MYAKKA -- Using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, married couple Matt Maier and Karen Ziv have documented their transformation from San Francisco-based computer technicians to incorporated agricultural producers in Myakka over the past year.
Ziv also blogs routinely, describing the learning process and development of their business, Little Manatee Farm, and why they chose to leave the urban life behind for a more self-sustaining, and hopefully prosperous, life in Florida.
To their surprise, farmers, ranchers and total strangers from across the country have contacted them through social media, offering tips and asking questions about their products.
Social media has finally hit the farm.
"If we get people engaged in what we do, they'll follow our product," Ziv said.
Using social media is becoming more prevalent in Florida's agricultural industry overall.
"I think it's definitely something new for the industry," said Mary Ficek, com
munications specialist for the Florida Farm Bureau. "We're not used to talking to our consumers through the Internet."
Ficek said farmers have realized the importance of communicating to younger generation.
"Something like Facebook or blogging is good because you can communicate instantly," she said. "It builds an appreciation by the consumer.
That's a dynamic the King family in East Bradenton is learning day by day. Ben King and his family run a farm and farmer's market at 4630 60th St. in East Manatee. Over the past year, they've used Facebook to market their products and say social media has helped interaction with consumers.
"It definitely has," said Shelby King, Ben's wife and operator of the market and Facebook page. "It's really cool because we have dialogue about what we're picking and people have questions of what we're growing."
The Internet has also become a tool for farmers and ranchers to communicate with each other.
"When you feel overwhelmed, you share something and people say they're dealing with the same thing," Maier said.
One organization in particular, The AgChat Foundation, was created two years ago to empower those in the agricultural business to use social media. The foundation holds annual conferences and teaches farmers, ranchers and anyone involved in the industry how to use social media and target an audience.
"It's really important because it's a great way farmers can communicate with consumers," said Kathy Swift, one of the foundation's founding members who lives in Gainesville. "Consumers have questions and the retailer can't always answer. People have concerns about how their food is made."
Swift said the foundation initiated from several conversations between members of the agricultural industry on Twitter. Eventually, she said the foundation will create online training and conduct regional conferences.
Stolen Horses International, a non-profit organization better known as the Net Posse, uses the Internet to send out alerts to law enforcement agencies, business groups and volunteers across the globe with a report of missing horses. The Net Posse has over 2,000 open cases of stolen horses and has helped locate hundreds of animals, all with the click of a button.
"People don't realize they can categorize missing horses as theft," said Debi Metcalfe, president and founder of Stolen Horses International. "We post the reports and send out alerts."
The Net Posse has worked cases in the Manatee area, as well as in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Belgium.
Maier and Ziv have yet to launch an official product because they are in the process of becoming approved by Farmer's Home Administration and Department of Agriculture. They have cows, chickens, goats and pigs and plan to operate within locate farmer's markets. When they do provide products to the community, they'll be prepared to market their products to the masses with a click of a button.
"I'd like to set an example for small farms and other business," Ziv said.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams