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Trend Watch: Felfies and the farming, touring, social media mashup

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This Examiner hasn’t been so excited about food lexicon in ages. Felfie is a new term coming out of the United Kingdom, indicating a selfie taken on a farm.

Earlier this month, Louise Gray wrote The felfie: how farmers are embracing social media for The Guardian. She details a budding movement of farmers like Will Wilson (@willwilson100) of blog Farmingselfie.com and Simon Haley (@halo42) who established @FarmersoftheUK earlier this month to feature farmers from across the islands.

For the social-media allergic, this may all seem tedious. But the implications are noteworthy. In just a few weeks, Farmers of the UK has garnered nearly 4,000 followers on Twitter. Dorset farmer Ben Hole (@benjaminhole) has well over 50,000 on Instagram and Cotswolds based Jake Freestone has thousands on his YouTube channel.

At the Harvard Forum on Food Labeling last March, I met both Marketing Director for Shelburne Farms Vera Chang and President of Pete & Gerry’s Jesse Laflamme. Talking to Jesse about what he aims to communicate about his birds and how, I latched onto an idea.

"You want your customers to see how you are with your birds. How they are cared for and your contrasts to the factory-farm model. But you’re busy running a business. You don’t have the capacity to invite everyone in for tea who shows up at the proverbial gate. And you certainly don’t want to be accused of ag gag.”

"Picture this: a tour guide – sensitive to farming culture, skilled with people and in designing custom visits – organizes a group for a curated experience of your farm. You’re there at a certain point to set the context, and the tour guide takes care of the rest… Maybe Pete & Gerry’s is just one stop on the tour. Maybe the group visits other farms and, at the end of the day, sits down to a meal highlighting ingredients from all the places they visited that day.”

"All the while, your visitors have their smart phones out and are snapping away and posting and tagging. They are doing your marketing for you and it’s evangelist marketing, the best kind. Brand loyalty is so much word-of-mouth (or word-of-tweet) these days. You're developing your customer base – and it’s not as you go, but as they go.”

This Examiner is not claiming novelty. The intersection of sustainable farming and food tourism has been chugging along in Europe since the 80s. Food tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. Last September, Taste Trekkers held the first food tourism conference.

But layering social media strategy on top of farming on top of food tourism is extremely exciting.

"Farming is is a visual industry,” as Gray points out.

The potential of the felfie to transform who buys what and from whom – to minimize energy costs, system risks, unneeded processing (for shelf life), environmental side effects, and additional margins that squeeze down the price to the farmer and squeeze up the price to the eater – is tremendous.

We urbanites already grip our devices and crane over dishes, in restaurants and at home, to madly snap colorful shots of what we’re about to eat. Now at the other end of the food chain, farmers are doing the same.

Perhaps one day these two groups may grow closer together because of it. And food will become much more intimate for us all.

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