Small Farmers and Social Media

I’ve heard from a number of small farmers and small farm advocates that there isn’t a place for high tech in a community-based agricultural endeavor. I say that there is. In fact, I believe that the latest internet tools can enhance a small farming community and can lead to a greater connection with those who appreciate locally-grown, organic foods.

Just as email has become a replacement for a great deal of paper sent through USPS, social media can facilitate conversations with customers when time or distance is a problem. Social Media can also act as an amazingly immediate news service, uniquely geared towards an individual’s needs. Let me explain.

In Los Angeles a couple of years ago, there were a number of very fine chefs who could not afford to open any kind of eating establishment because the cost of real estate was exhorbitantly high. (Ah yes, the good old days…) They were past the apprenticeship stage of their careers but couldn’t get to the next level for lack of capital. These enterprising gourmands could, however, afford taco vans. Essentially, they took some kitchens-on-wheels and renovated them enough to accomodate their culinary specialities. They could park, cook, serve, and go. The biggest problem they had was that they couldn’t park in the same place everytime. So, how did they let their local customers know where they were serving?

They signed up for free accounts on Twitter, or Facebook, or the social medium of their choice, and posted their information on the sides of their vans. Interested customers friended or followed them either online or on their cell phones. They knew exactly where they could get their garlic vegetable soup, or allspice cupcakes, or chicken cordon bleu. The customers were waiting when the van pulled up each day.

It was a low-cost, inventive, quick business model that worked, getting fresh, gourmet foods to customers without all the hassle. (No wait staff to have to pay, either.) They could even drive out to the farms to pick up their fresh produce each day, eliminating the wait for deliveries. Lots of chefs in lots of cities are now following this model and doing quite well.

So, how can this translate to a non-movable small farm business? Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios:

  • You run a CSA, providing baskets of fresh, organic, heirloom produce delivered to customers. Some of your customers have never seen Cherokee Purple tomatos, or Hokkaido pumpkins, or Collard greens and really don’t know how to cook them. A Facebook account is a great way to provide a listing, including pictures, of what you have included in the baskets that week, and links to recipes you’ve found online. You’re providing important information to your customers so that they can enjoy your produce even more.
  • You have a large section of U-pick crops on your land. You’d like to let people know when your fruits and vegetables are ready for harvesting. You need an immediate notification service to reach those who would be interested. A Twitter account might be just the ticket. Each entry may be only 140 characters in length but you can tell people an awful lot in that space. You can even provide links for more information.
  • You run an artisanal dairy, making unique cheeses. You’re larder is just jam-packed with a well-aged assortment of tasty comestibles and you need to move some stock. Any social media outlet will let you remind folks to meet you at the farmer’s market, ready, with cash in hand, to stock up on your fine cheeses.

Social media can give you direct access to your customers, without an outlay of money. It also eliminates the need to maintain contact lists. Customers have the ability to follow you at their discretion and to forward your information to others who would likewise be interested. Social media accounts, unlike websites, are free. Yep, free. What they do take is a bit of time. Unlike posting static information on a website, you create a conversation with your customers and, sometimes, even customers you don’t yet have.

How do you get your customers to follow you on a social media site? How did they become customers in the first place? Wherever you post information for people to see is where you can add your Facebook or Twitter information. Easy-peasy, pudding and pie…

Incidentally, my twitter account is @ruraltechgeek. If you want to know more about uses for social media, look me up there.