Farming in the digital age

Friday, May 27, 2011

One of the participants at Farm Marketing Workshop has already acted on the advice she was given and set up a Facebook page for her business.

Judy Haynes set up a page for Haynes Honey Farm later that same day and wrote, "This is all new to me so I am learning as I go. Hope you enjoy my page."

Since then, she has posted photos and status updates, including a set of pictures of her husband, David, dealing with a swarm of bees.

Another workshop participant, Susan Ragsdale, has a Facebook page for her farm and another for her petsitting service. Ragsdale was already familiar with using the Internet for selling a product: she has been selling Nigerian Dwarf goats from her Web site for some time.

David Vore's use of the Internet is still in the future, but Pat Vanden Bosche helped him get a domain name, so that it's ready when he is. Vore told the group he is trying to get into raising and selling meat from organic grass-fed beef, sheep, and hogs.

"I have a friend doing it in Virginia and he can't raise enough for the demand," Vore said.

"We can help with that," said Dan Strasser, director of market development for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, who was the featured speaker.

Another specialized and farming operation is already going on in southern Marshall County: Jane Caulfield and her daughter are raising Cotswold and Romney sheep, harvesting the wool, processing it, dying it and selling it to spinners. The processing and dying adds a lot to the price of the wool - spinners are paying up to $20 a pound, many times more than what a fleece brings if it's sent to the "wool pool."

Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, said the Three-Star Agriculture committee that organized the workshop had promoting agritourism as their goal for the year. The committee had already visited Chris Carlough's Rising Glory Farm and Wiles reported they were "blown away." Carlough is already active in agritourism: the farm near Berlin hosts tour groups for meals and equine demonstrations.

Pam Bartholomew, agritourism coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, took the group through the steps to creating a Facebook page, and encouraged them to include video and to ask questions or create a poll that people can respond to.

"It's kind of like a dialog," she said. "It's the new word of mouth."

Debbie Ball, TDA Ag Enhancement Program information and outreach coordinator, discussed "how to know what you're doing is working" by using Google Analytics. It's a tracking tool that can tell you who visited your Web site, how they got there, how many pages they looked at and how long they stayed. Using Google Analytics, Ball explained, you can relate site traffic to business traffic, and figure out what attracted people - or failed to attract them.

"We use it for Pick TN Products," Ball said. This is the state's wonderful site where you can find sources for all kinds of products from berries to meat and Christmas trees to hayrides, plus information like the dates of county fairs, locations of farmers' markets, and some delicious recipes. You can also link to from the agritourism Web site