#onthefarm with Pamela Bartholomew

March 14, 2010

For March 12’s #onthefarm, I visited with Pamela Bartholomew http://twitter.com/pj8seconds) with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture as a Agritourism Marketing Speialist. She works with farmers to promote their farms and businesses for visitors to come to the farm–whether the farms are wineries, pick-your-own pumpkins or farm bed and breakfast residences.

It was a very interesting conversation, as Pamela offered good insights into how Tennessee works with farmers who want to invite the public to their farms. It’s a lucrative industry, as Pamela noted that the Volunteer State’s 600 agritourism farms has a total income of $6.5 million in 2009. Check out the chat transcript below to learn more about how one state has been successful in promoting its farmers and their efforts in earning additional income by opening their farms up to the public.

Thanks for reading!


n_web: OK, Pamela is here, I’m here, @celestelaurent is following from whatever class she’s blowing off. Let’s begin! Q1 Give us some background on yourself and what you do.

pj8seconds: Q1 Grew up on a livestock farm w/cattle, goats, sheep, & pigs. Luv to show & raise Hampshire pigs. We have fainting goats 2. My family sells sausage from our pigs we raise. We are looking at selling it in local grocery stores.  I was a State FFA Officer, National Collegiate Ambassador, Sigma Alpha President n college. Graduate of @UTMartin n Ag Ed. Been working at TN Dept. of Ag almost 3yrs as the Agritourism Marketing Specialist.  I work w/farmers to help promote their Agritourism farm & work w/them on issues pertaining 2 their farm. We promote Agritourism through PickTnProducts.org , @PickTnProducts, and Facebook. Along w/other marketing.

n_web: Q2: OK, let’s start there: what is agritourism? Then we’ll get into Tennessee.  

pj8seconds: Q2 Agritourism is anything that brings people to a working farm. Agritourism=Pick Your Own fruits & veggies, cornmazes, on farm B&B, wineries, Christmas tree farms, educational tours…..  

n_web: Q3: How do you work with farmers for agritourism? I guess, walk me through the process of if a farmer wants to be in agritourism?  

pj8seconds: Q3 If a farmer is interested in agritourism all they would need to do is to get in contact w/ me or their extension agent. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture along w/ the Center of Profitable Ag has lots of reasorces. It is very important that a farmer does their on reserch to see if agritourism is right for them. You HAVE to like working with people to be involved in Agritourism. If u don’t like ppl on ur farm this is not for you.

n_web: Q4: What kind of resources does your office offer farmers? Some have had roadside stands for years. How is agritourism different?  

pj8seconds: Q4 We offer a yearly Agritourism Conference with great speakers and topics 4 new & experienced agritourism farmers. We have hands on regional workshops 4 agritourism farmers that cover topics such as safety, media relationas, marketing & more. We also have the Tennessee Agriculture Enhancement Program, which is a cost share program for farmers.  The TAEP cost share program can help agritourism farmers with restrooms, parking, lighting, educational pavilions, marketing….. Agritourism farmers who qualify can get 35% cost share up to $10,000 or 50% up to $15000.

n_web: Q5: What are a few things for farmers to consider when hosting visitors?  

pj8seconds: Q5 Safety should be the number one concern on an Agritourism farm. It is a working farm w/ working hazards.  Before you have the public on your farm look for attractive nuisances- anything that will be attractive to kids & dangerous. It is good to have farm rules posted at an Agritourism farm. Rules are not just great for kids, but also parents. Every Agritourism farm needs a safety plan in case of fire, injury, or bad weather. All employees should practice each plan. Proper handwashing stations around farm animal attractions is a must. It is a learning opportunity to tech kids about health. Let visitors to ur farm know what to expect & wear. They have no clue not to wear heels or to wear sunscreen.  

n_web: Q6 (@celestelaurent): Not all farmers have time/$ to be a full-time tourism site. Any advice farms w/ only occassional visitors?  

pj8seconds: Q6 Start small and start with something that fits with ur current farming operation.  If you don’t have time to put n2 Agritourism then it may not be for you. Agritourism is time consuming, just like farming. If you’re a fall Agritourism farm ur ENTIRE month of October is work 24/7.  

