In this November 2015 file photo, Joe Grady looks at his phone as he flits among the freshly processed Thanksgiving turkeys on his farm. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Social media is a great way for businesses to connect with their customers — especially if they are out in rural Maine during a pandemic.

Maine farmers aren’t strangers to social media, but the pandemic made the need for a robust and responsive social media presence even clearer for many of them. Farming organizations over the past few years have offered more social media training, and Maine’s farmers have reaped the benefits.

Abby Sadauckas, owner of Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham, said social media has been important for her farm to attract new customers and communicate with existing ones, too. Apple Creek Farm is, admittedly, Instagrammable, with its stunning vistas, happy livestock and a charismatic Great Pyrenees that shows her fuzzy mug in many posts.

“If we went and looked at our posts by week and our sales by week there’s a direct correlation there,” Sadauckas said. “We see an uptick in our weekly orders when we take time to do a post and use the Instagram feature where you can link directly so people can go right to our website.”

She went from having no social media presence at all to having a Facebook page and Instagram with more than 2,000 followers each. The number of followers, though, matters less to Sadauckas than connecting with her existing customers. Social media, especially in a crowded marketplace, helps her stand out from the crowd.

“You want to connect with your customers and justify why they’re buying from you,” Sadauckas said. “It has enabled us to really engage and activate the folks that follow us. Even though sometimes it feels superfluous, it does feel like when it works it is a benefit to our farm.”

Some newer Maine farms have even started out with only a social media presence online. Angela Baglione, co-owner of Seek-No-Further Farmstead in Monroe, said when they started their business in 2019, the only online presence the farmstead had was on Facebook and Instagram.

“They were both super helpful in getting our name out there, because the use of hashtags meant local people were finding us even if they were doing a general search for local farms,” Baglione said. “I think social media is a great way to make your farm feel personal and specific to your customers. Giving them the sense that you are their farmer and this is their farm by showing up on their newsfeed alongside their friends and family members is a great gateway to familiarity.”

Baglione said they were able to build their online presence through personal familiarity with the platforms. But Sadauckas and other farmers have taken advantage over the last few years of social media training for farmers offered through a number of Maine-based organizations, like the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets.

Emily Buswell, program associate at the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, said her organization has been offering social media training for the past four years or so. It is usually done in the winter when farmers have a little more downtime.

Buswell said most of those who show up to training are new farmers trying to break into the scene and attract customers, but the demographics can run the gamut.

Quality photography is especially important for Maine farms on social media — enough so that people like Kelsey Kobik have been able to make a career out of it. Kobik is a farm photographer who has hosted workshops about teaching farmers to take better quality photos on the fly, even with their phones. She also runs the social media page for Goranson Farm in Dresden.

The pandemic changed a lot of Maine farms’ relationship to social media, allowing them to communicate much more readily with their customers in order to get them products, as well as posting public health regulations for the markets they serve.

“Farmers were giving more frequent updates about things; a lot of markets throughout the state started using a preorder system so they would let people know when orders were open using their social media,” Buswell said. “The pandemic encouraged farmers to use that as the quickest and broadest way to reach their shoppers and supporters.”

Before the pandemic, Sadauckus said she would sell all of her produce at farmers markets. Social media allowed her to quickly transition to having an online store where customers could shop and set a location for pickup.

“It really helped us onboard a lot of new customers,” Sadauckas said. “We saw a pretty significant jump in sales in 2020.”

Even though the Maine farms that have put in the time to work on their social media presence have seen results, Tori Jackson, chair of the Maine Farmer Resource Network and extension professor for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maine, does not think every farm needs to commit to social media going forward. Farmers raising crops and livestock for the wholesale market might need it less than, say, a farm looking to build a fan base for agritourism.

“It totally depends on who their customer is,” Jackson said. “There are some businesses that this won’t necessarily make sense for and others where it would be a missed opportunity to not take advantage of it as, quote-unquote, free marketing.”