Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Social Media for Better Carrots

A technological revolution has occurred on this 180-year-old farm. We bought smartphones. They have become an important farming tool. Throughout full days in the field, constant access to information and people helps us stay connected and has quickened our learning curve.

As new farmers, we have 100 questions for every activity. Being able to quickly find answers has saved a lot of time. A few examples from this week:
  • Will the dry weather hold long enough to finish tilling?
  • How do you safely attach tractor equipment using 3-point hitch?
  • What kind of snake is this? 
Now, we simply check the weather app on our phones. Or search for instructional videos on YouTube. Or take a photo and ask friends on Facebook. (Consensus is that it’s a milk snake.)

Small organic farmers, such as we plan to be, are influenced by county, state and federal policy as much as by local market demand for fresh food. Our collective education has prepared us in some ways to understand the marketing, sales and organizational side of farming. The rest we have to learn hands on. 

Luckily, technology has helped us bone up. We became members of county ag-support organizations with extensive online resources, like the Farm Bureau and the Cornell University Agriculture Extension Agency, which runs the Northeast Beginning Farmers Project. Their science-based focus has given us much to consider. We know who to turn to for pest reduction (those pesky Potato Beetles), weed identification (that Hairy Nightshade), and good growing practices (Basil in pots or ground rows?).

By April, McCollum Orchards was online through this blog, Facebook, and Twitter (@mccollum1824). Through social media, we tapped into an interesting cross-section of beer/hops, farming and sustainable ag folks. Hops growers on Facebook have told us about weed control. Twitter feeds, like #agblog and #agchat, prepared us for the new Farm Bill 2012. Following online updates, like from this blogroll, we learn when actual farmers till, plant, and which products they are growing. Finally, we can share timely articles, like this one about young people becoming farmers, or this one about NY-grown hops used in tea.

In some respects, the farm has always been ‘cutting edge.’ Back in the 1820s, the founders cut virgin forest and drained swampland in order to plant the first crops. Over the last 19 decades, the crops here have doubtless followed the latest trends of ‘what’s in.’  Tools that no longer have a use, like a weathered ox yoke, wooden apple ladders and ice pond picks, sit in the barn. They seem vintage compared to the electric polesaws, tractors, and camera phones of today. The founding fathers would have no idea how to use these new things, but we think they would approve of our new technology that helps with production. Just as our single tractor sits in a stable that once held several draft horses, this old farm has made another leap in its continual evolution.

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