Editor's Note: This is the From the Field column published in the August 2011 issue of The Grower magazine.
Frequently I hear growers lament, “We have to do a better job telling our story.”
Usually this comes after environmentalists or consumer advocates have successfully ushered through some type of deleterious legislation aimed at agricultural practices.
A small but growing group of California growers are taking to the Web and using social media to connect to consumers.
Launched last fall, the website www.KnowACaliforniaFarmer.com is designed to be a platform for agricultural storytelling, says Cory Lunde, a policy analyst and project manager with the Irvine, Calif.-based based Western Growers Association.
The idea for the KnowACaliforniaFarmer website and social campaign came after California voters in 2008 passed Proposition 2, which mandates minimum size requirements for chicken cages used in egg production.
Lunde says the election results showed the industry did a poor job connecting with consumers, who tend to be generations removed from farming.
Commodity groups throughout the state, including WGA, convened a summit to figure out how they could counteract negative public sentiment against agriculture.
Using specialty crop block funds, the California Agricultural Communications Coalition conducted consumer research about what messages would resonate with consumers.
It turns out consumers are interested in multi-generational family farms and learning more about how their food is grown. With the help of the AdFarm advertising agency, the KnowACalliforniaFarmer website was developed.
The agency also helped train the first group of farmers to use Facebook, Twitter, post YouTube videos and write blogs.
“If farmers can make that emotional connection, that personal connection, consumers will be more supportive of the industry,” Lunde says.
Brent Boersma, a third-generation almond grower in Ripon, Calif., has been Tweeting and posting on Facebook for some time. Recently he added blogging to the mix.
“Just personalizing ag is really key, and social media is a great outlet to do that,” he says.
Boersma says it’s easy to converse with others in agriculture. For the industry to be successful, it will have to establish relationships with those not involved in farming.
He says he tries to find common interests, such as family, healthy living and running, to help make connections with consumers.
“Now all of a sudden, this farmer becomes a person,” Boersma says.
Finding the time can be a challenge, but Boersma says if you’re passionate about something—as he is about telling ag’s story—you find the time.
A second specialty crop grant is being used to fund additional grower training throughout the state this spring, Lunde says.
Already, he says he’s fielded questions from representatives in other states, such as Oregon and Florida, about what’s involved in starting a social media campaign.
Three to five years down the road, Lunde says he hopes the website and social media campaign are self-sustaining and the groups that have been helping steer them can back away.