Social networking online was once a personal diversion; now, says an Oregon farmer, it's a business necessity.
Since 1846, one family has tended Rosemont Century Farm in Yamhill, Oregon. That’s seven generations, including Heather Walters. And it is Heather who, with an eye to both past and future, has opted to carve out an online presence for the farm via social media.
“I use Twitter the most, followed by Facebook. My blog I neglect and mistreat!” observes Heather in an email. “I would say that I tweet or read about an hour a day. It’s usually in conjunction with Facebook, reading recipes, cuddling the baby, or lying in bed after everyone is asleep.”
Tucking social networking time into one’s day is increasingly popular these days, especially with women. For example, a July 2009 Sysomos report revealed that 53% of Twitter users are female. But Rural Americans of both genders are less likely to use social media than their urban counterparts. In fact, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, rural residents comprise only 9% of Twitter regulars.
Why does someone like Heather finds Twitter.com worth her time?
After tinkering with the service a bit, Heather established a special account for the farm in late spring of this year. “I guess I started the farm account to connect with other farmers and learn things,” she notes. “I didn’t really think it would turn into this huge network of people all the way from New York to the same town I live in, to India, Australia,….” Walter writes that initially she wasn’t looking for customers “because at the time we were only selling raw goat milk, which is illegal to advertise so I was cautious about even saying what we were doing.”
Then the farm obtained a few piglets.
“After that,” she writes “information and interest starting flowing in like someone turned on a spigot. Twitter has been invaluable to me in learning how to feed them properly and finish them so that their meat will be amazing.”
Social media has helped Heather cultivate personal relationships with other Twitter users who share her commitment to humane, sustainable and chemical-free practices. For example, Heather chats regularly with blogger and self-described “food entrepreneur” Rob Smart, who lives two thousand miles away in Calais, Vermont. Rob recently made something of a name for himself on Twitter by creating the #profood hashtag in support of discussions (some of them heated) regarding sustainable agriculture. In fact, it was Rob who suggested that I talk with Heather to learn how Twitter helped her land a lucrative account with the Jory Restaurant at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon. According to Heather, “Twitter changed the course of our farm irrevocably when [the restaurant’s management] expressed interest and then ultimately agreed to buy our pork. We became pork farmers… just like that.”
More opportunities may be on the horizon for Rosemont Century Farm thanks to Heather’s social networking. Next spring Heather plans to welcome an Italian chef she met on Twitter to the farm. “She is also good friends with local chefs, restaurant owners, cooking school owners, etcetera,” says Heather. “She [contacted] the guy who runs the cooking school and owns a restaurant in Portland to let him know about our artisan pork. We haven’t heard back yet, but still just the sheer fact that someone in Italy knows someone in Portland and took the time to send them our information just boggles the mind.”
Although many rural dwellers who wish to use social media still lack access to broadband service, Heather has 15mb high-speed cable and a Blackberry keeping her online activity brisk. There are a few area wineries using social media, but Heather reports that she remains a bit of anomaly in the countryside. “I have had one farmer in McMinnville ask me about Twitter and how to use it, but then she backed off saying she didn’t have enough time… so that hasn’t gone anywhere yet,” Heather notes.
“Personally,” she says, “I think that social media is so important to my farm’s success that I have to make time for it.”
Note: Yep. Now you can also follow the Daily Yonder on Twitter.