Changing the conversation

Chinn agvocates via social media

Chris Chinn is on a campaign to inform consumers about today’s family farm. She’s among an increasing cadre of producers, sometimes called agvocates, who use social media to tell their stories.

“I do my best to dispel myths about farming,” said Chinn, who raises hogs, cattle and row crops with her husband Kevin and Kevin’s parents and brother near Clarence, Mo. “It’s important to me that farmers maintain the freedom to choose how we raise the food we all eat.”

Social media refers to online platforms like Facebook and Twitter that allow people to share information. Chinn started posting on Facebook shortly after it launched 10 years ago, first used Twitter

in 2008 and ventured onto YouTube with a video in 2009. She began posting blogs on chrischinn.wordpress.com in 2010, and today 6,500 people follow her site.

Rooting for the right to farm
The most effective use of social media by farmers that Chinn has seen came last summer leading up to the vote on Amendment 1, the Missouri right to farm ballot initiative. Chinn and other agvocates posted in support of the measure, and Missouri voters approved it in a close vote on August 4.

“Social media played a key role in the outcome,” Chinn said. “There wasn’t a lot of time to print information, and we saw a lot of conversations online. It’s an affordable, convenient way to communicate your message. You can do it any time of day.”

In 2011, Chinn wrote against proposed child labor regulations that would have restricted kids under age 15 from helping out on the farm. She also testified before Congress, which dropped the idea following the hearing. “I was passionate on that issue,” said Chinn. She and Kevin have two school-aged children, Rachelle and Connor.

She’s also argued against proposals to limit livestock confinement. “It’s best for vets, nutritionists and farmers to work together to decide what’s best for our animals,” she explained.

Chinn frequently responds to negative articles she sees about agriculture. She receives the most feedback from posts about animal welfare, the use of antibiotics in livestock, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“People who aren’t involved in agriculture are trying to tell our story,” she said. “If our children are to have a future on the family farm, we have to speak out. I want people to understand what happens out here on the farm. They’ll have a better comfort level with food when they understand all the steps farmers go through to make food safe.”

Anti-GMO advocates seem especially active on social media. “I tell people, ‘I understand your concern, but I researched this—we’re simply taking a trait from one plant and transferring it to another,’” Chinn said. “My message is this: Farmers feed our families the same food that you do.”

On the antibiotics issue, “People have no idea that we’re regulated and veterinarians advise us,” Chinn said.

Sharing tricks of the trade
Chinn covers other topics as well, including what it’s like to be a farm mom. When she experiences a high traffic period, as she did with the child labor controversy, she follows up with a lighter post. “I want people who disagree with me to keep reading,” she explained.

Most of us know people who follow photos of their grandchildren on Facebook, but demographically, most social media users are younger. “Social media is a great way to reach the younger generation and people outside of agriculture,” Chinn said. “It’s second-nature for people in their 20s who grew up using it. I grew up with a telephone on the wall—I didn’t have the world at my fingertips like my kids do.”

On top of working full-time on the farm and taking care of family, Chinn serves on the Missouri Farm Bureau board, on Missouri Pork Producers Association committees, and on the Domestic Marketing Committee of the National Pork Producers Association.

Still, she tries to spends at least 20 minutes every weekday online. During the Right to Farm campaign, that time commitment swelled. “I follow threads on Facebook while we’re watching TV at home in the evening,” she said, adding that she switches between her smartphone and her computer. “I try to read all comments before I write about a topic.”

Chinn says today’s movement to defend production agriculture was spurred by a 2008 undercover video of a processing facility showing inhumane treatment of downed cows. “This does not happen on a farm!” Chinn contends.

Concerned about bringing in infectious disease, hog farmers don’t usually invite outsiders to their facilities. But you can tour Chinn’s operation in a video titled The Truth About Pork Production, available on her website.

“I’ve worked hard to earn the trust of my followers,” she said, “I think my online conversations make a difference.”

What is social media?

Social media refers to Internet platforms that allow users to share information. Social networking provides more opportunity for two-way communication than print and broadcast venues. Facebook, Twitter and many blog sites, most of which are free, allow viewers to post responses. As of January 2014, 74 percent of online adults were using social networking sites.
•    Facebook is the dominant social networking platform, used by 57 percent of all American adults and 73 percent of all those ages 12-17. Of adults who are online, 71 percent use Facebook. The site allows users to send and view text messages, photos and videos, to search for and “friend” people, “follow” organizations as fans, and “like” and “share” others’ posts.
•    Twitter allows users to send and read short 140-character text messages. You can follow “tweets” generated by friends, celebrities and organizations. Nineteen percent of American adults who are online use Twitter.
•    Bloggers use websites to share longer opinions. Many create blogging sites via Wordpress.com.
•    Other platforms include Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn.

We found statistics for this sidebar at the Pew Research Center site, pewinternet.org, in articles posted in January and February 2014.

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