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Farm Websites and Social Media Help Connect Your Farm
After city girl Lauren Arbogast married her farmer, as she lovingly refers to her husband, Brian, she became tremendously interested in the workings of the Virginia farm she now called home and the agriculture industry as a whole.
“I was asking no less than 800 questions a day in those early years,” says Arbogast, who was working at the time as an elementary teacher in addition to helping with the farm during nights and weekends.
As Arbogast learned more, so did her students. She began teaching what she called Farm Friday lessons, bringing the farm to the school once a week. “After starting programs in my classroom and at the district level, I saw so many light bulb moments when kids were making connections about where food comes from,” she says.
Instead of shelving these lesson plans, Arbogast decided to create a blog so she could share them with other students and teachers. In the four years since Arbogast launched Paint the Town Ag, her blog has evolved to include highlights from the farming operation, which includes corn, rye, two cow-calf operations, and five broiler houses. “Faith is a big aspect of my life, so that shows up, too,” adds Arbogast. “What I endearingly call the mini farmer stories and funny happenings shine through, as well.”
Arbogast is now one of many farmwife bloggers who works to share the story of modern agriculture. She has been joined by farmers who also want to do their part in this storytelling effort.
“We are firm believers in communicating in as many different ways as possible – not just to neighbors, but also to the people who reside off the farm – about where food comes from,” says Michael Yost, who heads up the communication efforts, marketing, and risk management for his family farm in Murdock, Minnesota. “We grow our crops in a sustainable manner, and we want to make sure the public understands that.”
connect with your audience
While Yost admits his family’s website plays a small role in this effort, he believes it is critical that individual farmers communicate about their daily operations. In addition, he’s discovered that having a farm website can directly benefit the farming operation.
“We’ve been able to retain employees and gain new ones. For us, that’s a very valuable component of having a website,” Yost explains.
By sharing the results of their hard work online, the seven employees on the corn, soybean, and alfalfa farm feel a better sense of belonging to the farm and a great pride in showcasing what they are doing, says Yost. Each member of the team is encouraged to take photos and videos of their work on the farm. Yost then shares these on the farm’s Facebook and Twitter pages as well as their website.
Improving vendor relationships is another bonus from establishing an online presence. “We’ve had potential vendors, seed retailers, and equipment dealers come to us about being involved in some capacity,” says Yost. “This increases competition for where we buy inputs, giving us more opportunities to cut production costs.”
Other farmers, like Jim Hild and Jake Hunt, have launched farm websites to share activities with landlords.
Hild Family Farms, a corn and soybean century farm in Illiopolis, Illinois, strives to communicate with landlords by providing maps, statistics, photographs, and emails. Hildfamilyfarms.com, the farm website, is one tool for ensuring that landlords stay connected to their tenants and their land, says Hild.
Farther west in the state of Illinois, the Hunt Family Farm also maintains a site so that landlords can stay up to date on farming activities. The website also allows the multifamily farming operation to advertise equipment that’s for sale, says Hunt, who is in charge of updating the site.
Whether it’s building a farm website, blogging, or both, start with a purpose and manage your expectations.
“Think through why you want to get involved and then get started,” says Katie Pratt, who blogs regularly at theillinoisfarmgirl.com. “Try to have a plan, but keep in mind that the plan has to involve the fact that you farm and there’s no set plan when you farm.”
There are two key things for launching a website from a farmer’s perspective, says Yost. First, you have to enjoy working on the website. Second, you need to have a dedicated person who can update the site and create content.
“When we put together our website a couple of years ago, we realized we had to have a member of the team who was engaged and interested in photography and videos. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work,” says Yost, who relies on Aaron Zenner to take photos and videos.
build your own or find a partner?
Before launching YostFarm.com, Yost put together a list of a dozen different farm production websites he liked. He called up the farmers to get feedback about what worked for them and who they would recommend as a partner to build a site. In the end, he chose Kestrel Website Design, a firm that specializes in website design for agriculture and farms.
It took $2,500 to get the website up and running. For Yost, the fee was worth having an expert involved who could host the website and build a layout that served the farm’s purposes.
If you’re a bit more tech-savvy and have time to dedicate, tools like WordPress make it easy for you to create a website or blog of your own. This is what Pratt did when she originally launched her blog before switching to a self-hosted platform.
“As a birthday present to myself this year, I paid Jumping Jax Designs to help me switch the blog over and design a new site,” she says. The firm’s $500 redesign included a new logo, social media header, watermark for photos, and business cards.
Social media is a great way to spread your message to a larger audience. Don’t feel like you have to participate in every social media site, though. Choose what you like and focus on it.
“My husband will never start a blog, but he does share his farming photos on Facebook. Others who love photography may just use Instagram. Or maybe it’s Twitter or Periscope. Do what you love and what you’re good at,” says Arbogast.
If you’re present in multiple social media spaces, don’t feel like you have to share everything on each one. “I have a different set of rules as to what I share and why I share it,” she adds. “On Twitter, I retweet and connect with the ag community to bond with and to support them. Instagram is where I look for other moms or people who like living in the country, and I make a point to connect with them. Facebook is only for my family and friends.”
If you have questions about building websites, using social media, or more, email Jessie.Scott@meredith.com.