A growing number of U.S. farmers are signing up for social media sites as a way to promote the agriculture industry by directly reaching the public.

Some farmers say social media is an effective counter to the mixed marketing messages targeted at consumers about what’s healthy and how food is made.

“There’s so much misinformation out there about farming and what farmers do. A lot of people have lost track of where their food comes from,” said Dino Giacomazzi, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in central California who travels around the country training farmers on social media use. He also has a popular blog, Facebook page and Twitter account (@dairydino) with thousands of farmer followers.

“We invite people onto our farms through the Internet,” he said. “We let people see exactly what it is that we do.”

Farmers’ use of social media spiked in 2008, after voters approved California’s Proposition 2, which mandates that egg-laying hens must be able to fully extend their limbs, lie down and turn in a circle within their cages.

Farmers argued that it would have negative impacts on California’s egg industry, which is fifth among states in egg production. But Giacomazzi claimed that the farmers’ voice was lost among various animal rights organizations, who didn’t have their facts straight, he said. The cage restrictions won’t go into effect until 2015.

“That has fired up a lot of people,” said Giacomazzi. “[Farmers] now are wanting to take things into their own hands.”

He said thousands of farmers have since joined Twitter, Facebook or started a blog to show people what kind of work they are doing. But this type of openness to sharing daily activities is a new concept to most farmers, Giacomazzi said. That’s why he spends his time guiding them on what to do.

Social Media Conference of Farmers

A recent conference on farmers and social media hosted by the University of California, Davis, brought 80 attendees, including www.agchat.org president Jeff Fowle, who currently has more than 25,000 Twitter followers.

Earlier this year, he and a group of farmers created the AgChat Foundation, a nonprofit designed to empower more farmers to leverage social media as a tool. The group hosts weekly discussions on Twitter about various topics and how they affect the agriculture industry.

The foundation hopes to start giving technology scholarships to needy farmers by the time they get back in the fields this spring, donating smartphones, aircards, flipcams, laptops, iPads and in some cases high-speed Internet.

The goal, the foundation said in an e-mail, “is to encourage more people to interact with farmers and get their questions answered about farming directly from the source.”

Giacomazzi added, “It’s about selling the industry; it’s about saving the lifestyle of these farmers. And we’ll do that at whatever cost to us.”

Lauren Katims Nadeau  |  Contributing Writer