A baby goat stares innocently at the camera. A turkey poses with a farmer. A frog is perched on a log. These are just some of the images on the Instagram account of Copper Tail Farm.
But the precious pictures of goats, birds and other outdoor creates do more for Copper Tail farm than just elicit “likes.” The Instagram and Facebook presences they’ve curated gives them a platform to connect with existing and potential customers outside of the farmers market.
“With people really wanting to know where their food comes from and wanting to know their farmers, [social media] is a good way for them to kind of feel like they know us without having to be at the farm every day,” said Christelle McKee, who owns Copper Tail Farm in Waldoboro with her husband, Jon.
Copper Tail Farm is not alone in embracing social media. Leigh Hallett, president of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, said that increasingly farmers markets and individual farmers are using social media to get information to customers and generate a broader following.
As an organization that seeks to promote farmers markets in Maine, Hallett said that the rise in markets using Facebook to advertise changes or new vendors is especially beneficial to the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. Through social media channels, the distance barriers between Maine’s large web of independent markets are broken down. While Hallett said she might only be able to get to a farmers market in Down East a limited number of times a year, following the market on social media allows her to maintain her connection with that market and its vendors.
“I would not be able to do this job without social media. I can follow what markets are doing all over the state and can have a good idea of what’s going on,” Hallett said. “There are markets I might only visit once or twice a year and I’ll meet farmers there, and if I interact with them on social media, I can then keep in contact with them throughout the year.”
As with any tool on a farm, different social media platforms serve different purposes. Facebook in particular is useful in posting updates and alerting a farm’s followers what they can expect from at markets and in community supported agriculture shares. They can also share where to find products.
McKee started the Copper Tail Farm Facebook page in 2013, when she and her husband started their farm business. For McKee, it made sense to have a social media presence since she was selling her farm’s goat milk products online. On Facebook, McKee is able to communicate with her customers, telling them what markets she will be at in a given week and what their open farm day hours are.
At Ripley Farm in Dover-Foxcroft, Mary Margaret Ripley uses Facebook to keep roughly 140 community supported agriculture program customers in the loop. Given that many of the farm’s CSA customers don’t live directly in the Dover-Foxcroft area, and some do not go to the farm to pick up their CSA share, having a Facebook presence gives customers a link to the farm.
“We decided to start a Facebook page to better connect with our customers, especially our community supported agriculture customers,” Ripley said. “These customers are kind of extra special customers because they commit to our farm for a season, so we really view them as part of our family and we try to keep them updated with what’s going on at the farm. A lot of [customers] love to see [updates] and participate in the way that they can which is often checking our Facebook page and making a comment or liking a post.”
Ripley will often post on her Facebook page hints at what will be in the weekly farm share as well as photos of the farm’s employees during harvest. Both Ripley and McKee agree that Facebook is a great tool for maintaining contact with their customers.
“Facebook has been really instrumental in communication,” McKee said. “Facebook seems to be a lot more of our direct customer base … It’s people that I need to communicate with that I think will buy our products.”
The photo sharing platform Instagram also is growing in use among farmers and farmers markets. While Facebook is useful for direct communication, Instagram allows farmers to bring their followers to the front lines of the fields through photos.
With smartphones bringing cameras right to a farmer’s pocket, Hallett said that Instagram fits perfectly with the idea of capturing life on the farm ― which in nature is pretty picturesque.
“You’ve got animals all around you, you’ve got the beauty of nature and this story to tell of growing things, and so it’s a perfect match with social media,” Hallett said. “If you follow a couple of your favorite farmers, it really gives you an insight that you wouldn’t other have into how complex it is to be farming in Maine.”
Copper Tail Farm’s Instagram has more than 1,000 followers, and while McKee said the majority of followers are simply just trying to get their daily dose of goat cuteness, using hashtags ― a way of linking posts of similar content ― on Instagram allows McKee to connect with other people who raise goats, getting new information and inspiration.
The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets started its own hashtag campaign last year with the Maine Farmers’ Market Snapshot Week. Through this weeklong event, market shoppers are encouraged to post pictures of their farmers market experiences and finds on Facebook and Instagram. This year Snapshot Week will be held Aug. 6-12.
Through social media platforms, farmers and shoppers are able to capture the essence of the local food movement in Maine.
“We love posts of beautiful things from the farm. Either produce or just a farm scene. We also love posting picture of the farmers and what they’re up to,” Ripley said. “It makes everybody seem like family, which they are.”