Austin Cultivate & Connect Creates Inspiration

Cultivate & Connect conference in Austin, TX Aug 21 & 22The AgChat Foundation’s 2014 Cultivate & Connect conference was held in Austin, TX, August 21 and 22, with over 140 farmers, ranchers, and ag communications professionals attending from the U.S., Canada, and Australia. The resounding theme of the event was to learn more about how digital and social media can assist with cultivating open-minded conversation with consumers while connecting them to agriculture’s story.

Topics such as building digital communities, creating farmer engagement, and cultivating relationships beyond the choir were all part of the expansive offering which included 17 break out sessions. Key panels, which included “What Chefs & Moms Really Say About the Food You Are Growing” and “5 Questions Every Farmer and Rancher Needs to Learn to Answer”, provided unique insight about developing conversation with those who are disconnected from their food.

Keynote presentations were provided by conference catalyst, Thom Singer, who emphasized the need for human connection, as well as breakfast keynote Katie Uhlaender, Olympic skeleton racer and rancher who shared her story as a city girl turned Olympian turned rancher. The final keynote, Bruce Vincent, logger and motivational speaker, closed the conference by setting attendees off with dynamite enthusiasm.

The conference also included an evening banquet, beginning with the presentation of the 2014 Social Media Farmer of the Year Award, awarded to farmer and blogger Carrie Mess, followed by the annual Ag Swap and private concert from country music recording artist, Jason Eady.

When asked about her experience farmer, ag professional and blogger Taysha Reitzel replied, “My biggest takeaway from the conference was getting to hear so many different perspectives from the industry. Sometimes we get so used to justifying our own thoughts, it’s refreshing to hear other points of view that make us think and go into a conversation with open ears and an open mind. A definite highlight would be the networking opportunity. With so many industry people in one place, the opportunity to connect is huge. And, of course, the Jason Eady concert, because he is amazing!!”

Who Is The Social Media Farmer Of The Year?

Who Is The Social Media Farmer Of The Year?Carrie Mess, a dairy farmer and self-described “agvocate” was named the Social Media Farmer of the Year at the AgChat Foundation’s Cultivate & Connect Show in Austin, Texas. Sponsored by leading food industry publication Food Nutrition & Science, this award recognizes farmers who have incorporated social media, digital media and internet strategies to achieve their business objectives including growing revenue, sharing information for more effective farming practices, and promoting positive awareness of the industry.

“Carrie has clearly used social media as a tool to help promote her farm, the industry and also as a platform for social change,” says Phil Lempert, editor of Food Nutrition & Science. “This is our first award and she’s a stellar example of how farmers can use social media to educate the industry and consumers and make change.”

Mess and her family run Mesa Dairy, a Lake Mills, Wisconsin-based dairy and crops farm with 100 milking cows, 120 young stock and 300 acres of crops. She initially began using social media to connect with other farmers around the country. Today, she posts three times daily promoting her business and sharing snapshots of farm life. She also uses social media for social initiatives. In 2011 during a drought, Mess solicited donations from Wisconsin farmers to fund seven semi-loads of donated hay to farmers in Oklahoma and Texas.

In addition, after an open letter to a corporate restaurant chain in her blog, The Adventures of Dairy Carrie, the company removed a marketing campaign that many farmers found offensive and now has aligned with an agricultural organization. Her blog has grown from 55,000 page views in 2012 to more than 1.1 million in 2013 and articles have been picked up by Huffington Post, The Guardian and local news stations.

The Social Media Farmer of the Year Award also is being sponsored by Monsanto, Bolthouse Farms, AgChat Foundation, Inc., and

AgChat Foundation Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS

AgChat Foundation Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS

If you are on the internet, you have heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. If you have been hiding under a rock, it is a viral phenomenon where individuals and companies are challenging each other to either A) dump a bucket of very cold ice water on themselves or B) donate to the ALS Association. This is all to raise awareness for ALS.

ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig disease, is a neurodegenerative disease. This fatal disease affects the nerve cells (motor neurons) that control a person’s muscles. There is no cure for ALS. Over 5,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Recently, our friends over at Monsanto challenged AgChat Foundation to the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS.

AgChat heartily accepts this challenge, because farmers and ranchers are not immune to this disease and we want to support and honor those who continue to be an advocate for agriculture despite their circumstances.

Next week at the fifth annual AgChat Foundation Conference, Cultivate and Connect, we are asking our participants to vote with their donations on which AgChat Foundation board member will have to dunk themselves in icy cold, freezing water. Jars will be available to make donations in at the conference. Participants can simply donate some pocket change, a couple bucks, or a check, to “vote” for their favorite board member.

Not attending Cultivate and Connect? We have a special challenge for you. If we receive over $2,000 in donations by noon on August 22, 2014, both at the conference and through the AgChat Foundation ALS giving page, the ENTIRE board of directors will get dunked!!

