#agchat celebrates three years of empowering farmers

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Crafting a complete thought in 144 characters is a real challenge.

This is the art of communicating by Twitter, the social media platform where, for the past three years, about 15,000 people from 12 countries have “tweeted” back and forth on Tuesday nights, #agchat – the Twitter address used to participate in the conversation about agriculture.

www.agchat.org offers a chat room function that simplifies participation. The web site also offers a blog featuring writings by farmers and ranchers who are creative, knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to reaching out to tell the story of agriculture.

“I’ve done AgChat two or three times—the first time, I thought I’ll give it a shot—and it was so easy and it was very worthwhile,” said Matt Braun, who operates a family sod farm and raises corn and soybeans near Farmington, just outside of the Twin Cities. Braun said, “It’s great to ‘talk’ with farmers about how they deal with the general public on different topics. Our farm is in the seven county metro area so we see people every day, and interact with them, and even though they live close to our farm they don’t know about farming. Every meeting like that is a chance to answer a question or let them know what we’re doing here. The AgChat has helped with ideas about how to reach out.”

Recently, he learned about a dairy farmer who set up a cow milking contest event as a way to reach out to the community and build relationships.

Now an institution, the Tuesday night AgChat was begun by Michele Payn-Knoper, an Indiana-based farmer and promoter of agriculture. After a year of building excitement and participation, all the enthusiastic participants decided it was time to create an organization around the AgChat, to assist Payn-Knoper in her mission.

And so AgChat Foundation was born in April, 2010, according to Emily Zweber, an organic dairy farmer in Elko who serves as executive director of the foundation.

“We are here to empower farmers and ranchers who want to reach out using social media platforms,” said Zweber. “Our web site and the AgChats offer ideas for reaching Mommy bloggers, chefs, even music makers—there are so many creative, interesting ways to really connect with people and share the farm and food story.”

AgChat.org helps people get up to speed with four major social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in and You-Tube.

Zweber gravitates to blogging as her platform for talking about farming. Coming from a non-farm background, Emily finds daily inspiration for blog ideas as she goes out and works side by side with husband Tim.  Things that are very ordinary to Tim–chores, practices around the farm, cause Emily to ask “Tim, why do we…?” And suddenly she has a topic for her next blog post.

Asked about the next big thing in social media, Zweber said “Pinterest will be one of the big emerging platforms because it is a very visual medium, and that makes it perfect for what we are doing. Farming and ranching lend themselves to the Pinterest format—you can post pictures of cute calves, or your latest piece of farm equipment.”

Braun said taking part in the AgChat has really boosted his social media savvy.

“I’ve really met a lot of good people during the AgChats,” Braun said. “They know how to get the most out of AgChat, and how to use Twitter to “aggregate” – a method for creating a widespread dissemination of your Twitter message. Aggregating is the fundamental method to creating a social media buzz around any topic or event.

Braun said AgChats are not only about using social media. It’s also just a great way to meet farmers from across the country and across the world—AgChat has drawn a loyal following in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, among other places. And Braun finds it interesting to trade information with producers in other states about farming methods, equipment, and their personal stories.

Readers can visit the Facebook page of AgChat and “like” them, which will activate Facebook messages that alert the reader to this weeks AgChat topic, and other events, like the upcoming national AgChat conference, “Agvocacy 2.0” – applicants compete for the 75 spots available to join some of the top experts in the field and learn directly about being an effective advocate for farming. New this year, AgChat Foundation is organizing a regional conference—probably in New England, to help regional farm producers examine issues unique to their situations. The foundation hopes to rotate around to different regions each year, to allow that kind of focus.

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