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Farmers Aren’t for Following: How Social Media Undermine Small-Scale, Diversified Farm Systems

Authors: Alexander Tarr*, Worcester State University, Mai Nguyen, sustainable grain farmer
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Communication
Keywords: diversified farm systems, sustainable agriculture, social media, digital geographies
Session Type: Paper
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Social media, especially image-centric platforms like Instagram, play an integral role in how many consumers engage nominally sustainable food systems. However, in this paper we argue that the digital mediation of food and farming undermines the very kinds of sustainable systems small farmers seek to build. Through an analysis of several popular farm Instagram accounts contrasted with one author’s decade of experience as a diversified-grain farmer, we show how social media distort perceptions of what sustainable agriculture is and can be. By privileging well-resourced farm operations funded through personal and foundation wealth, these types of accounts render imaginary pastoral cornucopias that undermine sustainable practices in at least three ways. First, they hide the actual labor and economic conditions of farming. Second, they misrepresent commodity-driven production as sustainable. Third, the globalized nature of social media erases the specificities of geography, providing a false impression that any farm can produce endless, aesthetically pleasing crops. The combined effect of these distortions constructs farms as consumable destinations, and farmers as the curators and facilitators of that consumption, rather than precarious stewards with tenuous land tenure, limited markets, undervalued labor, and needs for serious structural change beyond more likes on their sunlit photos of veggies.

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