This is your chance AgChat community to give back. We will be donating all funds raised in honor of the legacy of Lamar Fesser, Morrisonvile, IL. Mr. Fesser passed away in 2008 from ALS, but this disease didn’t take away his passion for farming and mentoring young farmers and families. Mr. Fesser was an Prairie Master Farmer and also an inaugural member of the Cultivating Master Farmers’ program, were he mentored young farmers. Donations will be giving to St. Louis Chapter of the ALS Association.

Pinterest Basics and Beyond: How to Get the Most from Your Pins

Kathy Swift, one of our Flagship AgNerds, is here to share her experience using Pinterest. Learn some of the steps, tools, and approaches she uses to seek engagement with an audience. Kathy will also share example uses of Pinterest from design, jewelry, and agriculture.

If you registered for the 2014 Cultivate and Connect Conference or registered for the LIVE webinar, you have been emailed instructions to view the recorded webinar.

This webinar by Kathy Swift, held on July 15th, 2014, provided the basics of Pinterest as well as revealed some of her best kept secrets. Did you miss registering for the live webinar? No worries. A recording of the webinar will be offered again on Wednesday, July 23rd at 7pmET. Register today!

If you just want to see and hear this Pinterest webinar and then later register for the Cultivate & Connect conference, the Pinterest webinar fee will be applied to the conference registration [conference registration] seating is limited!!

Voting For Sessions at the 2014 Cultivate & Connect Conference

Pitch Your Session VoteWhich Three Do You Want To See? Below are the top session pitches that are now out for public vote. The top three vote getters will be presented at the AgChat Cultivate & Connect conference in Austin, Tx, August 21-22, 2014.

Voting ends 5pm ET April 23 [vote link].

Meeting Consumers Where They Already Are
Jennifer Barnett Fox and Bethany Asbell

At, the consumer-facing website for the Center for Food Integrity, our commerce is information about food. As consumers ourselves, we have an incredible opportunity to meet other consumers in digital spaces. We’re already in these areas and meet consumers there, but we know in order to create a lasting connection, we need to zero in on what consumers already find interesting about food and meet them on these topics before we try to tackle “big” issues and misperceptions.

In response to this situation, the online community managers (OCMs) at Best Food Facts created a strategy that focuses on consumer friendly conversation to engage key food influencers. Two examples of tactics that support this strategy are as follows.

The Eating Well series focuses on the beauty and fun of food: the recipes, photography and nutrition. The platform features foodie friendly, sharable images and educational blog posts on trending food topics consumers and food influencers are already discussing such as cauliflower.

The Bloggers We Love series spotlights popular food blogs by foodie influencers. Highlighting food influencers provides the opportunity to either begin or continue building relationships with those influencers as well as encourage them to share Best Food Facts with their audience.

These approaches allow the OCMs to “meet” consumers in the very places and on the very topics they are already having conversations about. Each tactic enables a touch point that builds trust and presents a future opportunity to connect on bigger issues. This strategy has increased Twitter followers and Facebook likes, influencer engagement and website visits as well as constructive conversation around food.

In the Ag Chat session, the OCMs will elaborate on this strategy and show attendees how they might use a similar strategy to accomplish their goals.

Two Tongues: Bridging the Urban/Rural Divide Through Social Media
Alison Kosakowski Conant

Ag has an image problem, and a lot of it has to do with demographics and cultural differences. Today, less than 2% of Americans make a living farming or ranching. Worse still, most don’t see agriculture firsthand in their communities, as 81% of Americans live in areas that are defined as urban or suburban. The cultural norms of city verse country life are vastly different, and create challenges in our industry’s attempts to break through to mainstream consumers.

For us to be truly effective ag communicators, we need to acknowledge that the need urban/rural divide and become “fluent” in both urban/suburban AND rural. This presentation will delve into the real, and sometimes humorous, ways urban and rural life differ (one is not better than the other, they’re just different!) and explore the opportunities for social media to bridge this divide and create meaningful engagement. The first rule of effective communication is: put yourself in your listener’s shoes.

This presentation will discuss how we can use social media to “listen” and better understand differing points of view, in an effort to meet consumers “where they are at” and create a more positive dialogue.

Cultivating Engagement among Farmers, Ranchers, and Consumers through Social Media Collaborations between Agriculturists and Home Economists
Lindsay Chichester

Wayne Gretzky, noted hockey player, said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” With 72% of online adults using social networking sites, social media should be a playing field for us (Brenner & Smith, 2013). Following the food trail from producer to plate, our team of University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension Educators is comprised of both agriculturalists and home economists.

Together, youth and adults are engaged through Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, LinkedIn, and SlideShare. By offering a more diverse selection of content through collaboration, we have markedly expanded the number of contacts we could have ever made individually. Information shared and provided has included but is not limited to climatic concerns, plant disease identification, youth crop activities and education, meat labeling claims, antibiotic resistance, healthy recipe ideas, food safety, and much more. Cross promoting brings in larger and new audiences since 100% of the population eats!

