The holidays are upon us. For most people, this means more family gatherings, holiday parties and of course, food. Lots and lots of food. For dairy farmers, all of these seasonal activities make the days even busier since the cows don’t take the holidays off.
It’s important to find ways to connect to the average person who may not know anything about farm life but who is curious about how their food is raised and produced. Finding common values and interests is a great way to connect with these folks.
During the busy holiday season, food is an excellent way to do this. Whether you want to share recipes, family holiday stories and traditions, or updates about what is happening on the farm, now is the time to do so. Social media is a powerful way to reach a lot of people without leaving your house (or the barn), but it’s not the only way.
For those who aren’t or don’t want to be social media savvy, perhaps speaking at a civic organization meeting about how farming and agriculture impacts your local community would be a good fit. Civic organizations tend to be good audiences for sharing our dairy farming stories, but really any group that does not draw the majority of its membership from the ag community will work.
If your town has a parade or street fair to celebrate the holidays, it could be fun to participate. In the past, my brother has participated in our town’s Fourth of July parade with his tractor and a hay implement. We live in a rural town with quite a few dairy farms, but there are people in every town who do not understand what happens on the farm. This is a great way to start the conversation. That being said, it’s important to talk to people at these events. Start by asking them questions. “Have you been to a farm before?” and “Did you grow up around here?” are good questions to start with, but use your imagination and don’t forget to listen. That’s essential in building relationships with consumers.
Farm visits tend to be the most powerful way to reach consumers with our farm stories. When they can see for themselves how cows live, how they are treated and what dairy farming is all about, they will better understand it and then be able to share their new farm knowledge with others. Inviting civic groups, non-ag based groups, school children or anyone else from the community out to the farm can be a fun holiday celebration, especially if you end the tour with hot chocolate and some festive photos with the cows. What cow doesn’t love wearing a Santa hat in a photo?
Recipes are easy to share online and do very well on platforms like Pinterest. Most non-ag people do not actively search for ag information unless they have a specific question. However, if you incorporate some farm information into your holiday recipe posts and put those on Pinterest, you’ll likely see more traffic. That’s exactly what I’ve found with my blog posts. The Pinterest images with lots of cheese tend to do very well. The dairy FAQ posts, not so much. Those cheesy recipes also have farm stories in them, though.
If you share a recipe on your personal Facebook page or your farm/blog page, include a link to the Pinterest image if you have it. Some people like to save recipes to try later, and this is an easy way to facilitate this.
Everyone loves a good story. Keep it an appropriate length for the platform you are using, but definitely share stories about how your farm has changed through the years, what the holidays are like on your farm, what you enjoy most about the season, etc.
Along those lines, pictures are an effective way to tell your story since you can show readers what you are talking about. Instagram is great for this. We tend to use industry hashtags, but also use some that the average person may search for, such as #holiday, #snow, #animals or #nature.
There are so many ways for our industry to tell our story, but don’t overlook the importance of everyday conversations. Since my family lives in Washington state and I live in Indiana, I spend quite a bit of time over the holiday season on airplanes. People sitting near me generally ask where I’m from or what I do, and when they find out I grew up on a farm or work in the dairy industry, they usually have questions.
An airplane is a confined space, so others around us also get to learn about the wonderful world of dairy farming. I created blogger cards that I can hand out when I have these conversations. I always encourage them to use me as a resource if they have questions in the future about farming or how food is produced. Most people have never met a farmer, so the more we can bridge the gap by offering to be a resource, the more effective we will be.
Kimmi Devaney is the agricultural marketing and industry development manager with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. She also writes an agricultural blog.
PHOTO 1: Grandpa and I heading out to feed cows on a snowy Washington morning.
PHOTO 2: My brother and I love taking holiday photos on the tractors or with the cows. Adding a short farm update to Christmas cards or newsletters is a good way to share this information with non-farming friends and neighbors.
PHOTO 3: Sharing photos from the past is an effective way to talk about how farming has evolved over the years and how farmers use technology to be better environmental stewards and take better care of their cows. Photos provided by Kimmi Devaney.