As someone who has been active on Twitter, I have always looked forward to Tuesday night’s #agchat conversations from the very first invitation. When the announcement was made last year that there would be an AgChat Foundation social media conference, I knew I wanted to go – but I had questions.
After all, to some, my farm is not “real ag” and to others we’re “big ag” and yet to others still we’re only a “hobby farm” – all of these labels are said as insults. I decided to apply anyway, though, as I wanted to learn more about effectively using social media. Why did I think learning these new tools would be valuable? Well, it came down to three big points.
First – as a small operation, we don’t have a list of people to delegate toward different tasks! On the farm, 95% of what gets done comes down to myself or Connor (soon to be 13), with remaining assistance coming from an occasional helping hand or materials acquisition from Paul on his day off from working off-site. So, if it’s going to be done, it’s got to be done by us and that includes not only the day-to-day ‘grunt work’ of feeding, watering, cleaning and building things but also the promotion and sales.
Second – as a small operation we have a serious budget. Insuring there is plenty of feed and shelter for the animals, putting in garden beds and making sure key additions are made takes a shoestring budget. It doesn’t allow for massive advertising campaigns and several hundred dollars for print advertising.
Lastly – as a small operation seeking to expand, we’re doing it grassroots style with no credit. There’s not going to be any bags of money falling from the sky to purchase land with. So, we’ve learned to leverage. We take $50 and leverage it to $75 or $100 by growing chicks or rabbits to sell or building automated water systems for a more efficient use of resources and time. We’re always looking for new (affordable) marketing opportunities to help us continue to expand.
The AgChat Foundation Conference was going to touch on all three of these, so with a “We probably won’t be picked, but what the heck! Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” spirit, I sent in an application. I was both excited and nervous to get picked as one of the attendees. It meant raising funds for not only the registration, which was done rather quickly, but also for the rental car and trip to Illinois. The push was on and was accomplished $20-$30 at a time.
I pushed my book, made calendars with original ‘on-the-farm’ photographs to sell online, sought sponsorships and nickel-and-dimed the path to the conference. When looking at a $500 or $700 price tag to get to the conference, it’s easy to be intimidated. The $365 registration isn’t cheap for small operations, and when you add on travel expenses it can double. But here’s the thing – if we can do it so can you!
The conference was worth every penny for the vast amount of information and networking gained. Even with $700 worth of expenses, though, you can break it down so it’s not quite so bad. Take it in steps. The $365 for enrollment is your first step – do you know 10 people or organizations that can sponsor $35 to $40? There’s your enrollment! Repeat for travel expenses. If you look at it in 20-30 ‘parts’, most of us know 20-30 people who are willing to help or buy something from you or sponsor the trip – some might do more! Farm or other organizations you belong to are also worth asking – consider the feed store you purchase from or other individuals in your community.
The 2011 Agvocacy 2.0 Social Media Training Conference will be in beautiful Nashville, Tenn. Applications are being taken through June 24 (the end of this week!) and whatever type of farm you have – from horse stables to ranches or production to organic – I’d highly recommend applying. There is a vast amount of information covered and you can find ways to use it for you. This isn’t a “you do all this stuff and get __________” type of conference – this is shopping in the tool store for what works for you and your operation type of conference. This means whether you water chickens with five-gallon galvanized drinkers or automated gravity fed lines or a technologically advanced watering system, there are tools for you.
I encourage you to take advantage of learning about social media in order to reach your audience and grow your operation. It’s not a quick fix – much like planting the fields, social media tools are only the seed. You need to plant it, fertilize it, keep it weeded and harvest it! How you do that depends on your operation, your interests and your abilities. There are, statistically, over 308 million people we affect three times per day or more every time they eat. Consumers want to hear from those in agriculture. This conference teaches you how to build those bridges to find them.
Learn to reach out online and find ways to connect with those who eat. Learn to celebrate food choices, our differences and all those things we have in common. Go to the Foundation website and apply – you won’t be sorry! It increases your visibility and audience in the online world – and in turn puts real farmers in the spotlight.
Jan Hoadley is a writer and owner of SmallMoneyFarm, a small operation that grows produce, herbs, poultry and rabbits with an eye towards heritage breeds and heirloom varieties. With a mostly organic “common sense food” approach, social media has made a big difference on her farm. You can find Jan on Facebook, Twitter, her blog and the SlowMoneyFarm website.