SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– Stop and think about how many minutes a day you spend scrolling through social media. How quickly have you seen a video or a post become viral? That’s the power of social media, and more farmers worldwide are beginning to embrace social media as a way to tell their stories and educate consumers about the process their food takes from farm to table.
Meet Carson, the 6th Gen Farmer
With the farming YouTube community growing, South Dakota State University student Carson began his own channel to not only document his life for himself, but also be able to engage with consumers and producers from around the world.
What started off as a way to document his life to show his future children, turned into a viral YouTube channel, 6th Gen Farmer, with over 9,400 followers worldwide. Only around 60% of his audience is United States based and Carson enjoys getting comments from places like Norway and Sweden telling him about how they run their operations.
Carson was born on a family farm in southern Minnesota, gaining more responsibility on the farm as he grew up. In high school, he was involved in extracurricular activities that gave him less time to be actively involved in the family operation. But once he transitioned to college, he had more time to spend on the farm and gained more experience, especially during the pandemic, doing his homework in the planter. He is currently a student at SDSU studying Ag Systems Technology.
YouTube is a way for Carson to use both his passions, agriculture and technology, by documenting his daily life. After getting and drone and shooting footage throughout the farm, his dad suggested that he begin to make videos and post them to document what farming is like today to show his future children.
“It all kind of took off when my harvest 2018 video, I think it is just short of 140,000 views now, and that got me my first 1,000 subscribers and I was like ‘wow, I really have something here that I can utilize, I think if I take a different path, I’ll be able to help educate people and provide myself with some more information to help me learn too,’” Carson said.
So that is what made him decide to start vlogging, which he began in the spring of 2020. He said it was hard at first and it took him a while to get used to talking to the camera. But as he and his family began to get used to the camera, the videos were a lot better quality and he continued to learn. The video that helped his vlogs take-off was called “Poor Mans Hagie Sprayer“, where almost everything that could have gone wrong did, and his audience loved it, Carson said.
“What I found is that people like, the more damage the more calamities that happen in a video, the more people like it. And unfortunately and fortunately for me, that seems to happen quite a bit on our farm,” Carson said.
Carson said there were three main factors that went into building his audience on social media.
“That was being a genuine person because people can really tell when you’re not being yourself. People can see a fake person from a mile away,” Carson said. “Two was being transparent with everything I do. I want my audience to know that if I didn’t have a camera on me I wouldn’t be doing anything different than what I am showing them. And third is you’ve got to be entertaining because nobody wants to watch something that they know they are going to fall asleep to.”
He also utilizes Instagram and Facebook to help educate consumers about life on the farm. Currently, Carson has 1,307 followers on his Instagram and 213 likes on Facebook. He is also considering branching out to social media platforms such as Twitter and TikTok.
“There is a lot of stuff that happens during the day in farming that doesn’t get on the YouTube videos,” Carson said. “I use platforms like Instagram and Facebook to kind of show a behind-the-scenes of everything that I do on YouTube.”
Carson does use a content schedule. When he is at school, he posts every Wednesday about what he did the past weekend at the farm. When he is on breaks from school, he will post a video every Sunday talking about what he did that week.
He has had very little negative feedback from viewers, Carson said. The negative comments that he has received have mostly been about the way he is doing things on his on his operation, but he thinks this is mostly because farming is so different in different areas. As he continues to grow, he anticipates that he will receive more negative feedback.
Carson said it is important to educate consumers about what goes on at the farm because many of them are not actively involved in farming or do not have much experience with agriculture. There is also a lot of mislabeling and false claims, so it is important for farmers to be transparent with what they are doing.
“Frankly, it’s not the consumer’s fault that they are not educated, because up until a few years ago, farmers didn’t really have a platform to be transparent, to educate and to entertain at the same time and that’s what’s so powerful about platforms, such as social media, like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, even TikTok and Twitter, is that it gives farmers the opportunity to be transparent, show what they are doing everyday to the consumer and also be entertaining at the same time.”
