4 Twitter Chats for Farmers to Learn, Advocate, and Connect
In the back corner of small town restaurants across the country, farmers often gather to discuss the weather, markets, and other challenges of rural life. The regulars congregate to share their latest brainstorms, family happenings, or holiday plans.
As technology continues to permeate our culture, these conversations are happening in new places. #AgTwitter has opened the dialogue to a broader community.
Throughout the week, farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness professionals turn to Twitter as a place to learn, advocate, and connect with one another. Each night is an opportunity to chime in and network with a different segment of the industry.
"This is an opportunity we've just never had. Here’s our chance. Join the conversation. Join the farmers. Follow people who are interesting. Go out and connect with some nonfarmers, too." Says, Twitter enthusiast, Rob Sharkey.
On Mondays at 7 p.m. Central Time, #FCGchat is hosted by Canadian brand manager, Lesley Kelly, and Illinois farmer, Rob Sharkey. As part of their efforts to bridge the gap between producers and consumers, the duo hosts a weekly podcast: The Farmer and The City Girl.
The #FCGchats complement their shows, reaching beyond agriculture-specific topics. Recent topics encouraged discussion surrounding the rural/urban political divide and differences in gun culture.
“We want to delve into some subjects that maybe don’t even touch on agriculture,” Sharkey explains.
An avid Twitter user on and off the chat, Sharkey appreciates the powerful reach of social media. “We aren’t just talking to people in my neighborhood; we’re talking to the world.”
Since 2009, Tuesday night #AgChat, and the occasional #FoodChat, have worked to create community and conversation surrounding a vast range of agricultural issues. Over the years, more than 12,000 people have participated in the moderated discussions. Every week, organized conversation begins at 7 p.m. Eastern time with introductions.
Volunteers take turns hosting the chat by taking over the AgChat Twitter account and posting questions over for up to two hours. Topics range from farm safety to advocacy strategy and prompt input from students and professionals coast to coast.
In years past, #AgChat enthusiasts have gathered for conferences and seminars in order to grow their skills and meet face to face.
More recently, readers of the ag community have started gathering on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. Central Time for #AgBookClub. Launched in September 2017, founders Gracie Weinzierl and Laura Wolf, Missouri, have been combining their love for reading and Twitter chats. Participants pace their way through a selected book and join the facilitated discussion, not unlike a traditional book club meeting.
In an interview, Weinzierl noted, chatters are welcome to join the discussion even if they haven’t completed the recommended reading.
“We’re just trying to stimulate more conversation,” she says. “For some, it’s so much easier to say something online than it is in person. Generally, people are more outspoken online. I think it benefits a book club because you’re not as cautious about expressing your ideas. It’s not talking in front of people when you’re on Twitter.”
Through November and December, #AgBookClub is discussing, The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. The new year will start with Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman.
“Some books are pro ag and some are not necessarily aligned with our beliefs, but that doesn’t make them false,” Weinzierl explains. “The books are the starting point for a discussion. Here’s something that someone else is thinking about.”
As the week wraps up, ag enthusiasts of all walks of life kick back for #FRANHappyHour on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Central Time. The chat host and moderator affectionately known as FRANBOT describes the gathering as “a networking cocktail hour without ever having to leave your couch.”
Topics are broad, and at times aren’t even related to agriculture. “We use ice breaker questions to get people talking to and learning about each other,” says FRANBOT, the anonymous administrator of the Farm & Rural Ag Network handle. “We talk about everything from people’s favorite meals to where they see agriculture going in 10 years.”
#FRANHappyHour is a great place to learn, interact, and build relationships. The predetermined questions encourage even shy people to contribute their thoughts and opinions.
While these chats aren’t replacing face-to-face coffee gatherings, they present new opportunity. Discussions of the latest news and ideas aren’t as challenged by bad weather, physical location, or hectic schedules. With the technology in our pockets, the biggest struggle is remembering what time zone the chats begin and sending that first tweet.