Where Food, Agriculture, and Social Media Intersect

11 May

Food is one of the most basic of human needs. What we choose to eat is a very personal decision that is also becoming increasingly politicized. As more people turn to the Internet to discuss food-related issues, more farmers and members of the agricultural community have embraced social media to build relationships and break out of their traditional silos (no pun intended).

Use the link below to view a visual, spreadable pin board that uses social media theory to explore the effectiveness of some of agriculture’s use of these new tools. This shareable item was created within the Pinspire.com community. (This is a tool very similar to the uber-popular Pinterest. Admittedly, I had planned to host this project on Pinterest but never received an invitation to join after applying for the privilege!) This is my first foray into the “pinning” social media platforms. Each selected item includes both an image and a caption explaining its relevance.

Link: http://www.pinspire.com/u0z19ev611ce/social-Media-Down-on-the-Farm

Aside from my obvious personal connection to agriculture, I chose to explore the burgeoning field of online agricultural communications for this project because it is very representative of many of the concepts that we studied throughout this course. As Habermas explained, the rise of the public sphere provides a never-before-enjoyed voice to the masses. Today’s public and private spheres are merging together due to the ubiquity of social media. This has been a challenge for the agricultural community because most farmers tend to be very private people who haven’t traditionally taken the time to engage directly with consumers.

Several of the highlighted social media tactics embrace Habermas’ description of the public sphere. Online communities such as #agchat on Twitter rely on inclusivity. They allow farmers divided by geography, interests, financial demographics, and crop specialty to engage in conversations on areas of common concern. Each week, #agchat hosts an interactive Twitter chat with a rotating theme that is chosen by crowd-sourcing. Social media provides a louder voice to a small group of people – today, less than 2 percent of Americans actively engage in food production. There is a large urban-rural divide that farmers are now able to cross thanks to technology.

We frequently see illustrations of the convergence culture within this field – for example, some very creative farmers created an #occupycombine movement last year to raise awareness for an important annual event in the agricultural calendar… planting. Farmers across the U.S. “occupied” their combines to plant their crops at the same time that protestors were occupying Wall Street, albeit for very different reasons!

On the other hand, social media does have its drawbacks. Agriculture has been hurt by the negativity that online communication can generate. Sometimes social media can enhance extreme ideologies rather than encourage rational public discourse. We saw this most recently in the so-called “pink slime” fiasco, which was driven by a highly-spreadable photo and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. While food safety experts spoke out against the defamation of “lean finely textured beef”, the damage to public opinion was already done.

The over-arching goal of agriculture’s involvement in social media is to build consumer trust in food production. Farmers are exploring the best way to accomplish this. Earlier in this semester, Jenkins highlighted the importance of trust and user choice. Contrary to popular belief, memes and other popular content can’t automatically go “viral”. They must contain highly “spreadable” content that users actively choose to share with their connections. This is a challenge for those in the agriculture community. Many are more comfortable talking about science than creating sound bites or images that are easily understood by the public. Many are realizing that the key to a successful online presence is building relationships. Several of the items posted on my board include new strategies that farmers and agriculture companies are using to encourage sharing.

As a farm girl, agriculture professional, and media student, I find the increased adoption of social media by the farm community to be exciting. Never before has agriculture enjoyed such a useful and easy to use tool to connect with the non-farm public. I believe that social media will continue to be an important way for farmers to protect the future of their way of life in the years to come.

You can view my works cited here: Citations.

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