The Far-Reaching Legacy of @ITweetMeat

Michele Payn-Knoper, ACF Board Member

Voices come and go in today’s social world, some without notice. You could never say that about Chris Raines, perhaps most well-known as @itweetmeat (a handle that’s been held up as an example for many). His personality lived large online; his wit brought many smiles and his candor entertained hundreds.  We didn’t know him as Dr. Raines, we simply knew him as THE source of information about meat and his unwavering belief in having a well-rounded discussion based on science. Not everyone agreed with him, but Chris managed his conversations in a way that built relationships. As news of his shocking death spread through social media yesterday, those relationships became apparent on his Facebook page and through the #itweetmeat feed on Twitter.

Chris served as a member of the founding Board of Directors for the AgChat Foundation as a representative of Extension.  He wrote our first successful grant; the one that turned into support from Harvest PR, which resulted in the Foundation’s training being featured in food publications and advocates being featured in USA Today.  Chris was also a part of the Training Committee and helped build the learning assessments for the first training conference in Chicago and then provide program insight for ACFC11 in Nashville.  We asked him to be a part of the board because of his early adoption of social media, unique perspective and modern representation of Extension. We found much more than that in his voice that still lives large online.

Chris at the 2010 AgChat Foundation Conference

Sometimes that voice drove me nuts, especially when I was trying to chair virtual committee meetings and Chris was on the train in New York, sharing his travel highlights in the midst of our work. And we had many behind-the-scenes heated debates about exactly how to best have the conversation about farming and food. But at the end of those debates, we both knew that we wanted to accomplish a better conversation around agriculture- and that’s what mattered more than our personal opinions.  We both enjoyed beautiful pictures on international travel and goading each other once in awhile. One week before his death, I had the rare chance to see Chris while I was at Penn State for a speaking engagement. He texted me a “Welcome to SCE” when he saw the tweet that I had landed. We had dinner later that evening with colleagues from PennAg and MidAtlantic Dairy. I gave him a big hug when we greeted and we spent a part of dinner talking up the value of social media to our colleagues. Chris made us all laugh with his @itweetmeat stories as an academic. I’m fairly certain I said “See ya later” as we parted. I really wish I would have told him what a great job he does, how I enjoy his questioning and that his challenges make people think. Let that be a lesson for us all.

It seems so trivial to memorialize someone in a blog post. Yet Chris’ legacy is readily apparent in our social world and amongst the community that knew him virtually.  Jan Hoadley, a small farmer in Alabama, said “Chris had a means of getting people to think no matter how much they thought they knew – and challenged the why of the view without being insulting about it. He was an effective agvocate even with te difficult critics.  If I had a question, he was always open to it. I don’t know how he had the time sometimes, but it was definitely a model to follow.”  Amanda  Sollman, an agvocate from Michigan and now in Minnesota, points to Chris’ teaching skills, though she never sat in a class with him.  Many have written about Dr. Chris Raines.

College Mourns the Loss of Meat Scientist Chris Raines-Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences

Missing the Enthusiasm of Chris Raines, aka @iTweetMeat-Janice Person

Missing a Friend and a Great Teacher-Amanda Sollmana

The Good Die Young-Andy Vance

Reflections about Dr. Chris Raines from a Friend, Colleague and Follower-Amy Ridenour

Carpe diem, Before It is Too Late-Jesse Bussard

We’ll Miss You Chris Raines-Jan Hoadley

Social Media: Awesome and Devastating-Ryan Goodman

On tragedy: There is a reason why we just need to figure it out ourselves- Susan Crowell

In Memory of Dr. Chris Raines- Ulla Kjarval

We’ll simply leave it at this.  Thank you for your service, Chris. You will be sorely missed. There’s a huge community of sending out prayers for you and your family. And we hope you figure out how to tweet from heaven.

The AgChat Foundation is working with interested parties to create a memorial that reflects Dr. Raines’ commitment to engaging diverse communities in social media around the topic of food production. For more information or how to become involved please emails us at

Zweber First AgChat Foundation Executive Director



Heidi H. Nelson, Harvest PR

503-880-6313 /

Zweber Becomes First AgChat Foundation Executive Director
Social media enthusiast and dairy farmer will lead management and fundraising efforts for the two-year-old nonprofit

December 14, 2011 – Emily Zweber will become the AgChat Foundation’s first executive director. The nonprofit AgChat Foundation (ACF) educates and equips farmers with the skills needed to effectively tell their story on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media services.

Zweber, an organic dairy farmer from Elko, Minn., known to many as @ezweber on Twitter, will focus on furthering ACF’s mission of connecting farmers to diverse audiences via social media platforms. She also will provide day-to-day management oversight and fundraising support.

“Emily uses social media every day on the family farming operation, so she’s a great choice for this position,” says Darin Grimm, ACF president. “What began as an all-volunteer outcropping of an agricultural social media movement is growing into a professionally managed organization. Having Emily on board is a real boost.”

Grimm added that ACF’s highly-successful summer thought-leadership and social media training conference is slated to provide more content than ever in its third year, and that additional training programs are planned.

Emily received her bachelor’s degree in agriculture economics and international studies from South Dakota State University and is a University of Minnesota Center for the Study of Policy and Governance Humphrey Policy Fellow. Previously, she has served as the Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation’s executive director and the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation’s special programs coordinator. Emily and her husband, Tim, co-own and operate Zweber Farms with Tim’s parents.

Established in 1906, the Zweber farm is a certified organic dairy. The family also runs a successful natural meat business for which Emily coordinates all social media and marketing.

About AgChat Foundation, Inc.

