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Created: 9/03/10 (Fri) | Topic: Education        

 

"Agvocates" embrace social media tools, tactics

By Jeff Fowle

Aug. 30, 2010, could well be remembered as a tipping point in the efforts of farmers and ranchers to engage in conversations with members of the public–their customers. That was the opening day of the AgChat Foundation Conference, a hands-on gathering designed to empower farmers and ranchers to reach beyond the ag community through social media platforms. Fresh off that meeting, several memorable pictures stand out.

As I stood before the group, I saw in each face great emotion for and dedication to agriculture.  It was awe-inspiring, almost overwhelming. The genuine passion for sharing personal stories of agriculture could be seen in each set of eyes. The room also held the diversity that is today’s agriculture: young and old, male and female, farmers, ranchers and gardeners, conventional and organic, large, medium, small and even tiny.

All who attended shared a common bond of commitment to assuring that people continue to have available food, fiber, shelter and to sharing the story about how this miracle is possible. But they also heard a clear message about the importance of listening to their customers’ concerns.

The energy and enthusiasm was contagious. It was impossible to ignore, especially when you consider this was the first-ever meeting of an organization run totally by volunteers. The manner in which participants interacted with one another as they refined their social media skills was almost magical. This group of more than 80 individuals, most of whom had never met face-to-face before, and had only communicated via Twitter, Facebook, blog comments or buzz, was working together like a reunion of life-long friends.

Unlike some agricultural conferences I have attended in the past, I never saw the same group of four to five people talking together. The networking and interactions of all, as they gathered information to become more effective agvocates, was dynamic.

As president of the AgChat Foundation, I am extremely excited thinking about the future of agvocacy following this conference, which can be tracked using #ACFC10 on Twitter. Talking to many of the participants, the passion for building communities of understanding was overflowing. There was a strong desire to learn how to reach beyond agriculture and it was fortified by the shared vision of agvocacy.

The results have been immediate. Several new agricultural blogs already have sprouted, and many participants who were not using multiple social media platforms now are. I am excited to see how each of these individuals will continue to take their newly acquired skills back home and share their social media insights with other farmers and ranchers.

The passion and energy for returning the humanity to agvocacy, to put the face on the plate, to build bridges of greater understanding between farmers and consumers and to empower communities to listen and learn from each other is running full throttle.

Farmers and ranchers take their mission seriously. We always have. We work to protect the environment and care for our animals while producing a bounty of goodness for America. As was clearly seen during the AgChat Foundation’s first agricultural social media conference, many of us are just as committed to sharing a deeper understanding of our work. And, social media tools are proving to be capable vessels in carrying our message down the digital stream.

AgChat Foundation President Jeff Fowle farms and ranches in California and is second vice president of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau.

NDFB note: North Dakota had four people in attendance at the conference. Participants were chosen by the AgChat Foundation.


 

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