In a moment of boredom last fall, I picked up my phone and opened Instagram. The first image to appear grabbed my attention and didn’t let go for several seconds, which is some kind of record for Instagram scrolling.
A ring of vibrant greens, sweet peppers, turnips and more surrounded one short phrase: “Week 10 Full Share.” It wasn’t the latest lifestyle post from a social media “influencer”; rather, it was the latest post from local CSA Collective Harvest.
The post was informational. Week 10 of the fall CSA share included those carefully arranged veggies in the picture. But it was also eye-catching. Collective Harvest is one of many local growers who see connecting with followers through Instagram as an opportunity.
The much lampooned yet pervasive platform for posting images of food and glamorized selfies has evolved in the last few years into a viable platform for companies who want to gain new customers. Forbes magazine has reported that Instagram is the No. 1 social media platform where people share and discover new products. Most Instagram users—80 percent—voluntarily choose to follow brands they like.
For Athens’ growers, Instagram can amplify what has always been a benefit of buying local: getting to know your farmer. “Instagram is a great platform because it’s picture-based. There’s so much that people don’t know about the farming world and about what farms and farmers look like in the area. It’s a really cool tool for that,” says Rachel Waldron, CSA and social media manager for Collective Harvest.
Members and non-members are more engaged on Instagram than other platforms, Waldron says. That may be because Instagram lends itself to building relationships between brands and customers.
“It turns the nebulous into the tangible,” says 3 Porch Farm’s Steve O’Shea. “With Instagram, your connection to the farm is strengthened as you see the camaraderie of the crew, covered in dirt and sweat, sharing a belly laugh together in the heat.”
Waldron says the CSA created an Instagram and Twitter account in 2016, but while tweeting fell to the wayside, Collective Harvest found footing on Instagram. “People care less about 140 characters about farm work than seeing a cool picture of people working on the farm,” she says.
Followers get to know the people tending the farm and the journey the plants take before they arrive at market. Apart from giving followers of sneak peek of beautiful blooms, 3 Porch Farm will post pictures of their “farm family” and, occasionally, the challenging times.
Though they never want their feed to be overshadowed by negativity, “an absence of hardship becomes a dishonest portrayal of life, and the connection we are attempting to foster becomes weaker as a result,” O’Shea says.
Each farm goes through rough patches, so Waldron and O’Shea both strive to share gratitude on their feeds, and they feel uplifted when the community shows they care. “They ask about the storm damage, they laugh about the tractor stuck in the mud, they gush about a bouquet we posted, check in on our injuries, and just generally express a great deal of love and support for what we are attempting to do,” says O’Shea. “This is what fuels us to keep pushing forward when it seems like trying to move a mountain.”
Waldron loves to see members tag photos of their weekly shares or the meals they make with them. These types of tags, she says, help to demystify CSA membership. The more Collective Harvest followers, members or not, see how the produce is being used, the less daunting it may seem to take on a weekly share of vegetables. “It makes the produce more accessible, that [preparing] it can be done,” she says.
Waldron also sees Instagram as a place where she can expand her efforts to educate potential locavores about the benefits of eating locally and seasonally. “There are quick, easy, fun ways to throw together food that you’re getting locally and use your share without it going to waste. That’s something I’m constantly trying to hammer home for people,” says Waldron, who hopes to start sharing more of her own home cooking using CSA shares on Instagram.
“If I can be a part of that educational curve, that’s really important, not just in marketing the CSA but also the broader local food movement,” she says.