I was working my table at the Western Farm Show in Kansas City a couple months ago, talking to people and signing them up for the Harvest Network, when along came my biggest challenge.
I like to know a person’s expertise and experience when I sign them up, so I can send them queries and stories that I think might be of interest to them. I ask them about the size of their operation, what crops or livestock they raise, or what special talent they might have.
“Oh, we don’t like to toot our own horn,” one woman told me.
That’s something I forgot about the Midwest – this culture of modesty. Don’t put on airs, you’re taught as a kid. There are no bragging rights. And talking about oneself is considered as ugly as pigweed in a corn field.
So if I’m going to tell the stories of this region, what do I do? My Harvest Network is one way I reach out.
And since I can’t make it to every church, coffee shop or honky-tonk where people are hanging out, I did the next best thing: I found those people online.
Since then, I’ve found dozens of folks telling the story of agriculture today through blogs, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a good example of what Janet Coats, a longtime journalist and media consultant, calls the “emerging networks” of the Internet.
Coats is conducting a project on these new networks at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri Journalism School. She spoke Monday at RJI’s Innovation Week in Columbia, Mo.
“In the olden days we all had the source list,” Coats said. “People ought to be building their network lists, their communities of practice list.”
Probably the best result of my own emerging network is our Tumblr blog, dedicated to this unusually warm spring and the work that’s considerably ahead of schedule. I got the idea for it after I saw the hashtag #plant12 getting popular on Twitter this spring.
On the Tumblr, you’ll find some of my strongest connections. People like Mike Haley, an Ohio farmer who’s a leader in online ag agvocacy; Lynn Woolf, a Kansas member of American Agri-Women; Warren Kittler, a local farm organizer in Lincoln, Neb.; Rob Jones, a Harvest Network source from southern Colorado; and Steve Pitstick, a mad Twitter man and Illinois farmer.
Then there’s Val Wagner, a North Dakota wheat farmer, who talks to me often via the Harvest Network; Ryan Goodman of Tennessee, who has a fine blog called “Agriculture Proud”; and Brian Scott, who seems to work as hard at writing as farming on his blog, “The Farmers Life.” Rhonda McClure of Nebraska is my pen pal at this point, if we can say that about email, and she sends me beautiful photos and prose from her small farm.