n_web: Q7: How have Tennessee farmers benefited from agritourism? What have been the Dept of Ag & farmers’ learnings?  follow up: Is the promotion of agritourism relatively new for Tennessee? For all states?

pj8seconds: Q7 Agritourism is a way 2 help build farm income. Many farmers look to Agritourism as another way to help them stay on the farm.  There are over 600 Agritourism Farms in Tennessee with an income $6.5 million dollars. That is up from $2.4 million in 2002. TN started a committee about 8 yrs ago for the main purpose of promoting agritourism and helping farmers. This committees goal was to “increase farm income and make a positive impact on rural communities in Tennessee.”  Many states do not have a person dedicated to Agritourism, like Tennessee does.

n_web: Q8: So it sounds like you’re seeing growth in Tenn of agritourism? Are most visitors from Mem/Nash/Knox? Or out of state?  Would you consider Tennessee on the cutting edge of promoting agritourism? What can other states learn from you?

pj8seconds: Q8 Many TN Agritourism visitors r from in state. Familys love to bring their kids out to the farm & create memories!  We do have many farms who get bus tours from out of state who stop for lunch or barn dance. We also see many visitors come to Tennessee for our on farm B&B and our 33 wineries.  

n_web: Q9: Are you encouraging the agritourism farms to use social media more? To market themselves? Positive/negative feedback on that?  

pj8seconds: Q9 TDA had 3 regional workshops about How to Use Social Media to Market Your Farm. Now many TN farmers have Facebook Fan pages. Social Media fits every farmers marketing plan/budget, because its free! Social Media is a great way to keep customers thinking about your farm in the off season. Parents love to take pictures of their kids at a farm and post them on facebook-its great free advetising!  The Tennessee Dept. of Ag has got a great response using social media for promoting Pick TN Products to consumers.

n_web: Q10: What didn’t I cover that you’d like to mention or highlight?

pj8seconds: Q10 Pick TN Products & farmers can use facebook & twitter 2 let consumers know about what is in season, recipes, festivals, & more.  A great plus about having an Agritourism farm is having the opportunity to educate ppl about Agriculture. Great 4 the community! 4 every dollar spent at an Agritourism farm, an additionional $.85 of economic activity is generated.  2 find out more about TN Agritourism: PickTnProducts.org , @PickTnProducts, and Facebook.  

 n_web: This was great, Pamela. Really gave me (and I hope others) a look at how states can promote their farms and farmers. Thanks!  Thanks for your time. Best wishes on receiving good weather this year to get folks out to the farm!

pj8seconds: Thx 4 the opportunity to talk about all of the wonderful agritourism farms here in Tennessee!!!


#onthefarm with Shaun Haney

January 27, 2010

I went north of the border for last week’s #onthefarm, as I visted with Shaun Haney of Haney Farms and www.realagriculture.com. Shaun was one of the first people I started following on Twitter and he brings a unique perspective as a farmer, businessman and ag Web site operator. Honestly, I have no clue where he finds the time to do all of that–and do it well.

We had a very good conversation about Canadian agriculture and his thoughts on social media in agriculture. I could have spent another 2 hours asking questions about Canadian ag. But below is a crash course for ag in Alberta at least.

Hope you enjoy the transcript, and, as always, feel free to pass along feedback to make it better.


n_web: Thanks for joining today, Shaun. You’ve been busy lately, but let’s start off w/ a couple tweets introducing yourself, ok?

shaunhaney: I am Shaun Haney. I live in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. (2 hours south of Calgary). I run a family seed business which produces, conditions and retails certified seed. I also run Realagriculture.com which focuses on issues and insights in agriculture.

n_web: Q2: What seeds does the family produce and sell?

shaunhaney: We produce a full line of spring wheat, winter wheat barley and triticale. We sell all types of cereals, corn and canola. We clean canola seed for different seed companies.

n_web: Q3: What are the major crops in your neck of the woods? The ones you listed as part of your biz, I’d imagine :)

shaunhaney: this area is very much focused on the beef feeding sector. Lots of silage crops and feed grain. Major silage crops are corn, barley and triticale

n_web: Q4: Can you recap the 2009 season in Canada? And what are the trends you’re seeing as we head into 2010?

