Cause Matters Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Savvy Chicken Suits: Defining the Food Story

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

~ guest post by Lara Durben

animal rights activistsIn 1995, three months into my new job at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, a rock was thrown through our office window on Thanksgiving Day, handpainted with the initials A.L.F.  – Animal Liberation Front – on it. That was my “Hello and welcome to the world of animal agriculture.”

Since that time, we’ve had such “memorable” experiences as animal activists sneaking into our annual convention and chaining themselves to an exhibit, and the perfectly timed release of undercover video of a Minnesota turkey farm that very nearly upstaged Thanksgiving in 1999.

Each time, we scrambled to put together a well-crafted response and then wished for the entire incident to go away. Only, as we in animal agriculture have learned all too well, it may quiet down but with the advent of Google and YouTube, it doesn’t really go away. Ever.

A decade ago, I think our industry wanted to believe that if we’re quiet and go about our daily business, surely people will simply be happy we provide them with poultry for their dinner tables.  Times have changed – and the way people view their food purchases and the food industry have changed. It’s no longer about those crazy, whacked-out PETA people wearing chicken suits on the sidewalk; animal activists – groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) – are much more savvy today.

But guess what? Farmers and the agricultural organizations that represent them are just as savvy too. And we have a lot to tell people about our commitment to our animals while also providing the world with a safe, healthy, affordable food supply. In the organizations I work for, we’re doing this in a number of different ways – from Web banner ads that are edgier than anything we’ve put out before, to working closely with farmers to participate in our speaker’s bureau. We’re also embracing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as key components within our overall communications plan and we’re encouraging our farmers to do the same.

It’s not always easy – not everyone is comfortable giving presentations in front of groups, and social media tools can be intimidating – but our organization is committed to helping our members learn how to make these and other tools work for them.

After several years on Facebook and more recently trying to wrap my head around Twitter, here’s what I know for sure:

  • Social media tools offer us a tremendous opportunity to tell our stories on a daily basis – it’s a no brainer to use them.
  • It’s all about daily interaction. We monitor social media sites like Facebook or Twitter at least a few minutes each day because there are always opportunities to share an interesting link, debunk a myth, or spread a positive message about agriculture.
  • Blur your work and personal life if you really want to make an impact. Trust me on this. Some of my “non-work” people I am friends with on Facebook are exactly the people who need to hear my positive messages about farmers and agriculture. And I rely on my “work” friends to help me share news, links and messages.

Earlier this year I participated in a meeting with the communications director of HSUS’s Factory Farming Campaign in Washington D.C.  Did she seem crazy?  No.  Did she come off as confrontational? Just the opposite. She was friendly, smart, young, enthusiastic and – surprise! – she came from a farm background in Illinois, with experience in 4-H as a kid.  This meeting left me wondering – among many things – how does someone like that go from being a farm kid and a 4-H’er to a card-carrying HSUS employee?

I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that the organization I work for has realized that we must not let HSUS or other animal activists groups define our story. We must be willing to put ourselves out there – and talk to people in a compelling, emotional way about farm life, raising food animals and feeding the world ethically and responsibly. We must make connections wherever and whenever we can.

In the most recent Animal Agriculture Alliance e-newsletter, the Alliance’s Executive Vice President Kay Johnson Smith said it best: “This new wave of agriculture advocacy has had an effect. Each time that someone – whether it be a farmer or Miss America – talks about the importance of agriculture, it helps close the urban-rural divide. If we each do our part to educate our communities about food production, we are sure to find agriculture allies in our own backyard.” So what is your part?

Lara DurbinLara Durben is a wife, mother, Minnesota farm girl and lover of all things poultry, thanks to her awesome job with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, Broiler and Egg Association of Minnesota and Midwest Poultry Federation. You can find her tweeting as @minnesotaturkey or @LaraDurbenMN.When she’s not on Facebook or Twitter, she loves golfing, gardening, running, traveling and is a bit obsessed with catching reruns of BRAVO-TV’s Housewives’ series.

