Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Young Farmers Use Ag Tweets?

From http://capitalpress.com/

Networking news
Student group uses Facebook, Twitter to garner support for ag

Cecilia Parsons
Capital Press

A non-traditional approach to promoting agriculture is taking place on the Internet. The message isn't new - the vehicle is.

"I Love Farmers ... They Feed My Soul" is youth-to-youth, edgy and not always politically correct. Its sole purpose is to support all American farmers and ranchers. The website puts a young face on food and fiber production and with links to Facebook and Twitter, reaches out to youth more comfortable with social networking than traditional media. The idea is to get the word out about where food comes from and how it is produced.

The five young people who are the current face of the campaign are passionate about agriculture and eager to speak with their urban counterparts about farmers and ranchers and what they do.

"We wanted to create a conversation among friends in the electronic world," said Scott Vernon, the creator of the project. "If we're consistent and constant we'll begin to have a subtle impact."

So far, numbers show the message is spreading. As of June 12, there were more than 7,000 followers on the social network Facebook.

The I Love Farmers ... They Feed My Soul site is also evolving. Annalisa Clarke, website manager said as more funding becomes available the site would become interactive.

Currently shirts and caps with the I Love Farmers logo are being sold on the site to keep it operating. When the web site becomes interactive, she said they would do their best to answer questions and explain farming and ranching practices.

Though Vernon is a professor of agriculture communication at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, the website isn't affiliated with the school or any particular segment of the agriculture industry. Clarke said if it is believed that "Big ag" backs the campaign they'll lose some of the trust that has been building with the followers.

"That's what makes us tick - they trust those young people to speak from their hearts," said Clarke.

Traditional agriculture interests might not trust the way they are going about supporting agriculture, but they will have to trust the people on the website.

The young people, all students at Cal Poly, are more approachable, Vernon believes, because this isn't a high-powered advertising campaign. It is also important the students put a young, hip face on an industry that is mostly "all old white guys" said Vernon.

"They're good-looking, and image is powerful," he added.

I Love Farmers' messages are aimed at a world that has little day-to-day contact with the people who grow their food, but the students are also having some fun. Vernon said they've been able to toy with the animal rights group Humane Society of United States by posting a video that shows how money donated to the group is used more for political purposes than saving animals. With the release of the movie "Food Inc." last week they have another hot discussion topic.

Clarke said they have been experimenting on Facebook with current issues, posting topics and asking for feedback. The catalysts in this have been the students who encourage two-way communication.

Farmers and ranchers are great a talking to each other about agriculture issues, but they don't have a pathway to the general public, said Clarke, who also participates in the conversations.

They don't want to bombard people with information.

"We're seeking a social level, adding some fun but bringing ag to the forefront of the conversation," Clarke explained. "This is a good opportunity to clear up misconceptions."

Facebook Group: I Love Farmers...They Feed My Sou

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