When a video of dairy cows being punched and prodded with pitchforks was recently released by an animal rights group, it made the rounds on YouTube and generated the expected angry responses.
But it also raised a flurry of outrage from another corner of the Internet: Farmers fought back, blogging, tweeting, uploading their own videos and chatting on Facebook to defend their industry and explain the abuse did not represent their practices.
Growers aren’t usually thought of as a wired, social-networking bunch. But frustration at being the targets of tech-wise environmental or animal rights groups has inspired them to get involved with social media and answer in kind.
Armed with smart phones that allow them to post status updates from a tractor seat and increasingly comfortable issuing pithy one-liners on the short-messaging site Twitter, they’re going online to tell their own stories, connect to a public they feel doesn’t understand them, exchange information and break the isolation they feel on the farm.
“There is so much negative publicity out there, and no one was getting our message out,” said Ray Prock Jr., a second-generation Central California dairy farmer whose blog posts and tweets relay information on everything from emergency drills for handling manure spills to lactose intolerance.
Farmers say the videos are shocking but don’t represent how their animals are treated. They worry Americans won’t realize this because they’re several generations removed from life on the farm, don’t know any farmers and have little idea how their food is produced. The only information about food and farming that most people get comes from the Internet, and exchanges were taking place on sites like YouTube or Twitter without any input from farmers.
“We weren’t part of the conversation,” Prock said. “And if we aren’t telling our story, other people will, and they’ll tell it the way they want to.”
Prock and a handful of other farmers also have started the AgChat Foundation, which aims get more farmers on YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other sites to explain what they do on the farm and answer questions from the public.
They’re holding their first social media training in August and hope to soon have grants for farmers who are interested in social media but don’t have the tools — smart phones, laptops and broadband Internet connections — that would make social networking easier.
Source: The Associated Press