shaunhaney: We had many of the same challenges in canada weather wise as you did in the US. Harvest was a challenge. There is a lot of concern over volatility in the commodity market. We are very concerned about the depreciation in the US dollar. As an exporting nation the currency level is very important to Canadian farmers in grain and livestock.

n_web: Q5: What nations do the majority of Canadian crops and livestock get exported to?

shaunhaney: The US is our major export market for livestock but the impact of COOL has been very negative in some cases. In terms of crops, lentils and other pulses are shipped to the Middle East and India. There is alot of malt barley that is exported to the US as well. The Canadian and US markets are very tied together. We also import things like corn to Canada for livestock feed. Canada and the US need to work on getting their trading issues settled. (COOL, dairy, etc).

n_web: Q6: Can you explain COOL in 3 tweets? I know I’m asking you to maybe do the impossible with the COOL request . . .

shaunhaney: It is American legislation to make it mandatory to show where products in American grocery stores was produced or processed. Causes issues when we are dealing with such large trading partners like Canada and US. Here is a link to a USDA video explaining COOL from the american perspective http://bit.ly/70hUIk

n_web: Q7: And Canadian producers do not like COOL, I take it? How is this impacting the beef industry there?

shaunhaney: Because the industries are so tied and complimentary. It’s making it difficult to ship fat cattle to US plants in the NW. Processors are trying to not incur costs and deciding to not kill Canadian cattle. Report out this week that some US grocers are starting to see the benefit of marketing Canadian beef in US stores. It’s just adding costs to the system and causing friction between the two, The American Meat Institute is also against COOL.

n_web: Do you have a link to that report? Interesting . . . I wonder if it’s because of media attn on the US industry?

shaunhaney: Here is the link to one of the AMI cool stories http://bit.ly/7VDvGM

n_web: Q8 from @ruthseeley: “what do you think of the local proposal to start growing poppies in this area (Alberta).”

shaunhaney: I think that it is has good potential. I have heard several stories about the project. My neighbor is involved in the project. The fact we have irrigation probably lends itself well to growing poppies for non-opiate production.

n_web: Q9: Let’s talk SM. You run realagriculture.com. Give me some background on that: when, why, focus of content, who, etc.

shaunhaney: I started RealAgriculture.com a year ago. I wanted to focus on providing video and audio to keep agriculturalists informed. We focus on talking to people that have neat stories , educational segments and tradeshow and conference coverage

n_web: Q10: I really enjoyed the recent tradeshow coverage online. How has the response been to that?

shaunhaney: We really try to bring farmers twist to media by covering the issues from the producers viewpoint. By making content for producers it is amazing how the industry also enjoys the content. About 20% of our traffic is from the US. Many similar issues that producers have to deal with.

n_web: Q11: What’s your favorite SM tool?

shaunhaney: I would have to say that my favorite SM tool is twitter. I have made so many friends on twitter it really does amaze me. I use Facebook and linkedin lots as well but in reality twitter has fostered some really strong friendships. I use to use friendfeed all the time but since facebook bought it I haven’t used it much. Kind of repetitive. Twitter is realtime. For example #onthefarm and #agchat.

n_web: Q12: How can US and Canadian growers/producers work closer together on ag issues? Is SM helpful to do so?

shaunhaney: I think SM allows us to ask each other questions to better understand each other. I get tonnes of questions from people in the US about things and I ask questions as well. The SM agriculture community is very strong, supportive and focused on informing people internally and externally. With SM you can interact directly with the source. I can tweet @JeffFowle and ask questions about ranching in US for example. I can tweet @JPlovesCOTTON to find out more about cotton.

n_web: Final Qs: Your (unbiased) picks for the Stanley Cup & the Gold Medal? I’mreeeeally excited for the Olympic hockey (and curling!)

shaunhaney: Normally I would pick the Flames because I am a season ticket holder but I think its the Blackhawks. For the hockey gold medal … Its CANADA all the way for gold.!!!!!!! Yeah I said it.

n_web: It pains me to agree with you on the Hawks . . . Memories of the late 80s/early 90s Blues-Hawks games. Larmer-Roenick-Goulet

n_web: Sorry, one more Q: What didn’t I cover that you’d like to tell everyone?

