Farmers who market their products directly to the public are using the Internet and social media sites like Facebook to promote their operations.
Heather Marker McKay, manager of Marker-Miller Orchards Farm Market and Bakery in Winchester, said she receives more feedback from customers through Facebook than by phone.
"It’s a lot easier for people to just pop off an e-mail real quick or write on the Facebook page," McKay said. "It’s crazy how quickly things have evolved."
Last season, the Marker-Miller strawberry crop was ripe a full three weeks early, and McKay said she picked 20 quarts of strawberries in one morning.
"I put it out on Facebook that we had 20 quarts of fresh strawberries available, and almost immediately they were gone. What would I have done before Facebook? Getting the word out quickly has definitely helped our perishable products to move quickly."
Jay Yankey, co-owner of Yankey Farms in Prince William County, has maintained a website for his operation for nearly four years and began using Facebook two years ago.
Yankey said he and his wife, Sonja, update the homepage of Yankey Farms’ website during the growing season with announcements and information on items currently for sale and special events held at one of their farm stands or pumpkin patch.
"The newest information is always up front, it’s easy to follow and people can receive updates quickly," Yankey said. "Facebook gives us the ability to let people know what’s going on with the farm. People like to have that personal connection; they just want to know what’s going on."
Yankey said he doesn’t know how much he will spend on print advertising this year, "because social media marketing doesn’t cost anything and is so much more effective.
"The marketing we do through Facebook gets more people to come out to the farm stand than if we spent $1,000 on an ad in the local paper."
Erik Croushorn supplies Yankey’s community-supported agriculture business with eggs and also raises beef cattle and produce on his farm in Fauquier County. He also uses Facebook to market his operation and shares information through his website.
"The main way of communicating is online. As long as you can turn a computer on, you can use the Internet to tell your story," Croushorn said. "You can reach such a broader audience and gain a larger customer base using social media. It just spreads virally."
Croushorn said he finds people are sending messages through Facebook more than they are posting on his Facebook page, e-mailing or calling.
"While I’d rather call someone, I can’t tell society how to communicate," he said. "I just have to adapt."