By Marlee Moore
Tap. Swipe. Click. Scroll.
Just like that, followers across the country have a front row-seat to Alabama farm life, family adventures and food — all courtesy of Karah Skinner’s lens.
The 32 year old is setting the bar high for farmers sharing the story of agriculture through social media. She and husband Kaleb put faces to farming for Rock House Farms’ more than 10,000 Instagram followers and 3,500 Facebook followers.
For Skinner, letting followers experience life behind their Fruithurst farm gate is essential.
“People want to know who their farmer is,” Skinner said. “It’s important to reach people about ag.”
Throughout the day, Skinner captures smartphone snapshots of the family’s cattle, hog and poultry operation. Once back at her Cleburne County farmhouse, Skinner posts updates utilizing tools like Instagram Stories (which disappear every 24 hours) to lend an inside look into farming.
Photos and videos mix up the content, which could include recipes incorporating Rock House Farms meat, adventures feeding animals or her kids tagging along in the side-by-side. She announces sales of meat, in addition to selling merchandise like hats and shirts.
Rebecca Henry sells Hardin Farms apparel on Instagram (@hardinfarmwife), too. She peppers posts with artsy images of animals, puns and family photos, such as shots of her husband, Mitchell, talking shop with his grandfather. She also shares agricultural facts relating to their Moulton-based stocker operation.
Instagram has helped Henry foster community and camaraderie with farmers across the nation.
“It’s been neat to watch people who don’t know anything about farming ask questions and learn from me and Mitchell,” said Lawrence County’s Henry, noting relationships she’s built with social influencers in the Midwest and North.
Social media is a creative outlet for Henry, a full-time pharmacist. Mitchell gave his wife a camera for Christmas in 2019, and something clicked.
“Originally, I just wanted to share cute cow pictures,” she said. “I did not expect to find people I’d connect with so well. Even though this life may not be the easiest, we definitely aren’t alone.”
Farther south, the folks at Autauga Farming Co. take a team approach to sharing farm life on Facebook and Instagram. Family members chip in to manage accounts and create posts of beautiful skies, views from the combine and newborn calves.
“A lot of my friends know I’m a farmer, but they don’t know what that means,” said Drew Wendland. “When you live out here, it’s isolating. I like to teach people about how farms work on a day-to-day basis.”
Wendland and his sister, Katie Nichols, collaborate on interactive posts such as “Corn College,” where they walk through stages of corn growth via Instagram Stories. Wendland has also given virtual tours of a combine rolling through harvest.
In neighboring Lowndes County, Daniel Rhyne uses a selfie stick and GoPro camera to chronicle his view from the tractor cab. The row crop farmer breaks out a drone to capture aerial footage of planting, spraying and harvesting. After a day in the field, he edits time-lapse videos to share on the Triple R Farms Facebook and YouTube accounts.
“I want to give everybody a look at what we do in Alabama because we have different types of commodities than farmers up north who share videos on YouTube,” Rhyne said. “The biggest comments we’ve received are from people who are amazed by what it takes to grow a crop.”
Just like farming, running a farm social media account presents trials, error and challenges, Henry said. Last summer, she and Mitchell posted on Facebook about potentially selling freezer beef and had an overwhelming response.
“I didn’t do an adequate job explaining what or how we were selling,” she said. “I received many messages asking for certain steak cuts or when we could ship meat to them. I had a lot of messages from people who did understand that we were actually selling half or whole calves, and those people were very happy with our pricing and product. It was a learning experience.”
They also experienced some negative feedback for not selling solely grass-fed beef.
“Mitchell responded and explained the differences and the benefits of our grass-fed but grain-finished product,” Henry said. “Some people still said they weren’t interested based on that. And that’s OK.”
“Farmers are the best advocates for their way of life,” said Helms, the Federation’s Communications Department director. “Karah, Rebecca, Drew and Daniel are a handful of farmers who showcase the heartfelt and beautiful portrait of life on the farm. Opening that door for conversations can be daunting because people have questions — and they can be on touchy subjects, such as GMOs, antibiotic use and farm safety. But there’s no one more suited to quell their fears than a farmer.”
Social media is all about inspiring those interactions, said Jeff Helms of the Alabama Farmers Federation.
Helms and his team manage the Federation’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels. Farmers are encouraged to use #FarmingFeedsAlabama or tag (@alfafarmers), particularly on Instagram. To help farmers new to social media, Alabama Extension has compiled a guide at https://www.aces.edu/go/farmconnect.
The @autauga_farming_company account shares posts using the Federation’s hashtag, along with others like #Harvest2020, #FamilyFarms and #ThisIsFarming to connect consumers to the account.
“This is a beautiful way to live,” Wendland said. “Sharing our story shows people that it has value.”