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Video Is a Powerful Way for Farmers to Share Their Stories
When Derek Klingenberg – better known as Farmer Derek – started producing YouTube videos, that was his ambitious goal. While he had no formal video training, he did have incredible creative energy to funnel into the endeavor. This turned into a slew of quirky, comical videos of music parodies, cow serenades, and creations like his hay house.
Today, the farmer from Peabody, Kansas, has crushed his original goal. Klingenberg has garnered 33 million views on his YouTube channel – with six videos surpassing 1 million views each.
Klingenberg is among a new generation of farmers using video to show a fresh and personal perspective on agriculture and farming. This generation isn’t defined by an age range but rather by a willingness to showcase their farms and step in front of a camera. Here are the stories of how three farmers and one farm kid are using video in new and distinctive ways.
Derek Klingenberg may be the laziest farmer in all of Kansas.
“I haven’t worked since I graduated from college,” he jokes. For Klingenberg, each day on the farm is an adventure. It starts with the usual tasks that accompany managing a row-crop and cattle operation, which he does with his father, Vernon, and brother Grant. In between feeding cattle, building a barn, and harvesting crops, Klingenberg plays more wholeheartedly than most 4-year-olds.
Last summer, he built a hay house with 243 hay bales complete with four trampolines and a zip line. In true Farmer Derek fashion, he wrote a song called, Hay House, to go along with the farmer-theme playhouse. He featured this in one of his YouTube videos.
During the past nine years, Klingenberg has produced more than 130 YouTube videos. He turned to YouTube after his bluegrass band, the Possum Boys, broke up.
“I had to do something creativity wise,” he says. After spending years in high school and college participating in band, choir, and musicals, Klingenberg desperately needed a creative outlet. Luckily for YouTube viewers everywhere, he poured all of that energy into creating videos.
When Klingenberg has an idea, he says he just runs with it, like the hay house. It’s also how he put together a parody of The Fox (What Does the Fox Say).
“When I came up with What Does the Farmer Say, I thought, this is legit,” he says. “It took me 16 days because I was working on a lot of other stuff at the same time. But I started every morning at 4:30 a.m. When adrenaline kicks in, you can do anything.”
This became his most-watched video at the time, and now it has almost 7 million views. However, it’s the video of Klingenberg serenading his cattle by playing Royals on his trombone that had the most insane reaction, he says.
“Ellen DeGeneres tweeted out the video one evening, and the next day every major news station in the U.S. and all over the world emailed me about doing an interview,” says Klingenberg. That video has been viewed 11 million times around the world.
That’s what Klingenberg says he loves about YouTube. “I can share with the entire world without leaving the farm. I’ll never get used to it.”
While he never set out to be an agvocate, Klingenberg says it’s been a side effect of featuring his farm. “I just roll with whatever is in my head, but it comes out in my videos what I love,” he says.
- Why it’s important: “City people like the videos and are blown away by them,” says Klingenberg. “The videos make farmers look better and make us more transparent. It shows we are just like everybody else.”
- Advice: “I always think of the basics and make sure the lighting is right,” he says. “I don’t think people want to be educated, so I try to educate in a fun way.”
- Where to watch: On his YouTube channel, Farmer Derek Klingenberg
Rice Farming TV
In the middle of a rice field in northern California, farmer Matthew Sligar had an unusual sensation. Despite the wide-open space with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance, Sligar felt claustrophobic.
“After working so many days in a row and such long hours, I felt I was missing out on other experiences and what people were doing,” he says.
Unlike many farmers who go straight from high school or college to the farm, Sligar took an extended detour. After college, he spent six years working in Prague, Czech Republic, where he started a tourism agency with two partners. He made the decision to come home to Gridley, California, to start a family with his wife, Clara, and to farm with his dad, George. While the decision was right for Sligar and his family, it did take some adjusting.
“In this small town and being out by myself, I wanted some way to reach out to people,” says Sligar. This desire, along with a love of storytelling and a realization that people are interested in how rice is grown, led to the creation of Rice Farming TV.
Started in 2016, Rice Farming TV is a YouTube channel Sligar launched to show how medium-grain rice – the kind used in sushi – is grown. Each episode documents one part of the process, from planting to draining fields to harvesting. His most popular episode (with more than 200,000 views) showcases Sligar’s autonomous drone.
Like fellow farmer and YouTube star Derek Klingenberg, Sligar had no experience shooting or editing videos. He learned it all on-the-fly while incorporating creative writing skills he learned studying literature.
Today, he has more than 70 episodes and a growing fan base that tunes in to watch the orange-bearded, green-hat-wearing farmer. Hardcore fans can also buy Rice Farming TV merchandise and Sligar’s freshly milled rice at Ricefarmingtv.com.
“Rice Farming TV at this point is a hobby, but I treat it as a business,” says Sligar. All of the money made off video advertisements, sponsorship, and selling rice has gone back into the production of videos or was used to spread the word about Rice Farming TV, explains Sligar. This includes buying fun gear like a 360° camera that can more accurately show what it’s like to ride along in a combine. (See episode 49.)
