Putting the Farm on Instagram: How Four Women Farmers Connect Through Social Media

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Sheep farmer and YouTube star Sandi Brock visits a lamb on her farm near Staffa, Ontario.Geoff Robins/The Globe and Mail

Scroll @thetulepps Instagram account, the two artfully posed women in stylish outfits are probably nothing like the image that comes to mind when you hear the word “farmer.”

That’s exactly why sisters Cassandra and Stephanie Lepp, fourth-generation grain farmers near Rivers, Manitoba, started @thetulepps, where the couple can also be seen watching at home operating heavy machinery farms, model made-in-Canada clothing and have fun with their dogs.

“When we worked for our dad’s manufacturing company, which makes grain handling equipment, we were the sales team, and when we went to trade shows, some people wouldn’t talk to us,” says Cassandra . “They wanted to speak to our father, or another man in the cabin.”

“We have started [@thetulepps] not only to share the fact that women can grow and sell agricultural equipment, but we also wanted to speak to a wider audience, not just farmers,” adds Stephanie. “That’s why we integrated fashion. Because there are a lot of misconceptions about agriculture in the media.

The Lepps say they want to show farming in a different, more positive light, not by proselytizing or lecturing, but simply by giving their followers a glimpse into their daily lives. In the process, they hope to communicate a message.

“We really want to take care of the land,” says Stephanie.

Sharing perspectives and struggles

As extreme weather and pandemic-related disruptions have put the country’s food supply chain in the spotlight, more and more Canadians have become curious about where our groceries come from. And while the average Canadian farmer is a man and is over 50 years olda new generation of women farmers are using social media to lift the lid on what modern farming looks like.

Lesley Kelly, who operates Evergreen Wood Creek Farms near Watrous, Saskatchewan, with her family, says she started her blog, High heels and canola fields, to help dispel myths about how crops such as canola, wheat, barley, oats and lentils are produced. She says she was first inspired by meeting a woman who equated conventional cultures with poison, and the blog has since allowed her to share her perspective.

“I’m talking about some of our agricultural practices, like carbon sequestration and the use of direct seeding [farming]and advances in genetics that are good enough both for the farm and what it means at the grocery level,” she says.

Ms Kelly and her husband also reveal very personal stories through the blog, hoping to help others. When a fellow farmer took his own life and the Kellys found no mental health resources suitable for members of the farming community, they made the potentially vulnerable decision to record a video sharing their own struggles with anxiety. and the postpartum blues.

While the couple had feared their deductible would affect everything from their bank loan to their insurance, none of these results materialized. Instead, they gained new followers and received an outpouring of gratitude from around the world. (Ms. Kelly later co-founded a non-profit focused on mental health in agriculture across Canada.)

That kind of openness fostered conversations that taught Ms. Kelly valuable lessons.

“I am here to learn what is important to [consumers], and hearing what’s important has really changed my approach,” she says. “Learning to understand people – that connecting part is what I love.”

Cassandra (left) and Stephanie Lepp, at their farm near Rivers, Manitoba, combine fashion and agriculture on Instagram.Rheanon Neale

“Connecting on a Human Level”

Sheep farmer Sandi Brock started vlogging about farming just for fun.

“My kids showed me how to use Snapchat to create these things called stories, and it was so much fun,” says Ms. Brock, who, with her husband Mark, operates Shepherd Creek Farms near Staffa, Ont. “All I did was film my day in the fold and the fun things they do.”

However, as her audience grew and more people started asking the same questions, Ms Brock decided that a more permanent collection of longer recordings, housed on YouTube, would be the best solution.

“Then you can just send them a link to the video that would answer those questions,” she says. “[But] it took me about a year to find the courage to [establish a channel] because then you are really there.

In 2017, Ms. Brock launched me shylyposting about three videos a week (more during lambing season) and spending about ten hours each on editing.

“I really wanted you to know who we are as people – to connect on a human level,” Ms Brock says. “I wanted to grab people by the hand and let them be part of every moment. My guideline is to create empathy.

Clearly, she struck a chord, garnering millions of views and over 570,000 subscribers to date.

“Somehow – because I had no intention of doing it – I created a safe place where people feel like I’m their friend and they can share because I’ve been very vulnerable and open and honest,” Ms Brock said. . “I talk about the shitty stuff, whether it’s grieving because I lost a good friend or whether it’s farming and chess that go with it. I just bring it up so people can relate or not feel so alone. I am grateful for the community that I have been able to build.

A profitable secondary activity

Beyond connecting with the public and educating about agriculture, digital content has also become an integral part of the business for some Canadian farmers.

Ms. Brock’s YouTube channel generates ad revenue, and her digital presence has also helped diversify her revenue streams in other ways. She sells branded goods on her website and has turned what was once waste – wool shorn periodically from her flock to prevent overheating and mats – into boutique yarns and felting kits that sell out in minutes. .

“I found a wonderful little woolen mill just outside Lindsay [Ont.]says Ms. Brock. “We’ve collaborated and we’ve had three launches so far.”

Ms Kelly sells “agricultural and mental health products” on her website, such as t-shirts and toques emblazoned with canola flowers. And the Lepps have a side gig partnering with brands they respect (they say they hope their followers will be an advantage when they launch their new venture: a farm equipment manufacturing company).

Yet it is not the financial rewards that allow these farmers to stay in touch with their audience online. The Lepps, for example, want girls to grow up seeing female farmers as the norm.

“A lot of women didn’t have that, and now maybe they have it,” Cassandra says, “because people like us tell their stories.”

For her part, Ms Kelly says she hopes her children will continue her legacy of showing people what happens on farms. “If they can see the importance of being able to share what they do, then it will be worth it.”

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