Find out how agvocate Justin Williams, an entrepreneur since the age of 11, has stood up to the negative voices in social media.
Justin Williams is the eighth generation of farmers on the 200-year-old Wilhome Farms in Prince Edward County, east of Toronto at Lake Ontario.
The Williams family milks approximately 60 cows and works about 400 acres of land, growing hay, corn and seed soybeans. Justin works full-time on the farm with his father. He also finds time to run his maple syrup business, that he started at age of 11. Justin’s Maple Syrup business began with 25 trees, and has grown into a sellout business where he taps around 500 trees a year.
Justin works with a number of farm organizations like Canadian Young Farmers Forum. And he’s a contributor to Dinner Starts Here, a blog written by a group of young producers in Ontario.
What does being an advocate mean to you?
Talking about what we do on our farm is important to help consumers realize the work, passion and care that go into every product that leaves our farm. Whether it’s sharing our story on Twitter, blogging about it, or even creating a YouTube video, social media is a way I can reach a customer – and they can reach me if they have any questions.
What led you to become an agvocate?
When I first joined social media, I quickly became aware of all the negative misinformation that was being spread about farming and agriculture. I felt it was important to show how we are farming and share the real story of why and how we do the things we do, for anyone who was interested in where their food comes from.
If those of us in agriculture aren’t sharing our story of farming loud and proud, then the general public will hear about farming from people or organizations outside of our industry, and they may have a negative agenda. And I think it’s better if the story of agriculture is being told by the people in agriculture.
How do you share your story of agriculture?
Facebook was the first social media platform I joined. I still use it, sharing photos and information about our maple syrup production. I signed up for Twitter mainly to see what all the hype was about and I use it occasionally for the same purposes.
Most recently I’ve been using Instagram to post pictures of what we’re doing around my farm. Instagram is a great tool – you can use filters to improve your photos before posting and there’s a lot of space to tell the story of each image.
What have you learned?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that there’s a small percentage of people on social media that have a very negative view of farming. They’re trying to control the conversations between farmers and others in agriculture, and the people that are genuinely interested to learn how we do things. The most common tactic these people use is verbally attacking farmers who post things, in the hope that they will discourage them and silence them.
When this happens it’s important to focus the conversation towards those people who are genuinely interested in finding out what you do on your farm and why you do it, and make them feel heard, respected and informed.
What advice would you give to other agvocates?
If you have someone asking you questions online, first check out their profile to see if they are actually interested in what you have to say or if they might have an alternate agenda. You can usually tell quickly by looking at previous tweets or posts. The value in reaching out online is to speak with those people who want to be more engaged with the industry that’s raising their food – people who would like to know who we are and believe in what we are doing.
Justin comes from a long line of passionate farmers and is now embracing his role as an agvocate for both the dairy and maple syrup sectors. You can find Justin on Twitter at @justo_williams, Instagram at @Justo_williams as well as Justin’s Maple Syrup on Facebook. See @HowDinnerStarts to connect to the Dinner Starts Here blog and their posts.