Saturday, January 2, 2010

Attention Twitterverse: Direct Marketers, Urban Farmers, New Farmers….You just might need a team of advisors.

So one day I found myself intrigued with the twitter phenomenon. My inquisitive nature forced me join. Much to my surprise, what I found was a large selection of like minding farmers, foodies, agvocates, and businesses. But I found them arguing. Hmm, why are they at odds with one another? We all want the same goal don’t we? Where’s the disconnect? It didn’t take long to figure it out….my way is better than your way….I read it in a book somewhere, so it must be true….NYTimes says so, it must be fact…and now, the big screen theatrically describes it so I’m absolutely right and you are absolutely wrong. Now, I may be a born and bred Kentuckian but I’m not stupid. This ideology is just plain ignorant.

Which brings me to the motivation for this post.

A recent twitter conversation has made me realize that some people just really do not want or believe they need a helping hand. Some, it would appear, prefer to remain in a fantasyland of their own creation, an idealistic view of their beliefs if you will. My way is right so you must absolutely be wrong. This is sad on so many levels and well, I have to question this (It’s my nature. I question everything) because to me, this is peculiar.

Farming, local/regional food systems, livestock, and the meat industry in general are a huge part of my life. I consider myself to be knowledgeable, well-informed, and educated on the subject. I didn’t get this way on my own and I’m constantly learning more from others. This is the very core of farming and the meat industry, constantly learning, adapting, and ever evolving. When we stop listening to all sides of the debate, when we dismiss generational experience in farming or processing, we hamper progress, evolution, and our ultimate goal. We become close minded and ignorant.

Now, I’m a facts chick. It’s safe to say that I love facts. I tend to ignore (or at lease put less weight on) emotional pleas to make our world a better place, so to speak. I want facts from all sides of the debate. I can then evaluate those facts and come to my own hypothesis. So basically, I think for myself. I know this may be a hard concept for some to grasp but thinking for yourself is not really all that hard. I encourage everyone to give a try at least once. You’ll never find me believing something just because I saw it on a website somewhere from some unknown source. I weigh facts and opinion, make an educated decision and continue to evaluate that choice/decision. I never stop learning.

So, back to my reason for this chatter….

Along the way there were several voices that educated me through all aspects of these issues. In business, I would call this my team of advisors. It’s wise to have a team of advisors. You can’t expect to be an expert on every facet of your new venture, whatever it may be. Whether, it’s starting a new farm or shifting your farming operation into direct to consumer retail, or anything else for that matter. So, we surround ourselves with folks in various areas related to our particular operation.

I have an excellent team of advisors in the “real world.” These people range from small niche farmers to large corporate family farmers, to fellow Kentucky slaughter/processing house owners. Our team also consists of an array of professionals from diverse sectors of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture team, along with meat scientists from multiple Universities across the United States and even some beyond our borders. My advisors are numerous. Further nearly weekly advisors would be our microbiology laboratory, USDA segments, University of Kentucky meat and marketing specialists. We even seek council from members at University of Tennessee, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and Retired Tennessee professors (one of my valued). The list doesn’t end there. I seek advice from chefs at our restaurant customer base, financial and small business advisors, etc…but I think you get the idea. We are ever learning, ever growing, and progress never stands still.

Twitter is a superb tool for an “unofficial” team of advisors. Grains of salt are needed of course, but there are quite a few extremely knowledgeable people available at a simple keystroke. And to think, I had to travel, phone, and snail mail my advisors when I need advice. As for my farm, my industry, and my business, I would consider these tweeps my “unofficial” team of advisors.

@iTweetMeat – Penn State Department of Dairy and Animal Science

@tweef32 – Mike Smucker, Smuckers Meats and a fellow slaughter/processor

@CarrieOliver – Carrie Oliver, a professed beef geek with a great attitude and a luv for artisan meats

@CallicrateBeef & @BuyColorado – Mike Callicrate a fellow direct beef marketer who appreciates the marbling & Bill Flentje, both appreciate supporting local farmers and buying meats direct.

@PoppyDavis – Poppy is a great resource for beginner farmers and small farmers

@bmarler – Bill is one heckuva food safety advocate. He’s also a trial lawyer, but I’ll look past that for a change (I’m just teasing Bill). He keeps me on my toes and keeps my food safety/regulation/HACCP knowledge at its peak. Be careful though, you might just find yourself on one of his CNN interviews.

@agchat – Oh #agchat, there are so many things to say here. It could really be its own blog post subject. Founded by @mpaynknoper – This is a weekly live twiversation that takes place Tuesdays from, 8-10pm ET. If you have an interest in food, farming, and all things agriculture related this is the place to be. Meet the real farmers who grow your food, the professionals that prepare it, the consumers who consume it, and all steps in between. I highly recommend this to anyone and everyone.

@foodchat – Kind of a spinoff of @agchat – This is also a live twiversation that centers around food. Join the live streaming convo every 3rd Tuesday from 8-10pm ET. If you eat, you might want to tune in.

Then there’s my fellow beef farmers who I find a great deal of value in…




There are hundreds more twitter users that I find value in, each one in their own way. It’s eclectic, diverse, always entertaining, and well sometimes downright frustrating. This, to me, makes it interesting.

My advice, figure out who your virtual twitter team of advisors are and listen, ask, learn, share, and grow. It’s a much more productive plan than being bull headed, close minded, defensive, and ungrateful.

You just might learn something.


  1. I just got off the sidelines when it comes to social media myself after years of thinking, MySpace is for kids, Twitter, what the heck is that?... and not understanding how they could apply to me as a farmer / direct marketer. I took this long, and I have worked making Web technology available to people for over 12 years.

    Farming is very emotional for many people because it is not just a job, it is a way of life. It brings with it family heritage issues and often involves land that you have paid for with blood, sweat, tears and dreams. When someone comes along and does or says something that tells you what you are doing is wrong, or proposes or actually passes regulations that threaten your way of life, you get a little defensive. You need to realize this happens to you and not let the immediate nature of communication on Social Media platforms keep you from being respectful.

    I've seen this with regards to both conventional and organic farmers, over and over again for example, when they could both learn from each other. It is easy, but not productive, to let the emotional investment we have in farming 'our way' to spill into how we communicate with others in these cases.

    Even when non farming community members have strong feelings about how their food is raised, whether it is based on real knowledge, or not, we have much to learn from each other. It is all too easy but not wise to cultivate an 'Us versus Them' attitude. Too many farmers do this. It is easy to disregard all of what someone is saying because you don't agree with part of the message. We all have much in common, though, and we have things we can learn from each other.

    A perfect example of this was when I recently saw a grass based farmer on a social media site talking about feeding fish to hogs, but they made an untrue statement to a more experienced person instead of asking for others' input (which social media is great for, by the way) You can't expect to convince people your way of doing things is better than thiers (if that is your goal) if it is not based on knowledge and facts.

    You can't tell someone with experience in the meat industry that 'raw fresh fish doesn't have parasites' just because you think it would be a good plentiful protein source for your hogs.

    Sustainably harvesting freshwater fish on a farm and boiling it to kill parasites to provide fish meal protein for hogs might be an idea that can be done sustainably, but raw fresh fish can have parasites that can be transmitted to hogs and to people. If you are going to use social media to promote 'your way of doing things', have your ducks in a row. Better yet, use it to get input from people. You might learn something or make some great friends along the way.

    I created and launched it in the last few days to give social media tools available to farms who want to easily connect with their family, friends, and communities, and share their farmin stories.

    Mike Murphy


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