Ag Education in the Time of Mommy Bloggers

The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond

With two young children around our house, I often wonder if our parental intuition is weaker than it was for my parents or grandparents. When one of the kids feels hot, we take their temperature. We are pretty sure they have a fever – but can’t remember for sure what that threshold is, so we Google it. Another wakes up with nightmares. Is there something we should do? Back to the Internet we go to see what articles we can find online.

Confession: the thing that terrifies me most about how people learn about agriculture and food is exactly what I find myself doing when I need a little reassurance.

Whenever you do search for things related to parenting, results that appear include articles from fellow parents – primarily moms. They’ve shared their experiences, thoughts and opinions that range from discipline to quick meal ideas, cloth or disposable diapers to car seat reviews.

There’s even research to prove the incredible impact of this peer-to-peer sharing. Nearly four million ‘Mommy Bloggers’ are influencing $2 trillion in household spending. How did this group get so big?

It seems to start for a lot of women, like it started for Sarah Schultz of rural Alberta. She sums it up in a similar way to my own experience saying, “I think it’s pretty safe to say that we often turn to Google first, sometimes even before family and friends these days, for advice on most things.” She joined an online group when she was expecting her first baby in 2009 and a good friend invited her to visit a blog. The blog made Sarah think about how it might be a good way to keep in touch with friends and family on an in-depth level if she were to write herself. Today, she says she has created a very supportive readership and community. She also taps into the branding world, where parents try out products and then gives their review. This is how bloggers like Sarah have come to influence $2 trillion of commerce.

So what happens when these bloggers wade into the food world? There are a lot that I think have very positive impacts. Sarah Schultz is one. So is Fitness ReloadedIt’s Mom Sense, Confessions of a Farm Wife, The Farmers Wifee, as well as groups like Real Farmwives of America and Ask The Farmers.

They each hold respectable audiences and do a good job of opening up barn doors and showing their audiences what it take to farm and produce food.

Too bad they don’t have fear on their side, though.

Zen Honeycutt’s Mom’s Across America‘s tagline is “Empowered Moms, Healthy Kids.” Founded by Zen, the group wants GMOs labelled and glyphosate banned. (Diagrams on the site try to link autism to glyphosate use). And then there is Leah Segedie of Mamavation. A mommy blogger that has been rated as one of the most influential in the US, using words like Activism, Toxic Teas, Toxic Dinnerware that Could Poison Your Party or How Your Diet May Be Killing You. It is hard to tell if Leah means well, and just happens to be misinformed, or happens to make money by scaring her fellow moms to a community she can influence to causes & products.

OK, it isn’t that hard.

So, are we in the farm fields hopeless? The good news is no. We just have to be ready to work at it! Heather Travis’s world is PR as a freelance Public Relations strategist. I first got to know her when she worked for Canadian beef farmers and their Canada Beef brand. She was one of the first in all of agriculture to work with bloggers.

To her, the connections were huge. “Having discussions with each of the influencers about myths they had heard, or questions they had about cooking or the industry was really insightful.  This allowed us to provide access to the answers that would help them (and their audiences) better understand it.  It also highlighted the deep craving people have for wanting to know about where their food comes from, who is growing it, how it can be prepared, and more.”

McDonald’s has done it, taking moms to farms, restaurants and even meat processing plants. Why can’t more of agriculture be involved? In many cases, myself included, I know we find ourselves shying away from the big faces of the blogging sector because we don’t want the pain of a fight. But how long can we let the lies and memes continue to change minds – before we collectively act?

As farmers, we have to be open to showing off what we do and talking about any and all issues. We have good reasons as to why we do certain things around the farm. Let’s get out of our comfort zone and talk about that. And farm groups need to support us. Recipe sites and ads are great, but check-off budgets need to include more resources to connecting with consuming moms with real concerns and real online communities.

We won’t be able to win everyone over. After all, we don’t have a scary story to tell and there are those that make their living scaring people – so aren’t going to stop no matter how far they have to stretch the truth to sell it.

But as the Pioneer Woman proves, good stories go a lot further. She has posted about her family’s life on their ranch, to go along with her incredible food brand that includes a blog, television show, cookbooks, merchandise and Facebook page with a community of almost three million. You won’t find any headlines about toxic this or dangerous that. You’ll leave feeling good.

And that is what people really want, isn’t it?

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Andrew Campbell

Andrew is a dairy farmer in southern Ontario who also specializes in helping farmers learn about social media and advocacy. Once broadcasting farm news reports on the radio, he still likes to keep a close eye on news and issues relating to agriculture. Andrew is the owner of Fresh Air Media (http://www.thefreshair.ca), has a mild addiction to Twitter and believes the Brier & Scotties are the most important sporting events in the country. @FreshAirFarmer

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