Food producers are perhaps as dynamic of a cohort as one can find. Within agriculture, there is a wide array of food and fiber systems, philosophies, and mindsets (and plenty of room for each). I have the fortunate opportunity to work in all facets of agriculture thanks to Cooperative Extension. For nearly 100 years, a key mission to Cooperative Extension is “to inform people about agriculture, home economics, and related topics.” Extension has adapted throughout the years, employing different methods of outreach. For many years, Extension personnel would travel their county/district/state, conducting various workshops and “farm visits.” Many of us still do this today! (<– and we need to!)
Extension publications and other circulars have been distributed through University mail rooms to county offices, where people could get information (and still are). Jump forward a few decades, and that information was made available via E-mail and PDF downloads. Then we learned to conduct various programs via technologies like audio teleconference, video teleconference (VTC), and webinars. We have also established an initiative called eXtension, sort of like a web-based Extension portal. All the while, Extension personnel have continued to conduct the invaluable hands-on programs critical the the success of its cause.
Enter social media. It does not necessarily require VTC setup, and it might not even require a a physical meeting site for programs – just a URL (what’s next?!). (Besides, who has much of a travel budget now?) There are always new ways to interact with Extension experts beyond just that of a phone call or visit. It might be possible to connect with agriculturalists in realtime social media exchanges. Could this be an Extension game changer? Eventually, yes. For many more years, however, there will still be a need for the “traditional” system. Hands-on and real human contact (!) are irreplaceable educational tools. This may also perhaps help diversify the audience that Cooperative Extension can reach.
Social media allows all wired agriculturalists to interact, share information, and forge some semblance of a professional relationship. Pertinent discussions can evolve in realtime. And this is why I am part of the AgChat Foundation. This was organized group of farmers and others directly tied to production agriculture who wanted to help farmers reach out beyond their properties, getting more involved in various issues pertaining to agriculture, and interacting with peers they may have otherwise never known. It also helps “1.5% of the population reach the other 98.5% not involved in production agriculture.”
I have been referred to as a “public intellectual” in various blog posts, and I thought — “Hm, that can be argued, but even so, isn’t that sort of, well, my job?” — as in, sharing information? Surely there is a chance for Extension to use social media more and more to help educate producers and improve agriculture. The first critical step is getting farmers engaged in social media, educating them about the technology and providing them with the tools to do this. The AgChat Foundation was established to do just that.
I am very excited to work with this progressive agricultural group!