Farmers using social media to promote products, lifestyle

Where does your food come from? Click on social media and you could find out.

Mitchell and Rebecca Henry, and their dog Luna, at their Moulton farm. Photo by David Higginbotham.

For most of the history of farming, the only posts needed were fenceposts to keep the cows in, and maybe some trellis posts for growing vegetables.

No longer. This is, after all, the 21st century, when Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts are part of everyday life. And in recent years, farmers have discovered that these social media platforms can be fertile ground enabling their business to grow.

“Right around the 2017-2018 timeframe was when I saw people start to jump onboard with sharing their farm stories on social media,” says Marlee Moore, multimedia content director for the Alabama Farmers Federation. “It’s really ramped up over the last couple of years. It’s a trend that I don’t think is going away.”

There are two main reasons farmers post on social media. The first is strictly economical. Using social media is a way for farmers to promote their products, provide access to easy online ordering, and offer discounts and memberships.

“Farmers are small-business owners,” Moore says. “They are people with a product to sell. They just have a different kind of job than most of us.”

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Rebecca Henry discovered in the summer of 2020 just how effective social media can be. She and her husband, Mitchell, own Hardin Farms, a 120-acre beef cattle operation in Moulton. When grocery stores began to run low on meat during the COVID-19 shutdowns, she casually posted on Facebook that Hardin Farms would soon have 10 cows’ worth of freezer beef to sell, and for people to reply if interested.

“Over 30,000 people saw that post, and it had hundreds of shares,” Henry recalls with a laugh. “It just blew up. I had all these messages coming in from people asking for steaks. It was insane. I didn’t expect that to happen.”

While most sales aren’t quite that dramatic, other farmers agree that social media has become a key way for them to promote their products.

Karah Skinner, who owns 170-acre Rock House Farms in Fruithurst with her husband Caleb, says, “at least half our sales come through social media.” This has enabled the 5-year-old livestock operation to grow enough that the Skinners recently branched out from selling only locally and began shipping throughout the Southeast.

Taylor Hatchett, owner of 53-acre Boozer Farms in Thorsby, says social media postings have helped promote the farm’s vegetable offerings. “You can link from our Facebook page directly to our online store,” Hatchett says. “So, if we put in a new product or have a particular box we’re going to be offering, we can do a promotion of that on Facebook with a link. We definitely drive sales that way.”

Social media also allows farmers like Mitchell and Rebecca Henry to share their lifestyle with customers. Photo by David Higginbotham.

But farmers have a second reason for using social media, and that is to offer insight into the farm lifestyle. Moore says it is way to further enhance the farm-to-table movement that has become increasingly popular.

“The farming community is all about bridging the gap between farmers and the consumers who they serve, and this is the most up-to-date way to bridge that gap,” Moore says. “Farmers are connecting with people one-on-one and one-on-100.

“People want more transparency about where their food comes from. This is a way that farmers can really build trust with consumers. It’s a great avenue for them to share their story with people who don’t really know much about the way agriculture works.”

Hatchett agrees. “Most people are very far removed from food production. Social media is a great platform to shorten that gap from farm to table. It’s a way to educate our customers on our processes and practices and let them see what goes into food production.”

For Skinner, social media also offers a way to update followers on how her farm family is doing. In turn, she says that familiarity can lead to increased sales.

“I use social media as a way to show people exactly what we do on our farm and how we live and allow them to get a glimpse into our life and family,” Skinner says. “I share our life, and people like to see that, especially people who don’t live in rural areas. Once we do that, they want to support you.

“We have more than 11,000 followers on Instagram, and we definitely don’t have that many customers. So, a lot of them are there to learn. They’re just supportive and encouraging if nothing else. But after a while you start growing on them, and then they buy something, and you have a new customer.”

Today’s savvy farmers post photos like these to attract followers. Photo by David Higginbotham.

In addition, for young farmers who are still learning about all the challenges that come with the job, Henry says social media can provide a valuable support group.

“It’s been great to connect with farmers who are close to our age and are going through some of the same struggles. We can bounce ideas back and forth off each other,” Henry says. “I now have friends in Montana and Minnesota and New Mexico who I talk to on a regular basis. So not only do we get to spread the truth about agriculture, we get to meet the good people who are in it, too. We love that aspect.”

Of course, there are some negatives. A few harsh reviews on social media can hurt sales. And for livestock farmers, there is always the controversial topic of how the animals they raise are being treated.

“You have people who cause trouble every once in a while,” Skinner says. “But 99% of the people who follow us are positive and ask honest questions.”

As with most aspects of social media, it’s all about making connections. This can be especially important for farmers who spend many hours each day working in relative isolation and are not able to truly publicize themselves otherwise.

“I was at the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference in Gulf Shores this year, and a vendor from Seattle immediately recognized me because she follows me on Facebook and watches my videos,” Hatchett says. “It’s a good reminder of how social media can be a huge asset to a small business like ours, because it allows us to promote ourselves without investing anything into it other than time.”

Cary Estes and David Higginbotham are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Estes is based in Birmingham and Higginbotham in Decatur.

This article appeared in the March 2022 issue of Business Alabama.

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