Farmer Grows Agritourism & Winery Through Social Media

Friday, April 8th, 2011

~ guest blog post by Bill Bakan, Maize Valley Farms

If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything” by Alexander Hamilton  and “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” by Woody Hayes are quotes describe the balancing act that I think life is mostly about.

Saying that, we are involved in social media as an effort to balance and control our online image.  You see, I don’t live to farm – I farm for a living.  I also say I must be unemployed because I love my “job” so it must not be work!  I use our web site, blog, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts, to sell our “stuff.”  It also helps with search engine optimization; I just try and put enough content out that I generate inbound links as much as possible from as many angles as possible.

We currently raise about 52 different crops on approximately 700 acres.  Our farm market/winery is open year round. We attended 10 farmers markets a week during the summer of 2010 and one in the winter. We also focus on special event marketing in addition to “traditional corn maze/fall pumpkin” attraction destination activities. We do all of this to sell what we grow and make.

As a “traditional farmer” I got tired of buying retail and selling wholesale as they say.  We wanted more control.  We needed to vertically integrate our product line yes, but our marketing message even more.  Social media allows for direct real time interactive communication with our markets/people.  You have to spend the time and money somehow to market and social media is better than most of the “professionals” I have found out there.

It is about the “Balance”, and conversions in the end are what makes “$Bank$”.  Social media is not a total answer –  it is a tool to be used as part of a plan.  Part of that plan revolves around an authentic message and an image development that reinforces the true reality that is a farm life. That IS marketable in itself!  Social networking is the best tool for this job.  For example: I remember “back in the day” mowing hay before bolt on knife sections, and diskbines.  If you ever tried to change a knife section on a cutter bar without that “rivet tool thingy” – you know what I mean?  You had to use a ball-peen hammer a cold chisel, center punch and a “smash hammer”, (which usually involved a knuckle sooner or later).  Sure makes reaching for your pocket knife later a whole lot easier if your knuckle isn’t busted!

Content like THAT is what I mean, it “connects” or at least relays an experience that other people trust as coming from a true legit source without any “filters”.  It is a special message and treatment that people want – true customer service.

Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, Michigan says it best.

  • Figure out what the customer wants,
  • Give it to them,
  • Go the extra mile.

It’s really that simple – and communicating, especially social media helps to do this very well.  Even if you don’t direct market, other people  have an increasing say in how you operate and that translates into your cost of production. History shows the low cost producer usually succeeds.  Profit comes two ways, increased sales or reduced costs.

Social media allows you to listen, so you can act effectively, which provides an opportunity to exceed expectations. Do this well and you multiply “agvocates” beyond yourself in the form of third party validation, which are today’s most valuable ambassadors.

Everyone is your customer, everyone is your boss, but tell your story well and they are your friend too! Outcomes we’ve seen include:

  • Touching our customers: a certain portion of our guests they tell me in person often how much they like our posts etc.
  • Listening: you learn the most when you close your mouth and open your ears I was told. Social media allows me to keep a good eye on trends and the “vibe” of the day, market, demographic, etc.
  • Growing our business: I hope we can keep up and continue to “exceed” expectations.

Social media has made me a better person; it’s  “softened” my edges a bit, while increasing my awareness of the world around me and what other people find important in their lives. I suggest you try social media before someone does it for you and you don’t like but can’t do anything about it.  At least “show up” and see what happens.  Species that fail to adapt perish.

Farmer turns to SM for winery & agrotourism
Bill is a husband, father, farmer, entertainer entrepreneur trying to keep it real AND profitable down on the farm. “At Maize Valley We Make Great Wine…FUN!”

You can learn more about their farm at, on Facebook, on Twitter, or their blog at

Growing Educated Opinions in FFA Leaders

Friday, February 25th, 2011

FFA & Agriculture EducationIf someone had told me – oh, two years ago, let’s say – that social media would play a huge role in my professional career, I probably would have had a good chuckle. You see, I’m going to school to become a teacher. And not just any teacher, of course.

An agriculture education teacher.

Who would think that an ag teacher would use Facebook, Twitter, Skype and YouTube to help their students learn? I mean, come on, ag teachers help kids learn about tractors and soil and plants and animals, right? Not the Internet.

