Many beef producers spend their days doing chores, caring for cattle, and managing feed and pastures. Lately, farmers are being encouraged to add one more thing to their list — engage the public through storytelling. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook feature thousands of farm accounts, many of which post production facts and stories about day-to-day life on the farm.
“We’re hard-wired to learn by stories,” says Crystal McKay, CEO and founder of The Loft 32, an Ontario-based communications company dedicated to elevating conversations on food and farming. She explains that farmers and ranchers can be unique storytellers and what might seem routine to producers is often very interesting to the public.
Over time, McKay has seen a change in the narrative. At first, agricultural awareness and education used to be the goal, she says, then the conversation shifted to advocating.
“The reason we feel the need to cheerlead is we feel we are being criticized by people who don’t agree with farming; the natural response is to go the opposite and say how great everything is,” she says, but adds that transparency is key. McKay says storytelling, rather than educating, can help farmers gain trust with the public.
Steady approach builds community
Terryn Drieling, the person behind Faith Family & Beef, is a cattle rancher and writer from the Nebraska Sandhills. She shares recipes, photos and videos in an effort to help people understand where beef comes from.
“I’ve been at this for six years now,” she says, and describes the process of building her audience as a “slow burn.” With more than 35,000 people liking her Facebook page, plus nearly 5,000 YouTube channel subscribers and an Instagram following of 14,400 people, her method has been effective. Regardless of numbers, she says that relevance lies in engagement.
“They don’t mean much if people aren’t reading or talking to you,” she says.
Drieling initially participated in the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Masters of Beef Advocacy Program which inspired her to start connecting with consumers. A made-in-Canada version of a similar program can be found at BeefAdvocacy.ca.
Drieling draws on her extensive feedyard and cow-calf experience to engage with her audience. “I don’t feel like I’m necessarily representing a certain demographic but I want to shed a real and positive light for all beef producers,” she says. “When I first started, I was way more focused on sharing technical stuff and practices like why beef producers use hormone implants,” she says. Her approach has shifted away from that format toward an emphasis on everyday farm life.
She is practical about creating fresh content. “For me, especially in the spring and summer, the challenge has been time,” she says.
There are periods when she can film for YouTube or get her ranch work done, but not both. Drieling also admits that as agriculture and society are becoming more divisive, there have been times when she’s considered stopping, but says her faith is her motivation.
“If you quit, if you’re not present, you’re one less positive message out there online,” she adds.
Despite the challenges, the benefits of starting her website have been tremendous, she notes. “I would say the biggest benefit has been for me building that community and trust with people, and being able to help someone,” says Drieling. “I just want to give people a real-life look at how ranch life is.”
Rural roots lead to worldwide attention
The name Dickson Delorme may not be familiar to many, but an internet search for his viral YouTube alter ego “Quick Dick McDick” is a different story. Delorme, who films and produces video messages from his home in Tuffnell, Sask., hit a nerve and quickly developed a wide audience of farmers, consumers and internet personalities. Since creating his YouTube channel in August 2019, his videos have garnered more than four million views.
Delorme grew up on a federal community pasture in east-central Saskatchewan and following high school, had a 20-year career in the energy sector. His journey into video production was accidental. He says he started using a phone app called SnapChat to send quick videos to his family and friends.
“The reason this went to YouTube was the simple fact people would ask me to keep sending them different videos and I couldn’t keep up,” he explains.
His pseudonym was likewise unintentional. “I have no idea why I picked that name. I didn’t want people to find me. That didn’t work out so well,” he says, chuckling.
Delorme shares his opinions and observations on controversial topics such as the Canadian energy sector and climate change, against a revolving backdrop of seeding, feeding cattle or spreading manure. Whether he is approaching a tough topic like mental health, or taking a lighthearted look at the versatility of number nine wire, humour is at the core of Dickson’s content.
Becoming an overnight internet sensation has yielded a few lessons. “There’s a point where I started switching gears and stopped being so profane,” he says.
He also uses his experience to have frank discussions with kids in his community about internet safety. “It’s a good opportunity to discuss the vulnerability of being on the internet,” he says. “There’s a risk when you put yourself out there,” he says, adding many kids see the fun side of YouTube without considering the long-term consequences of posting content.
In spite of his worldwide reach, Delorme identifies his target audience as being close to home, rooted in small-town pride and rural living.
“I want everyone to see it’s okay for people to be proud of what you do and where you’re from,” he says. “It turns out there are a lot of Tuffnells in the world.”
Find common ground to develop a connection
McKay says it’s important to put things in the right context for an audience. “You can’t just have a story as an anecdote, you need facts. But I haven’t seen facts alone change someone’s mind,” she says.
Drieling says kindness is paramount to her messaging and adds that since she started her website, her approach to connect has changed.
“I try to hit people in the feelers before I hit them with the facts, where before I was putting a lot of facts first,” she says. “My audience maybe hasn’t changed but maybe the way I reach them has,” she explains. “I try to focus on relating to moms whether they are fellow farmers and ranchers or someone who lives in the city.”
Delorme finds comedy to be an effective way to bridge gaps with his audience. “Even if people disagree with what you’re doing, if they are laughing, they aren’t going to walk away upset,” he says. “I like to get down to the good in people. Most of the time you can use humour to dig that out.”
McKay acknowledges that many farmers prefer working with their livestock rather than crafting a story for social media, but says connecting with the public is easier than people think.
“All of us are human beings and we have our social networks. Put your filter on and say ‘I’m repping the beef industry,’” she suggests. A simple way to spread the storyteller’s circle is for fellow farmers to share stories from reputable sources like Canada Beef or the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, or other accounts that they follow and enjoy. “It all starts with that one conversation.”
Tara Mulhern Davidson is a writer and a beef and forage consultant. She ranches with her family in southwestern Saskatchewan.