CASE STUDY ONE: One of the home economists reblogged an article from one of the agriculturists (who specializes in meat) on types of animal feeding practices and their effect on meat the consumer purchases. In turn, this article was shared via blog to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn by both persons.

CASE STUDY TWO: In a study of leading brands on Pinterest, (Unmetric Pindustry Report, 2013) the categories with the most repins were home [2 million], recipes [1.7 million], and food [695,000]. Capitalizing on this interest in food, an agriculturist on our team has included recipes in her blog and initiated a shared Pinterest board on “Food and Agriculture Blogs” with other agriculturalists and home economists. All add to the board, and it by seen by multiple audiences. Together this team reaches over 11,000 persons on all social media sites!

Reaching Out and Thinking Through
Janice Person and Ellen Malloy

Polarization has become far too common in the the discussion of food and farm. How can two seemingly widely different perspectives move closer to each other? It takes real communications, a willingness to listen to different opinions.

Chicago foodie Ellen Malloy & Monsanto’s Janice Person had a long way to go to find common ground. What did they learn through the process that can help others in the social media space talking about food & agriculture? That’s the topic of discussion in this session.

Personalizing Agriculture in Our Community: Faces, Farms & Food
Meaghan Huffman

Agriculture is thriving on public and private lands in Boulder County, Colorado, despite its location along the increasingly urbanized Front Range. Boulder County Parks and Open Space (BCPOS) owns and manages 25,000 acres of agricultural lands, leased to 80 farmers and ranchers. The juxtaposition of agriculture with an urban environment provides the opportunity to address a lack of consumer knowledge.

During a politically charged Cropland Policy process in 2010, BCPOS saw the first-hand lack of public understanding about local food production by farmers and ranchers on public lands. To start our agriculture education program, we began hosting farm bus tours on our open space agriculture lands, starting with one bus of 50 participants, and expanding up to 200 participants per tour. When people are able to meet the farmers, hear them speak about their family farms and see their passion for what they do and the land they make a living from, we see a change in public perception of agriculture. As our program grows we realize that not everyone is able to attend bus tour, so we decided to reach out through our website and social media.

Our audiences have ranged from school aged children to senior citizens. We have created a YouTube Channel displaying videos that document crop harvests (over 32,000 views), developed an online harvest map (Version 2 going live this summer), shared farmer profiles on our website and created “Local Food Loops” to share the story from field to plate. We also joined Twitter and are continuously finding new ways to engage our audiences. We tweet photos and quotes while on our public farm tours, share information on upcoming agriculture events and, tweet photos and current happenings on the farms. BCPOS continually works to find new and innovative ways to engage our community in agriculture.

Traditional Storytelling in a Digital World
Earl Lundquist and Lindsey Pope

Since the beginning of time, knowledge and history have been passed down through the art of storytelling. Few things in life are as good as listening to a great story, like one you may hear as a compelling life tale from a hard-working Texas farmer or rancher. At the Texas Department of Agriculture, we utilize social media channels to tell great stories, and connect urban and rural Texans. We work hard to engage and empower our followers by making them a part of our story.

Communities are built by cultivating relationships. We’ve used this approach to create viral videos, double our Facebook community, triple our Twitter following, and greatly increase the number of women and international members within our online ag communities. Take our social media campaign for our most recent Family Land Heritage ceremony as an example. Through our storytelling, we were able to honor the legacies of our farmers and ranchers, while also bringing a larger audience along for the ride, even if they were not physically present. This strategy has proven itself to be a great success in engaging our community. We tell stories to share the amazing work done by TDA and the farmers and ranchers who call Texas home. We also use stories to share how technology and science play a critical role in feeding a growing population.

At TDA, we combine one of the oldest art forms — storytelling — with the latest social media tools to share our mission and the rich tradition of farming and ranching in Texas.

Mirrors, Windshields & Agriculture – (Visual Storytelling)
Jan Hoadley

This looks at telling the story of agriculture from a visual standpoint. Why storytelling, why visual and the how of visual are brought forth, with tips under each section. We’re familiar with windshields as a means of looking where we’re going – the mirrors are the perspective of what we see, what is behind us and what the consumer sees.

How to effectively bring those together using “old fashion storytelling” along with photos and/or video is the focus of this session. Visual increases engagement and reduces perception issues (after all that warning of things are closer than they seem isn’t just for mirrors!).

Turn off Your Tech, Rest Your Thumbs!
Lorna Wilson

In today’s fast social media driven society, we appear to be losing the all important face-to-face method of networking which can provide information unavailable through our tech-devices. The power to connect and get your message out there is stronger and credibility is increased when there is a personal connection.

Renew your person-to-person meeting skills at this fun interactive session, while learning how to blend the traditional style of networking with current technology. First time attendees as well as alumni are encouraged to attend this session where new and vital contacts will be fostered.

Voting ends 5pm ET April 23 [vote link].