The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 1, 2012

Touting small towns, ag: Conference lets participants sing virtues of rural life

By Danielle Beard, CNHI News Service
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — In the past, farmers and ranchers have never had to worry about public education of agriculture.

Now, though, with most of the population being several generations removed from the farm, producers are having to share their stories in order to change public perception of agriculture.

Recently, people from all walks of life gathered at the Fox Theater in Hutchinson, Kan., for “140 Conference State of Now: Small Town.” The purpose of the conference was for people to share their stories and ideas on how to attract attention to small town or rural life.

According to the 140 Conference, this event “provides a platform for the  worldwide online community to listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time Internet on business. It creates serendipity in talking to each other, sharing ideas across industries, and exchanging thoughts with people like you and not like you, or in rural terms, cross-pollination of ideas.”

With its population 40,000, Hutchinson may not be considered a small town, it is the smallest host city of 140 Conference, compared to others such as New York City and Tel Aviv.

The event included topics and speakers such as “The Beauty of Small Ag” by Carin Zinter, Sunderland, Mass., and Lance Chastain, Andover, Kan.; “I’m Farming and I Grow It,” by Greg Peterson, Assaria, Kan.; “Do Small Towns Have a Future?” by Becky McCray, Hopeton; “Looking into the Faceless Big Ag,” by Carrie Mess, Johnson Creek, Wis., Janice Person, St. Louis, and Kansans Debbie Lyons-Blythe and Jodi Oleen.

For Nicole Small, a farmer and blogger from Neodesha, Kan., this event  presented an opportunity to learn and connect with people she had only interacted with online before.

“Other organizations always tell us we need to share the story of agriculture, but they don’t give us the platform to do it, and then they don’t support us when we do share our story on social media,” Small said. “These conferences give us the nuts and bolts of how to share our stories, as well as the face-to-face contact with the people who can help us do so.”

Small’s interest in sharing her story through social media came after one of her sons brought home a flyer from school.

“My son brought home a cute little mini magazine from the National PTO, and on the back cover it had an advertisement for something along the lines of mom’s for antibiotic awareness, and if you scanned the QR code it sent you to a site to contact your representive in D.C. asking to limit and control antibiotic use in livestock,” she said.

Irritated, Small contacted the school and emailed the information out to her friends explaining why she wasn’t happy with this.

Her determination eventually landed her a spot on Trent Loose’s radio show, where he challenged her to advocate for agriculture more than she was doing locally.

Small said social media has helped her teach agriculture to a more diverse audience.

“It’s a great way to talk to consumers we wouldn’t have the opportunity to reach otherwise,” she said.

“On my Facebook page I have followers from New York to San Antonio, Texas, who don’t live on a farm. It provides me the chance to tell my story in place instead of going somewhere and talking to each person individually.”

To Small, her favorite part of the conference was working face-to-face with people she interacts with daily online.

“You form a connection with these people online, but meeting them in person you create a personal connection, which is beneficial in order to have a strong relationship,” she said.

Small said the benefits of this conference compared to others was that people in attendance were not all in agriculture.

“It wasn’t all agriculture, so you could see how other people use social media and adapt it for yourself in order to reach bigger audiences,” she said.

Those attending the conference discussed how important social media is becoming in order for agriculturists to educate the public and each other.

“The connections I’ve made with other farm moms through social media have helped me tell my story better,” Small said.

“If I post something and people have questions, but I’m busy and can’t answer them right away, others are quick to step in and answer these questions.

“All of agriculture has to work together. It can’t be farmers vs. ranchers or conventional vs. organic, there are only 2 percent of us out here, it’s about banding together,” she said.

Beard writes for Farm Talk, which is published in  Parsons, Kan.