I did not grow up on a dairy farm. People always ask me, “Did you know what you were getting into?” They often have concerned looks on their faces. After more than six years of dating before we got married, I kind of had a clue. In fact, one of our first dates was milking cows. Since then we have spent many major holidays, birthdays and anniversaries in the barn together working side by side.
Dairy farming is not only a job – it is a lifestyle and a culture. And now that I am fully immersed in the dairy culture, I love sharing about our farm and dairying with others. Social media tools make that all possible.
In 2009, our farm had a website developed mainly to promote our natural meat business. I posted recipes once or twice a month to show our customers how to use different meat cuts they might not be used to.
It was not supposed to take much of my time. It was supposed to be something I quickly did, then forgot about for a couple weeks. It was supposed to be simple.
Well … I got sucked in. Once I started a blog, I wanted to learn what other farmers were doing on blogs. There were only a handful of farm blogs at the time, and I quickly became friends with these other farmer bloggers.
It became my community outside the farm. Even though the scope expanded, it is still a “simple” project. It is a project I enjoy greatly.
There are many good reasons to be involved in social media from a risk management standpoint. Our farm is located in a very suburban area just south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Our neighbors are not farmers; they are middle-class suburbanites.
Social media has allowed us to build a positive community around our farm. We have found support when county zoning policies negatively affect what we are doing. When people trespass onto our land, our neighbors tell us. We never get complaints about manure smells or animal noises.
If we want to continue farming where we are, the way we are, we need to build a supportive community. The way we build that community is through social media.
But our blog is more than just a risk management tool, it is a community tool. As a mom, wife and professional, I find support, encouragement and creative ideas from my online communities.
Many of the people I have connected with online have become friends in real life. We share our ups and downs, great life moments and look to each other for support. These communities inspire me and make me a better person, mother, wife and dairywoman.
I try to live my life to the fullest. My days start before sunrise getting the kids dressed and fed and ready for school or daycare. After they are all dropped off, I start my work in my home office as the executive director of AgChat Foundation.
After a full day’s work, I pick the kids up and often go to the farm to start four hours of chores and milking. I am not special. Many dairywomen do the same thing every day. We are women with many hats who juggle many things.
How do I find time for social media? I make time. I have a plan. My goal is to write a blog post three times a week. Most times I write my posts in advance and schedule them to be posted at a later day.
My posts are not earth-shattering. It always amazes me that the simple, everyday events on our farm are what grab my readers. I blog about feeding calves, milking cows, field work and family life. But I also occasionally write about the tough topics.
You can find posts about us caring for sick animals, our reactions to undercover animal abuse videos or how the USDA’s deregulation of GMO alfalfa affected our organic dairy. By being open and honest about these tough issues, we build trust with our readers.
My interest is writing. I am not good at photography or video. You are able to clearly see that on our blog. I focus my efforts where my talents are and don’t worry when I am not “doing it all.” No one can do it all.
If you are thinking about starting to use social media to tell your farm story, start where you are comfortable and build from there. There are many people who are more comfortable just creating short videos (or vlogs).
There is no need to be overwhelmed. Make a simple plan and stick to it. Just like learning any new skill – practice makes perfect.
To help me keep up to date on technology and social media, I turn to the AgChat Foundation. This farmer-led, grassroots organization empowers farmers and ranchers to connect in communities through social media platforms.
AgChat Foundation holds training conferences, provides information on their website, and also engages agriculturalists each week with their #AgChat conversations on Twitter. Visit www.agchat.org to learn more.
In addition to the AgChat Foundation, I learn by doing. By being involved in social media, I have built a community around me that also is learning by doing. That is what is so amazing about social media. It is dynamic, evolving and engaging.
Balancing it all will always be hard. We are constantly pulled in so many directions. But I truly believe that being involved in social media is what is going to preserve our family farm. That is why I am committed to being engaged online.
I do it so that my children will one day have the same opportunity my husband and I have had: the opportunity to return to a sustainable, family farm if they so choose.
Did I know what I was getting into when I married my husband? No, but telling our farm story through social media has opened more doors for our family than I could have dreamed possible. PD
Zweber Farms, LLC is a fourth-generation organic dairy farm located in Elko, Minnesota. Emily and her husband, Tim, co-own and operate the farm with Tim’s parents.
Emily also serves as the executive director of AgChat Foundation, a not-for-profit farmer led organization whose mission is to empower farmers and ranchers to connect communities through social media platforms.