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Reporter’s Notebook: Moving from Twitter to real life

Twitter is bringing the ag community closer together, in many different ways

It’s a scenario familiar to anyone on Twitter who attends farm shows— the attempt to figure out if that stranger you’ve just met is actually someone you know through Twitter.

But farmers and ag industry launched a simple solution this summer. It’s a black lanyard, with #agtwittercommunity printed on the fabric. The name tag includes the person’s Twitter handle, name, farm business, and location. I sat down with Louise Carduner at Ag in Motion last July, and she was kind enough to fill me in on the project in between handing out lanyards.

“This project is the brainchild of Old Man Gord on Twitter, who is a farmer near Englefeld, which is near Quill Lake,” Louise said. Gord Moellenbeck (aka @OldManGord on Twitter) wanted to transfer the relationships he’d already built on social media to face-to-face meetings at farm shows, Louise explained.

Louise then approached Rob Makowsky, a DEKALB territory manager in Sask, with the idea. Rob jumped on board. Soon P&H backed the idea, too.

During Ag in Motion, Louise heard through the grapevine that an Australian visitor planned to take the idea home, and she was quite chuffed.

“We want people to replicate our idea, and make it their own in their own country. And before you know it, it could be something that is going to help agriculture people find each other at shows.”

Why Twitter?

Louise’s roots are on the Canadian Prairies. She works in ag sales, and says she loves working with farmers. She also manages the @FarmsofCanada Twitter account. While Louise runs this account, quite often a farmer or other aggie will tweet from the account for a week.

Why bother with Twitter? It’s all about the relationships, Louise says. People assembling a Facebook network tend to pick people they already know. But Twitter networks are more based on shared interests and values, Louise said. With Twitter, “you can really build a strong tribe based on like-minded people,” she said, which makes for an interesting timeline.

Louise is a real connector. While I was talking to Louise for this column, she introduced me to Trevor Scherman, which is how I ended up writing about the Schermans’ ScherGain Solution System for measuring harvest losses. That article ran earlier this fall.

This fall a group of Italian farmers were looking for farms to visit as they headed from Calgary east. Elio Mastrangelo, the Italian travel agent leading the group, was already in the habit of using Facebook and Twitter to organize these farm tours. He got in touch with Louise, who used social media to find farms for them to visit.

One of those farms was the Scherman place near North Battleford. They contacted Trevor Scherman through Twitter, and a couple of days later the group of 18 were touring his farm.

The Battleford News-Optimist has a good article about that farm visit. Visit The Battlefords News-Optimist and search for Italy if you’d like to read it online.

Online community

Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but I see the ag community as a little more civil online than the wider internet. I think it’s because so many of us grew up in small towns and know the consequences of mouthing off every time we’re mad at someone (although sometimes this still happens). Sure, there are some heated conversations, but I think (or at least hope) most people can disagree strongly without turning to the dark side.

Unfortunately, nasty behaviour is widespread on Twitter, and that leaches into Ag Twitter as well. There is someone/some people who like to create spoof accounts of people advocating for various issues in ag, and say gross things about those people through these fake accounts. This has been going on for a few years, and has affected men and women (though from what I’ve seen, it seems to be directed more at women).

But the one heartening thing is how quickly other people on Ag Twitter jump in to defend the target of the spoof account. I think it’s important to let the person being targeted that everyone has her back (although, of course, one should refrain from tweeting anything that might trigger a visit from the cops).

Over the last several months, there have also been people doing some really good things, and using Twitter to spread the word. Many have been speaking up on mental health issues in rural areas. I think Kim Keller, Sean Stanford, and Mathieu and Lesley Kelly all deserve kudos for this. I hope it’s just the start of much-needed changes around our understanding of mental health, and better access to necessary services.

The other good news Twitter story from the fall was the fundraising response to the wildfires in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. An individual started an online fundraiser for the family of James Hargrave, the 34-year-old rancher who died fighting fire. And someone else started a Go Fund Me page for the families of Ron and Evan Wedrick, who were badly injured while battling the grass fires. The Wedrick campaign is now closed, but it raised over $100,000. The Hargrave fundraiser was still open as I wrote this column. At nearly $80,000 raised, it had exceeded its $50,000 goal.

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers’ Association has also been fundraising for producers who suffered losses in the wildfires. They are accepting cash donations, as well as things like feed and trucking. The Sask government had now agreed to match donations up to $100,000. The application deadline for producers was November 15th, but the Stock Growers are still accepting donations. Visit skstockgrowers.com for more information.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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