Well, sorry to break it to you, but this future ag teacher is going to shake thing up a bit!

Over the past two years, using social media has reminded me how much I can learn from others inside and outside of the agriculture industry. I never knew organic dairy farmers from Minnesota before social media. I’d never met any type of rancher prior to Twitter. I didn’t know the impact you could have through YouTube. Simply put, I’ve learned that social media is an unbelievably valuable part of the necessary relationships surrounding our food – from the farm to the plate.

So why shouldn’t our students learn about it and learn from it?

As we celebrate National FFA Week, it’s a great time to reflect on the experiences we had as FFA members, how our lives have been impacted by an FFA member or how we can continue to help current FFA members “develop their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success”. Social media fits in perfectly with that mission. I want my students to be able to become leaders who have an educated opinion and voice in online conversations about our food system. I want them to grow in their beliefs and opinions by interacting with others from across the country. I also want them to advance professionally because of the strong connections they were able to make with others through social media.

Those are all opportunities that these technologies have afforded me, and I can only hope that social media will enrich the lives of my students as well – exactly as the FFA mission says.

There’s still a bit of time until I have my own class, though, so for now I’ll continue to work hard to encourage FFA members, alumni and supporters from all over to ‘agvocate’ through social media and hope that you will too. Consider conducting a social media workshop with your local FFA chapter officers or maybe help an advisor get their FFA chapter Facebook page up and running. For many agriculture programs, they’d love to be involved in social media, but are just looking for some assistance. Can you be the one to bring social media to an agriculture program and FFA chapter in your area?

future agriculture education teacherAmanda Sollman is a student at Michigan State University, majoring in Agriscience with concentrations in Education and Communication. Amanda is a former member of the Sanilac FFA Chapter and currently co-moderates #AgEduChat, a bi-weekly Twitter chat focused on agricultural education. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and at her blog!

MPK sidenote: As a product of the Michigan FFA program, it gives me great pride to have a Spartan student here who once wore the same FFA jacket I did as as state officer. And, before I forget – Go Green! Go White!

Agvocating from a FFA Advisor’s Perspective

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

When I first joined Facebook and Twitter it was because it was the “cool” thing to do.  I really had no idea what I was getting into. Twitter at first seemed to just be like Facebook’s status updates.  I signed up and then went 5-6 months without really using or checking it at all, but then I saw that one of my fraternity brothers was involved with this #AgChat thing and decided to give it another try.  In those first couple #AgChats that I participated in, I was amazed. Since that time, I have been hooked.

I’m proud to say that many people in the #AgChat community my  friends.  I think we all feel this way – especially when it comes to agvocating.  We are all there for one another as we try to relay the voice of true agriculture to others,. I know this gives me more confidence to speak out and share my story without worrying about interactions with people who challenge what I do or telling me how agriculture is wrong. When any one of us is getting “attacked” by someone, the #AgChat community will come and help you stand your ground.  This is what makes our community stronger every day.

Drew Bender is a second year Agricultural Education instructor in Zanesville, OH. He also helps out on the family farm in Marion, Ohio with crop (soybeans, corn, and wheat) and livestock (market hogs and poultry) enterprises.

Being an Agricultural Education Instructor, I feel like I have to constantly be an advocate for my teaching profession.  I not only need to be an advocate for agriculture but also for education and the need to teach kids about agriculture. When I tell my story and let my voice truly be heard, it is not only through the use of social media but mainly in my classroom through our daily lessons.

Unfortunately, Agricultural Education programs seem to be challenged every year. There’s on ongoing question of need and review of effectiveness of the programs in schools.  Many programs are discontinued because of schools are no longer able to fund the programs. Other programs are discontinued because they lose the local community support.  Many people who have not been in an Agricultural Education program do not understand how  teachers put our heart and soul into our programs.

Our school day very often goes beyond the closing bell.  We also incorporate an amazing student organization called the National FFA Organization, which provides many different opportunities for our students to get involved. From school trips to Indianapolis, IN for the National FFA Convention  or to Washington D.C. for Washington Leadership Conference to competition opportunities for Agriscience Fair and Career Development Events, such as parliamentary procedure. There is a chance to involve for every student.