shaunhaney: I would just like to finish up by saying that I encourage all US producers and industry people to try and learn more about Canada. Our countries have much more in common than you maybe realize. The western US and Western Can. are very similar. Same goes in the east. Our practice ans issues are very common and we need to work together

n_web: This chat flew by! Could keep this going for another hour. But you have content to upload so we’ll call it a day. Thanks! Many thanks to Shaun for joining me in the middle of tradeshow season in Canada. Make sure you check out realagriculture.com.

shaunhaney: Thanks for the opportunity to participate with #onthefarm I had a great time. Please check out http://www.realagriculture.com and http://www.haneyfarms.com

#onthefarm with Nathan Winters

January 18, 2010

I had a great #onthefarm conversation with Nathan Winters on Friday afternoon. Nathan biked across the United States from Maine to Washington in 2009. Along the way, he visited dozens of farmers in rural communities in the hopes of collecting enough material for a book. Even though our chat only lasted an hour, I firmly believe he has a heckuva book idea, and I hope he has success in publishing it. The idea seems rather unique, so I think that it has a good chance of getting picked up. If you’d like to contact Nathan for a sample chapter, please do so via his Twitter handle, @follownathan, or his Web site, follownathan.org.

I highly recommend checking out his photo albums on flickr. Amazing stuff, and as I note in the chat, I think the phot album could be its own book about rural America.

I discovered Nathan via Twitter during an #agchat. He’s a regular contributor and provides good insight. Make sure you follow him.

Hope you enjoy the chat!


n_web: Next couple tweets will be links and background before we start. Nathan biked cross-country in 2009, from Maine to Washington to get a first-hand look at ag. Check out: http://www.follownathan.org/ for more info on Nathan and his journey. And make sure you check out his photo collection on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22002817@N04/sets/72157622568988136/. I love the photos. Fascinating stuff. Great images. Could be its own book!

follownathan: Thanks for the #onthefarm intro biking across America getting familiar with #ag was the opportunity of a lifetime

n_web: OK, looks like Nathan is here, but a couple more minutes before we roll. Woofing down lunch . . .

follownathan: I am currently writing a book and many have requested a photo book as well. Could prob write 4 of them ;)

n_web: Q1: I gave a 140 character intro, but please take a few tweets to give us more on your background.

follownathan: Q1 originally from Lancaster County, PA, 30 yrs old and live in rural #VT tech background with passion for #ag #food and #travel. Biked 4300 miles across America to get on and meet farmers of all types and sizes and ask questions – best experience ever.

n_web: Q2: Why would you want to bike 4300 miles? And why did you decide to focus only on farmers?

follownathan: Q2 trekking America at a slow pace was my dream. I originally wanted to walk. Biking was perfect fit. I met with much more than farmers and ranchers. I met with consumers, coops, markets, drunks at dive bars… you name it! I also spent a good look at #climate issues & sustainable #ag as they seem 2 go hand in hand. I’m passionate about all of this.

n_web: Q3: Before you began, what were some of your preconceived notions about farming? And what were you hoping to accomplish?

follownathan: Q3 Good Q – Thing was that I had very little preconceived notions of #farming because like many… I was disconnected from them. I’m willing to say that I was charged in the way of all big #ag is bad #ag – Through education and experience I know different. What I wanted to accomplish was a platform where people could share my experiences from all over using #SM and I did just that. But most importantly I wanted to live my dreams and get the answers to the questions about #ag /#food I had swirling in my head.

n_web: Q4: without giving away the premise of the book, can you list 3 or 4 of those questions here? check that, not the premise. I meant the “hook”

follownathan: Q4 Why do we need authors such as Michael Pollan to explain where food comes from? How food get so complicated? Why is my hometown in Lancaster, PA and many like it turning into one giant strip mall? What happened to all the family farms? Why do we have such a strong disconnection between the farmers that produce and the people who consume. My favorite was “What is your message to America?” As you can see here I got many great responses http://bit.ly/iepdh (expand )

n_web: Q5: How did farmers answer those questions? Did answers vary according to production practice? Or were their thoughts similar?

follownathan: Q5 more than production, practice or region their answers varied based simply on personality types. Farmers have great personality. In my experience most farmers were more than willing to answer my Q’s and some even eager. I always felt welcome.

