Growers aren't usually thought of as a wired, social-networking bunch. But frustration at being the targets of tech-wise environmental or animal rights groups has inspired them to get involved with social media and answer in kind.
Armed with smart phones that allow them to post status updates from a tractor seat and increasingly comfortable issuing pithy one-liners on the short-messaging site , they're going online to tell their own stories, connect to a public they feel doesn't understand them, exchange information and break the isolation they feel on the farm.
"There is so much negative publicity out there, and no one was getting our message out," said Ray Prock Jr.
I learned about this growing legion of farmers back in January when I wrote a post that was critical of comments made by the US Farm Bureau President and got an immediate push back from farmers around the country. The post was re-tweeted and linked on Facebook and when I posted a follow up it too was passed around. I now follow several of the farmers on Twitter and keep an eye on #agchat.
Looking back on this exchange I can see that there was defensiveness on both sides. Farmers were feeling like their story wasn't being heard and for me as a consumer I was feeling like my side of the story wasn't being heard. I think a key to finding a way forward is for stories to be heard and valued on both sides of the chasm that has opened up between consumers of food and the farmers and the practices that produce the food.
The article highlights something I've heard a lot in my conversations with farmers;
Farmers...worry Americans won't realize this because they're several generations removed from life on the farm, don't know any farmers and have little idea how their food is produced. The only information about food and farming that most people get comes from the Internet, and exchanges were taking place on sites like YouTube or Twitter without any input from farmers.
"We weren't part of the conversation," Prock said. "And if we aren't telling our story, other people will, and they'll tell it the way they want to."
I get that. We all have our stories and we should get to tell them from our own perspectives and in our own voice. But I just hope that farmers realize that we as consumers get to tell our stories too, and that a big part of what farmers are feeling like they have to defend themselves against is consumers trying to recover their relationship with their food and the land. I'm learning a lot from following the stories of farmers on Twitter and Facebook. A good place to start is mpaynknoper.