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Winning the #farm365 Battle


 

The realization that the food and farming sectors need to better communicate with the public has been growing for some time, and a lot of discussion has taken place on how best to achieve this. Some very creative and effective campaigns to engage consumers have been emerging — the Chicken Squad campaign by the B.C. Chicken Growers Association and the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board, plus the “Our Food, Your Questions,®” are good examples.

Individual farmers and farm groups have taken on the task directly on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where they engage directly with potential customers and suppliers while dispelling myths, sharing facts, finding market information and sharing the ups and downs of farming life.  Social media has become a powerful and highly valuable tool for sharing information in real-time.  And it’s also brought farmers from across the country together on common issues. If you don’t already, follow the hashtag #plant15 this spring and you’ll get a good idea of the camaraderie that exists.

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But I have yet to see a hashtag related to farming cause such a firestorm right out of the gate as #farm365 has.

Created by southwestern Ontario dairy and cash crop farmer Andrew Campbell (@FreshAirFarmer), the hashtag has certainly achieved the goal of bridging the gap between consumers and agriculture, albeit with some unintended consequences.

The hashtag accompanies a photo taken on Campbell’s farm that he posts on Twitter each day, beginning on New Year’s Day.  Inspired by other photo-a-day challenges on Twitter, Campbell wanted to show what goes on a typical farm, and hopefully start some conversations.  His seemingly innocent attempt has done just that — and then some.  

Writing in his blog “The Highs and Lows of Week One on #farm365” for Letstalkfarmanimals.ca, Campbell said he knew animal rights activism was powerful, but “this has been a new lesson in experiencing it.”  He says media attention about the hashtag made a few activists very angry and they banded together to “hijack” #farm365 to show people their views on animal agriculture. Advocates for veganism have been posting disturbing photos and anti-animal agriculture messages with the hashtag right from the start, and are still going strong more than a month since Campbell launched it.

But Campbell and other farmers from around the globe are rallying back.  As Campbell writes: “It’s turned into a great force of farmers sticking up for themselves and consumers getting a better idea of what it takes to send food out of the driveway.” It’s also creating conversations with a curious public, who don’t understand what takes place on farms, and have a healthy bout of skepticism not to be easily swayed by activists and need to get reassurances right from the perceived villains.  

In his blog, Campbell tells a great story of how answering questions about veal from a woman in Toronto put her at ease.  The woman, who had heard negative things about veal production, wanted to hear from a farmer, to search “for information with substance and fact.”

Campbell tweeted this message February 9: “I’ve got to thank my fellow farmers again. They continue to open their barn doors and farm gates to the public through #farm365. Thank you!”