to look for factual information as close to the source as you can get. Wanna learn about beef production? Find a beef farmer on your favorite social media platform and learn from them. And please be skeptical about things you hear on the internet, especially if it’s coming from someone outside the agriculture industry.

In this crazy era of constantly evolving media channels, avoid the filth and focus on the good. The good content, the good education material, the good influencers — and perhaps most importantly, the good farmers.

 

Trevor Williams, a former high school agriscience teacher, now works software analyst in Florida. He is also the host of the Farm Traveler Podcast, which aims to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers.

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
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