n_web: Q6: Can you list the states you visited & the various farms & what they grew? Any places that you’d like to mention as the best? Just a quick rundown of various farms, not every one!

follownathan: Q6 here is a map of my route http://bit.ly/7qdJbz.  But yes I would love to share a few farms that I visited. Grassland Farm in Maine (dairy)- Wellspring CSA in #VT (veggies) – Amish farm in #NY (diverse). Tantre Farm (Diverse) MI – WIld Rose Dairy WI- New Forest (permaculture)WI -Blue Blanket Farm (Wheat) SD and many more. I also spent good times over beer with ranchers at VFW’s, Honky Tonk Bars and fishing the Yellowstone River.

n_web: Q7, from @agropinion: “Where was the strangest place you slept? What kind things did people do for you on your journey?”

follownathan: Q7 strangest place was in rural OH it was called the “funny farm.” But even that turned out to be a great experience. People did many wonderful things for me! Food, supplies, conversation, motels, even money. I never had expected the generosity. People need to start trusting their fellow Americans! This is a great country with GOOD people who will help if you ask.

n_web: Q8: What did people say when you told them what you were doing? Especially as you mostly focused on farmers? Were they appreciative of someone telling their story? Or did they think you were nuts? :)

follownathan: Q8 Farmers appreciated having me come visit and share their realities and communities were excited to have me IE #ithaca and #MKE. But many people especially in the plains thought i was absolutely nuts. People don’t do alot of biking in 40 mph headwinds. Best perk was walking into a bar and getting all the beer and food you can handle for free. Happened to me often :) I guess wearing normal clothing and not spandex made it easier for people to get chummy with me.

n_web: Q9 @KyFarmersMatter: “Do you feel you have full view of farming & culture w/o visiting the South? Diff. culture, no?”

follownathan: Q9 Awesome Q and something I think about all of the time. This country is so big and I obviously couldn’t see and do it all. good news is as you can see here http://bit.ly/7kayYc. I have been around the block 49 states in fact. HOWEVER! from an #ag standpoint I’d like to visit more places I didn’t get to. Perhaps a second journey and another book :)

n_web: Q10: You visited dozens of rural communities. Do you have any insights on rural America and future economic development?

follownathan: Q10 I think it is simple. Support, preserve & visit your local farms. It is a win win situation for everyone involved. Not trying to brag… But #VT is a tremendous model for creating a vibrant economy through #ag in rural communities.

n_web: Q11: Book promotion time. You’re in the process of writing, no? Have you had any luck w/ publishers? What can aggies do to help?

follownathan: Q11Thought you would never ask ;). I’ve written 9 chapters so far. A sample chapter is available upon request &will B posted online soon. I have had some interest from agencies and pub outfits. It is a process. Sending out proposals next week. If any #ag or #food people know anyone in the publishing industry please do an intro and you never know… In the meantime tell friends about me / website, read my work and leave a review as seen here http://bit.ly/4KEa35.

n_web: I love the photos. Hope that gets its own book some day. . .

n_web: Final Q: what didn’t I cover that you would like to say? What’s on your mind for the next 3-5 tweets?

follownathan: Final Q: My bottom lines are buy local, support family farms and trust your local Americans. I strongly urge people to do the things they dream about doing. It will create a plethora of opportunities. We need to stop labeling people as this or that. We need more people being people then we will see change where needed. Don’t make #ag or #food judgments w/out taking the time to get information. And darn it! Do what feels right.

n_web: Really appreciate your time today, Nathan. Hope you enjoyed this. Best wishes on your writing and lining up a publisher! Make sure you check out @follownathan‘s site: follownathan.org

follownathan: It was my pleasure. If anyone wants to reach out and continue this convo plz do. Sharing and learning is my MO. If you would like a PDF copy of a sample chapter please at reply me #ag

Farmers Produce Record Corn, Soybean Crops

January 13, 2010

Just wanted to share this link from a story I wrote for the Monsanto blog, Beyond the Rows. I mention it in the post, but I will restate it here: if you have 5-10 minutes, check out the final dozen pages or so of the USDA annual crop production report. It gives a great overview of the month-by-month weather conditions in each region and how each crop fared in 2009. I think it really shows how many challenges farmers across the country faced last year.