Carson’s favorite part of doing YouTube the education, not only for his viewers but for himself as well. He said the comment section is powerful, and he enjoys being able to engage with his audience and answer any additional questions they may have. Carson said it is also pretty cool to be recognized in public and getting to interact and meet his followers.
He said it has really changed farming for him, because now he not only goes to the farm and work, but he is able to educate and show people what he is doing.
“It really brings a lot of joy into farming, that I didn’t have before,” Carson said.
Meet the Stensaas Family
For Maggie Stensass, owner of New Frontier Farms in Lonsdale, Minnesota, social media has become a way for her family to share their journey from buying a farm to now producing products for consumers.
Stensaas has a strong background in agriculture. Growing up on her family’s hobby farm, she raised a wide variety of livestock to show in 4-H. When she turned 12 she began working on dairy farms and began milking cows at 14, which grew her passion for the dairy industry, leading her to South Dakota State University, where she majored in Dairy Production and Speech Communication with a minor in Animal Science. After college, she went on to work for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture before moving to Minnesota where she worked for the University of Minnesota. Now she is working full-time on her farm with her husband, where they have a direct-to-consumer operation. They raise chickens, turkeys, pigs, steers, dairy heifers and dairy goats.
Since starting their farm journey in August 2019, they began using social media to promote their farm. They use primarily use Instagram, along with Facebook and TikTok to connect with their consumers.
“We started getting our first eggs in September of last year and our first chickens were last summer but we were all sold out,” Stensaas said. “So we tried to start in winter farmer’s markets but with COVID those were all cancelled. We are hoping, starting in May to October, we are going to be in farmer’s markets in both our small town and also a little bit closer to the twin cities.”
Stensaas began to use and learn the importance of social media in the agricultural industry when she was a dairy princess ten years ago. She participated in a lot of training about the importance of telling their story in agriculture because very few people grow up on a farm.
“In South Dakota, you may grow up in a town and know a lot of farmers, but you might not know the nitty gritty of it,” Stensaas said. “We are learning so much about how we can we tell people what we are doing, open our barn doors to show people where their food is coming from.”
They started their direct-to-consumer operation to fill that gap, Stensaas said. Social media is a great way for them to connect with people who are looking to connect with producers.
Since starting their social media pages, the Stensaas’ have reached 1,058 followers on Instagram, 429 Facebook likes and 42 followers with 924 likes on their TikTok page.
They try to post seven days a week, Stensaas said. Now that reels are becoming more popular they have begun to utilize those and try to create either a post or a reel everyday, keeping it authentic by showing what is happening that day on the farm. They also try to do around five to ten stories a day, depending on the day.
“The reels have been fun for us because we have been able to show kind of the behind-the-scenes view,” Stensaas said. “You know this weekend we did a lot of random stuff, and so I just videoed all the random stuff and put it in a video. So that has been fun, and I think it has been fun for our customers to kind of see things rather than just hear about them in a photo or in a post.”
Starting off, their following was a lot of friends and family, Stensaas said. They began by sharing it on their personal pages as well as posting to the Lonsdale Happenings page on Facebook to reach to their community. For Instagram, they really focus on engaging with those who may have an interest in their page.
Some of their followers have been with them since the beginning and are enjoying being a part of the story and now being able to purchase the products that the Stensaas’ produce.
“I love when people are like ‘oh my kid loves watching your son on social media’,” Stensaas said. “We have a almost three year old and then a five month old and I hear all the time from people like ‘oh my son wants to do this on a farm because he watches your son.’ It’s just fun to see people be able to connect with somebody and kind of see themselves on the farm and want to come out to visit. I am excited and hoping once COVID slows down we might be able to do farm tours, which is my real passion. I want people out on our farm, I want them to see how things are going.”
They have only received a few negative comments on their social media, Stensaas said. Luckily these comments have not been direct hits at their family.
As producers, they are very fortunate to know where their food comes from, Stensaas said. She understands the importance that farmers play in educating consumers, rather than leaving them up to googling for answers.