A group of farmers created the AgChat Foundation after connecting through the now highly visible “#AgChat” community on Twitter, a weekly moderated chat where agriculturists discuss various issues, tell their farm stories and identify ways to connect with people outside of agriculture. The Foundation strives to educate and equip “agvocates” with the skill set needed to engage on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media services, giving them the knowledge to unlock new tools to effectively tell their story. For more information, visit

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Interview by ZimmComm New Media

Farmers deserve #FoodThanks this season

Autumn is my favorite time of year. From football games to piles of leaves, and all the jack-o-lanterns in between, the signs of the season are as far as the eye can see.  And as the cool crisp breeze begins to blow, the harvest moon is in full glow.

Like many of our neighboring states, the harvest here in south-central Kansas wasn’t quite as bountiful this year. Extreme drought, coupled with excessive heat for the greater part of the summer, took both an emotional and physical toll on farmers here in the heartland.

The sad truth is that, with the large disconnect between consumers and farms, most of these hardships go unnoticed by the general public. At work, many of the questions I’m confronted with are questions like, What can I eat to lower my cholesterol? How does processed food fit into a healthy diet? or My doctor says I should eat healthier – what does that mean? Very few have asked how our multi-generational family farm has survived the extreme drought, rising fuel costs or how increased energy costs have impacted the price we pay for feeding and caring for our animals, the environment and the people who work on our farms.

With that in mind, November is often known as the month of giving thanks. Family, friends, and food are often things that we are most thankful for. It’s important I do not forget, my family and I are consumers too. I purchase food from my local grocer to create balanced meals for my family. I know that behind every apple, pear, green bean, potato, pork chop or steak we eat – a farmer or rancher worked hard to produce it.

As I sit down to feast this Thanksgiving, I’ll be sure and give a special thanks to the farmers and ranchers who work endless hours to provide safe, wholesome and nutritious foods to nourish our bodies. I’m asking you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they travel down the tough road of recovery from the hardships endured this past year. Also, I’m asking you to share with me your #FoodThanks in the comments below, send out a tweet or take a second to share your #FoodThanks in a Facebook post. You just might be amazed by how many #FoodThanks you can come up with.

Consulting dietitian by day, dairy farmer’s wife and graduate student by night – Heidi Wells, RD, CSSD, LD incorporates her passion for agriculture, nutrition and fitness into everything she does. She currently represents the state as the president of the Kansas Dietetic Association, was the Recognized Young Dietitian of Kansas in 2008, and most recently the Distinguished Dietitian of Kansas in 2010.  Join her conversation on Twitter @HWellsRD.

Five Modern Twists on the Time-Honored Tradition of Giving Thanks for Food

From apps that make Thanksgiving meal planning a snap to social media campaigns to help Americans express #foodthanks, celebrating Thanksgiving has come a long way.

MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 17, 2011 — While celebrating the end of harvest season is a tradition that can be traced back for centuries, modern-day twists on the custom have evolved since the 1621 Plymouth Colony fall feast. Just as pilgrims rejoiced in their first good harvest, Americans today have found meaningful ways to honor the bounty, and express gratitude:

  1. Give #foodthanks. Farmers long ago traded in their oxen for tractors and other technologies to raise nutritious, great-tasting food. This year, a group of farmers and ranchers is cultivating a social media campaign to initiate meaningful conversations about food with Americans on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and beyond, says Kansas farmer Darin Grimm of the AgChat Foundation. “For farmers on the go, social media is a great way to connect with consumers,” he says. “We’re hoping to see everyone from chefs to foodies to farmers using the #foodthanks hashtag.” Check out, then tweet what you eat, using the #foodthanks hashtag, now through Thanksgiving.
  2. Plan your meal with an app. New recipe and meal-planning applications are a bounty in their own right. Try the Thanksgiving Menu Maker from Fine Cooking, which allows you to “tap your way to a customized holiday menu,” offering more than 75 of the magazine’s all-time favorite Thanksgiving recipes, along with a shopping list and schedule.
  3. Preserve the flavors of fall. Early American settlers would salivate over modern-day canning equipment. Once dismissed as a bygone art, canning has attracted a growing number of enthusiasts in recent years, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which provides tips on canning, pickling, freezing and more. To really make a food statement, create your own labels at
  4. Host your own tasting party. The holiday table inspires us to create treasured traditions at home, including exploring new foods in the company of friends and family. Home entertaining expert Domenica Marchetti suggests a trend-worthy twist on the wine and cheese tasting part. The author of Big Night In (Chronicle Books, 2008) says, “Embrace the season’s bounty and host an apple tasting party!”
  5. Share in the bounty. Thanksgiving is a great time to talk with your family about helping others in need, whether it’s a family down the street or a hungry child on the other side of the world. Charitable organizations like Farmers Feeding the World and Heifer International believe that giving families a source of food, rather than short-term relief, is a more sustainable way to lift them out of poverty and hunger.

About AgChat Foundation, Inc. A group of farmers created the AgChat Foundation after connecting through the now highly visible “#AgChat” community on Twitter, a weekly moderated chat where agriculturists discuss various issues, tell their farm stories and identify ways to connect with people outside of agriculture. The Foundation strives to educate and equip “agvocates” with the skill set needed to engage on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, LinkedIn and other social media services, giving them the knowledge to unlock new tools to effectively tell their story. For more information, visit

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Join Us in Offering Your #FoodThanks Story

Several people have already been offering up their #foodthanks as we head to the Thanksgiving holiday in the US and a variety of holidays globally! In fact, as this post is written there have been 354 tweets of #foodthanks and we’ve seen them coming through Facebook, blogs, etc.

The perspectives on what you give #foodthanks for are as diverse as the people giving thanks and the [Read more…]