Teachers are in charge of students during these opportunities and encourage them to excel.  One way I have advocated for the Agricultural Education profession is joining with teachers from all over Ohio for our blog called The Wise Owls – Tales from an Ag Ed classroom. This blog gives our side of the story about our profession and offer tips for teachers.

FFA & Agriculture Education

Other than blogging, Twitter has been my main social media tool of choice. By participating in #AgChat, #EdChat, and #AgEduChat, I have built a great Professional Learning Network (PLN) of farmers, agribusiness people, scientists, other educators and many others.  While monitoring my Twitter feeds, I am able to take real-world examples and resources to use in my classroom.  I have encouraged many of my students to use social media, using agvocacy as an example for a reason why.

Using the social media tools has changed my life and my teaching dramatically and it can do the same for yours too. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and join a chat community. They will welcome you with open arms.

Drew has served as a volunteer on the AgChat Foundation training committee and was a key part of the logistics for the  inaugural AgChat Foundation Training Conference. He has since founded #AgEduChat along with Amanda Sollman for discussions about Agricultural Education/FFA Programs. Anyone is welcome to join the discussions on Sunday nights 7-8:30 p.m. EST.  You can find Drew on Twitter and Facebook.

Can Social Media Protect Your Farm’s License to Operate?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

~ guest post by DeEtta Bohling

It’s no surprise we live in a changing world. Farmers are up to speed on the latest technology when it comes to tools such as GPS; but what about jumping on the social media bandwagon?

When I began working for Kansas Corn and Grain Sorghum a little over a year ago, my knowledge in agriculture was somewhat limited. I didn’t grow up on a farm or ranch and I don’t have a degree in Ag Communications. A great deal of what I have learned about corn, sorghum, ethanol, and livestock has come from the farmers and ranchers I interact with in person, on Twitter and on Facebook.

KS Grains

DeEtta Bohling is the Communications Specialist for the Kansas Corn Growers Association, Kansas Corn Commission and the Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association

I am not the only one who is forming opinions about agriculture through of social media. Youth and adults, alike, are absorbing the information they receive from social media sites. Studies show that four out of five online Americans are active in some form of social content at least once a month. The question is, are they getting their information from sources like PETA and HSUS or are they being educated by experts in their field, the farmers and ranchers? Today’s social media conversations are direct and concise. Agriculture loses when farmers don’t engage in those conversations.

In January, I had the opportunity to listen to speaker, Gary Maskus, Vice President of No Till on the Plains, Inc. One of the things he said was that agriculture was not a soap opera. Maskus went on to explain that you can’t tune in every three years and expect to be caught up. The same applies to improvements in technology and social media. Do you know what kinds of conversations are taking place regarding your industry?

I have heard all the excuses. “I don’t get it. I’m too old. I don’t have time.” Whatever your excuse, toss it out the window. Social media is changing the way people distribute and receive information. Whether you like it or not, social media will continue to change the way we communicate. Agriculture is missing an opportunity to be proactive if you don’t take the time to learn at least one of the many social media tools. There are all kinds of resources to help you get started in social media. Check out an endless list of resources at:

Social media isn’t the end-all, be-all. Reach out to your schools, community organizations and your neighbors. Don’t ever assume that the folks in your rural community understand agriculture. Offer to give presentations, write letters to the editor, and offer to be interviewed by news organizations.

Farmers and ranchers, I challenge you to share your passion and your livelihood with the world. Don’t let your license to operate be taken away, simply because animal activists and environmental groups don’t understand what you do. There’s a great deal of business value in connecting with your consumers. Take the opportunity to share with them.

You can find DeEtta on Twitter at @ksgrains. Originally from a small rural community in southwest Iowa. DeEtta has her degree from Wartburg College in Communication Arts with an emphasis in Public Relations and minors in Leadership and Business.  In her free time, Bohling enjoys volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County and the 4-H program.  She reached a personal goal of completing her first 5K in November, 2009 and is now training for a half marathon. A few of her favorite things include photography, Chinese food, traveling with friends and the Iowa State Fair.

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