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Farm at your fingertips: New app allows farmers to reach customers more directly

SALISBURY — Patterson Farm has been growing and selling produce in Rowan County for generations. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t adapted to recent times.

The farm, owned and operated by the Patterson family, has an active social media and internet presence. Along with a colorful, intuitive website, the farm is constantly posting updates to Twitter and Facebook about the produce it has available. Now, the farm has a new way to reach potential customers.

Patterson Farms is one of 65 farms, restaurants, wineries and breweries from Rowan County that are now listed on the Visit NC Farms app. Developed by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the app was launched earlier this year and seeks to connect local vendors with consumers.

“We’re excited to be a part of it,” said Michelle Patterson, whose official title on the farm is director of fun. “We know that this is a need.”

Rowan County’s local farms and businesses went live on the app on July 17. The push to establish the county on the app started before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it quickly picked up steam as the demand for fresh, local food and agritourism increased.

“We saw it especially during the beginning of the pandemic,” Patterson said. “Our county during the beginning wasn’t on the app, but we knew that the counties on the app were having high visitation because it was a great way for people to get out word about the products they have, what was available, in a quick manner.”

The Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau decided that the need was so great that it would fund the app to ensure farmers and business owners saw no extra cost. Some counties in the state have charged vendors a fee to use the app.

“We’ll be able to cover up to 100 farmers participating and pay for the app in addition to covering annual operating costs,” said James Meacham, CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

Once Rowan County Tourism green-lit the project, the county’s extension office led the effort to upload farmers’ and business owners’ information to the app. The extension office’s summer intern from NC State, Murphy Stafford, handled much of that process.

“For some of our farmers, they struggled. … For some, we just had to show it to them and explain how it works,” said Amy-Lynn Albertson, the county’s extension office director. “And then once they saw it, they could grasp it a little better.”

Albertson worked to stress to farmers how important it is to use tools like the app to market their products.

“That is something everyone has to do all the time now, no matter what kind of agriculture you’re in. It’s always important to be promoting yourself,” Albertson said. “That’s why the app is very, very useful, even just for agriculture awareness.”

While some farmers, including Patterson, were quick to hop on board, others struggled to do so or decided not to participate. Opting out of using the app might not be a bad idea for some farmers, Albertson said.

“The app is not useful if they already have a social media presence,” Albertson said. “That’s the other thing. It isn’t a good tool for a farm that doesn’t utilize the internet already. It can be a deterrent if they are on the app and they don’t use the internet. People will use it and, if they don’t respond, it just hurts their customer service and we don’t want to do that.”

For social media-savvy farmers like Patterson, the app is “another tool in the box.” Along with containing basic contact information about vendors, including phone numbers, website links and email addresses, the app allows farmers and business owners to send out push notifications directly to those who have followed them in the app. These notifications give them the ability to instantaneously reach potential consumers.

Patterson plans on using this feature when notifying customers about autumn events at the farm.

“We will definitely use the app to announce things that we have going on this fall,” Patterson said. “We are planning on fall events, but I know it’s going to look a little different because of the guidelines and the safety of our guests and staff is of the highest priority.”

Currently, vendors first send any push notifications that meet the required standards to Albertson, who distributes them to app users. 

“It has to be 140 characters or less,” Albertson said. “We try to make sure that it mentions the name of the farm in the first part and then it needs to give them something to do, whether it’s to go to the website, go to the farm, call today or whatever.”

Meacham views the app as another indicator of a growing agritourism industry in Rowan County.

“Agritourism has been a big growing industry for really the past 15 years, especially in Rowan County,” Meacham said. “With wineries, pick your own farms and the investment we made in the farmers market.”

Albertson and Meacham are awaiting a statistical report from the N.C. Department of Agriculture on how the app has performed so far, but Albertson does know that some push notifications have been delivered to over 6,000 people.

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