Chat across the fence, tech-style
By ROCKY WOMACK
In this age of technology, it sometimes seems there is little room left to focus on what made this country, and what still feeds America today: agriculture.
A Virginia couple decided it was time to remind people about the importance of agriculture and share the love they have for it.
“In the end, if you think about it, all of us — because of our connection to agriculture — have a financial interest in agriculture and farmers being successful,” says Chris Simms of Southampton County, Va.
• Husband-and-wife bloggers “spread the word” about agriculture.
• Virginia couple also share stories of their humorous missteps.
• Bloggers will also educate readers on management of bees.
Chris and his wife, Jennie, believe they can spread the positive word about agriculture through blogs on their website, www.agtually.com. They believe people are hungry for ag-related topics.
“Consumers are searching for information about the food that they eat,” Chris says. “They’re searching for information about farms; they’re searching for information about agriculture. People that are connected with agriculture [usually] don’t step out there and share some of those stories that they’re searching out. Somebody’s going to step out and share, but it’s not going to be the information that we want to have shared. It’s not going to be the true information.”
Solid ag backgrounds
The Simmses want to provide information that is accurate and tells the truth about farming.
Chris and Jennie met as students at North Carolina State University. He grew up on a farm in Southampton County and Jennie was raised in the city of Winston-Salem, N.C. After college, Chris moved his city girl to Southampton County on land beside the homeplace where he grew up. Jennie didn’t become involved in agriculture until she moved to the country and they started their blog in March 2010. She says the blog, to which both Chris and Jennie contribute, not only shares their story, but also helps dispel misconceptions.
Chris works as a relationship manager at Farm Credit in Wakefield, Va., where he works with agribusiness operations and manages a number of farm accounts, providing farmers with operating capital and credit. He also serves as a board member on the Southampton County Farm Bureau.
Jennie works as an executive assistant at Smithfield Foods in Smithfield, Va. She serves as a southeast district representative on the women’s committee of the Virginia Farm Bureau.
The two served on the VFB’s young farmer committee for three years; however, they were aging out of that group and eventually moved into other activities, involvement and leadership opportunities within Farm Bureau.
On her blog, Jennie writes about her Farm Bureau experiences, adjusting to life on the farm and her humorous missteps. For instance, she recalls writing about cooking a multi-bean soup. On the back of the bean packages, the directions said to run a spoon through the soup and discard any trash. She took this literally. While standing at the stove and kitchen sink for two-and-a-half hours, Jennie kept dipping out bean skins.
“For some weird reason, I thought that was trash,” she says. Laughing at her mistake, she told Chris that she was making naked bean soup.
Also on her blog, Jennie has written about how she — after first moving to the country — pointed out to Chris a field of cotton. Of course, Chris corrected her: It was a field of soybeans.
Now, she knows the difference and enjoys country life and sharing those times with her readers, who can follow them not only on their blog, but also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/agtually, and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/agtually.
The name’s the thing
Chris and Jennie came up with the name of their website www.agtually.com by tossing around ideas. “What really got us thinking about the whole concept was the Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers Excellence in Agriculture competition,” Chris says. “We had competed in that previously and were the runners-up in 2009. That whole process of competing in it wasn’t just the award itself. It was an opportunity for us to examine what we had done ourselves, where we wanted to go, and how we were able to have an impact on agriculture.
“Out of that process we realized that blogs were really starting to take off at that point,” he continues. “We looked at that as an opportunity to be able to start having an impact on agriculture, to do something else to tell that story.”
Jennie says they liked Agriculture Actually as a name, but they thought it was too long for a website address. “I don’t remember which one of us did it, but one of us looked at the other and said, ‘What if we just squish it together and turn it into Agtually?’ ”
The two have a wide audience of readers, but in the past they have questioned themselves on whether anybody is actually reading what they put into cyberspace.
“As you’re seeing people, they’ll mention, ‘Hey, I saw something or another that ya’ll had written,’ ” Chris says. “It makes you realize the impact that you do have on people — that people are paying attention to what’s out there.”
Chris remembers such an occasion while attending a Farm Bureau legislative day recently at the Capitol in Richmond. They had attempted to catch a couple of General Assembly members before they left. As the legislators were coming out into the lobby, a delegate walked up to Chris and Jennie and said he knew them from somewhere. He recalled seeing their photo in a magazine article that he read on them.
Because of their blog, Chris and Jennie were invited to be keynote speakers during the 2011 graduation of students from the Governor’s School of Agriculture at Virginia Tech. Those younger ag students still follow the couple on their blog.
In future writings, Chris and Jennie will look for ways to improve their blog and for opportunities to expand. One thing they will be blogging about is a new agricultural venture they are planning: beekeeping. Starting soon, the couple will become beekeepers because they feel it is an opportunity as a business. It is also a good topic to discuss with their readers, especially their trials and tribulations of raising bees and harvesting honey. They’ll try to dispel any myths about how one starts in the bee business.
The two will continue to combine their love of agriculture with their love of technology to spread the word of farming.
Womack writes from Danville, Va.
Celebrating the freedom of choice
Chris Simms says the unique part of sharing their story with ag students is that many are from urban areas. “So you’re able to connect with those students that may have an interest in agriculture or animal science or science in general that are there at Governor’s School [of Agriculture, at Virginia Tech], to learn more about agriculture, and at the same time share a message about what agriculture really is,” Chris says. “Too often I think people believe that agriculture has to be 5 acres of a garden that’s naturally [grown], pasture-raised [livestock], free-range chickens and things like that. And that certainly has a niche in feeding people. That’s the great thing about America. We have a choice. Do we want that type of food? Also, that natural, organic and local side has to complement larger-scale general ag, which provides Americans with the dependable, affordable food sources that we have come to expect and enjoy.
“Too often you see the two of them clashing instead of working together,” Chris adds. “That’s one of the things that we’ve got to make sure of in the message we try to portray, [that] there’s both sides of it, and they’ve got to work together.”
the TIMES, they ARE A-CHANGIN’: Rural husbands and their wives used to gather at the kitchen table to discuss farm business. Chris and Jennie Simms of Southampton County, Va., still do that — but now they bring a laptop computer, too, and share their discussions with the public via their blogs.
This article published in the May, 2012 edition of CAROLINA-VIRGINIA FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.