Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Rancher spreads the word about 'agvocacy'

Recently the Sacramento Bee covered a workshop at the University of California-Davis led by Etna, Calif., rancher Jeff Fowle encouraging farmers and ranchers to make better use of social media.

Reporter Gina Kim wrote:

It wasn't discussions of sustainability, irrigation techniques or cattle breeds that had dozens of farmers busily scribbling notes in Davis on Saturday. It was the intricacies of hashtags, followers and status updates that pulled them out of their fields and into classrooms for a 21st century addendum to the agricultural revolution.

"It's all about putting a face on that plate," said Jeff Fowle, who raises cattle, horses and hay on a 640-acre ranch in Siskiyou County.

"I want to be the face when a family is sitting down to a dinner of Hamburger Helper."

About 80 people attended the full-day workshop on social media for farmers – hosted by the University of California, Davis – to help an aging farming population communicate directly with their consumers through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

"The economic edge for farming can be very narrow," said organizer Annie King, a professor of animal science at UC Davis. "This is a way farmers can tell the story of their family farms and how they get food on the table."

This was one of numerous workshops Fowle has been putting on to discuss what he and others call "agvocacy," which is to let average consumers get to know farmers through the use of technology.

I had a chance to cover one of Jeff's talks at least year's Sierra Cascade Logging Conference in Redding, Calif. Here's a bit of what I wrote:

When it comes to farmers' quest to reach the public, information is different from communication.

Agriculture "is infamous for getting out information," said Jeff Fowle, an activist and cattle rancher in Etna, Calif.

But communication means to actually get through, Fowle said. And these days, there's no more powerful way to do that than through social media -- e-mail, Web sites, instant messaging, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, he said.

With these tools, companies are employing a laser-like focus on specific audiences, Fowle said.

Using interactive media, a producer can potentially reach millions from the back of a horse. While it took radio 38 years to gain 50 million users, Facebook and the iPhone achieved that many users in nine months, he said.

"Social media is amazing," Fowle told attendees of a recent logging conference in Redding, Calif. "If Facebook were a country, it would be the world's fourth largest."

The picture is changing so fast that now even e-mail is considered passé, Fowle said. Now people are using cell phones for texting and tweeting, he said.

"You no longer search for news. The news finds you," he said. And most people these days trust their peers the most for news, he said.

For those who are interested in finding out more, Jeff is slated to return to this year's conference with a session starting at 9 a.m. Friday at the Redding Convention Center. His talk will be titled, "Social Media: Make It Work For You and Your Industry."

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