Sligar estimates that it takes him about 10 hours to script, shoot, edit, and publish a video, but he says the time spent is more than worth it. “I really enjoy the creative process,” he says. “I enjoy the engagement from the audience. The first day a video is live, I can get 50 comments on YouTube and another 20 engagements on Facebook or via email.”
- Why it’s important: “There’s a huge disconnect between people producing food and the people who eat it,” says Sligar. “In between are a lot of people who are trying to make money off of food, diets, etc. So if you don’t tell your story, some of those people probably already are. That can’t go unchecked.”
- Advice: “The No. 1 hang-up of starting to share what you do is that you don’t have the right equipment, which isn’t a valid excuse because your phone has a perfect camera to shoot photos or videos. You have the tools necessary to start creating,” he says.
- Where to watch: On his YouTube channel, Rice Farming TV, or at Ricefarmingtv.com
Farm Girl Chef
In 2015, when 14-year-old Elisabeth Watkins signed up for Chopped Junior, she declared she was going to win, “because I’m a farm girl, and farm girls don’t lose.”
She was right. She won the cooking contest on the Food Network and took home a $10,000 prize.
The once-shy farm girl from Linden, California, credits the win and a portion of that self-confidence to 4-H, where she learned cooking and public speaking skills. “I had competed and cooked in front of other people on several occasions. As far as talking while cooking or having mystery ingredients and a time limit, I was comfortable,” she says about her experience on Chopped. “I knew what I wanted to cook, so I kept my head down and went to work.”
Watkins joined 4-H in the fourth grade, following in the footsteps of her older brother and parents. She signed up for cooking projects, entered competitions, and completed demonstrations. “As my cooking skills grew, I wanted to do more, so I went to the California state fair with some friends to compete in a 4-H cooking throw-down,” she says. “I ended up winning that for three years. I was ready for bigger and better things.” That’s when she was watching Chopped and decided she had what it took to win and put in an application.
Today, the 17-year-old junior at Central Catholic High School in Modesto continues to cook for an audience, using this opportunity to talk to consumers about how their food is grown. Once a month, Watkins appears on a local TV station.
“I’ve done segments on walnuts, peaches, cherries, asparagus, and dairy products,” she says, naming several of the items grown on her family’s diversified farm. “Whether it’s a demonstration at a home and garden show, in a classroom, or on TV, my main goal is for consumers to know what season the produce is grown and any interesting facts.”
Watkins continues to share her love of cooking through a 4-H contest she started in her county and to improve her public speaking skills through FFA. While she loves cooking, she isn’t planning on attending culinary school after graduation.
“I realized that agriculture is more important to me. If I lean in the direction of an ag communication degree, I can incorporate the culinary aspect of what I do now into my knowledge with communications and marketing,” she says.
- Why it’s important: “The biggest issue facing the ag industry, in general, is consumers’ lack of knowledge about farming and where food comes from,” says Watkins. “Without their support, we can’t continue.”
- Where to watch: Farmgirlchef.us/videos and Instagram @thefarmgirlchef
Dirt Sweat N Tears
Megz Reynolds is far overqualified as a farmer videographer in Canada. Before becoming a farmer, Reynolds worked in the film industry for 11 years as a set dresser and special effects technician on movies like The Assassination of Jesse James and several of The Twilight Saga films.
In 2012, she left behind that career to pursue a new relationship and a new line of work. “My husband is from Saskatchewan and is a fourth-generation farmer,” says Reynolds. “If the relationship was going to work, I knew I would be the one relocating.”
Reynolds moved from Calgary to “the middle of nowhere” in Saskatchewan and decided to try her hand at farming. While it was a big jump from film to farm, Reynolds said it fulfilled a childhood dream.
“My grandpa and uncle ranched, so I spent a lot of time on their cattle operation,” she says. “I knew I wanted to end up on a farm or ranch.”
Diving in head first, Reynolds got an apprenticeship as a heavy-duty mechanic at a local AGCO dealer. “It was a great learning tool to understand the equipment. Now when something does go wrong when I’m out in the field, I can hopefully fix the problem myself,” she says, adding that her role on the farm has replaced the need for a farmhand.
Reynolds and her husband, Liam Gauthier, grow lentils, duram, barley, wheat, and canola. They’ve also started a farm egg business for their girls: Thea, 3, and Rynn, 2.
Reynolds documents her journey as a farmer and a mother on her blog, Dirt Sweat N Tears, on social media, and through videos. Her most popular Twitter video is a simple explanation of what a combine does, but it has almost 60,000 views.
“I didn’t know any of this six years ago, so I talk about what I’m doing and describe equipment in a way that would have made sense to me then,” explains Reynolds. “I started blogging because I wanted to share our farm story.”
- Why it’s important: “We are seeing legislation created based on fear or concern. It’s no longer science based,” says Reynolds. “It may not affect you now, but it’s opening up the door for that to happen in other places around the world.”
- Advice: “I try to mix up my posts so I can bring in people who might follow me for other reasons besides agriculture,” shares Reynolds.
- Where to watch: Follow her on Twitter @FarmerMegzz and check out her blog at Dirtsweatntears.com