Marketing strategies I use to get small town farmers into national headlines
News judgment. It’s recognizing exactly what readers want or need to know. My secret sauce to gaining national attention for original news stories. How your girl gets her paper. During the mid-2010s, my Associated Press award-winning editor, Judy Bailey, taught me the significance of this requisite skill to writing and reporting the news. As a then 20-something reporter, I quickly developed a flair for finding local content. Fishing out the most important story details. Then, determining what parts of the story would effectively lead my coverage. Listening to my mentor and strategically following these steps led to my award-winning status. Community newspapers and higher education became my playground to create and distribute page-turning articles. Small town stories picked up by bigger city news outlets.
The ability to study the news regularly and know what information is newsworthy is why my neighborhood features continue to draw major publications Down South. I often break news that The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal revisit — even down to interviewing my original sources. People who are never heard of outside of the Rural South. I hail from America’s Black Belt Region, a crescent-shaped territory with hundreds of counties that house large African-American populations. Me: Between Milledgeville and Haddock, Georgia. A fourth-gen cowgirl raised on a cattle farm smack dab on the Jones-Baldwin County line. Where goldmines of stories about my beautiful, Black culture live.
See, my birthplace has been systematically underserved and underdeveloped for centuries. Lacking access to resources like advanced education, technology and health care. Therefore, making some of the best human interest profiles in the nation. Providing story opportunities that often change the plight of Black rural people. How I pinpoint newsworthy Black Belt farmers willing to share their underdog stories is purely by personal connection. My authentic, community coverage holds such historical, sociological and political value, Big City publications can’t help but piggyback. To prove my point, these case studies show how I help elevate rural Black influencers on the local level to reach national brands, audiences and change agents:
RECOGNIZING BLACK FARMERS’ WORTHINESS:
I can make anyone read well on paper. If I ask the right questions long enough, their unique place in Southern history starts to reveal itself. Superlative anecdotes and whimsical facts give the story punch. Emotion. I usually come across the coolest Black farmer stories when I’m not searching. A casual conversation at a farmers’ market, Piggly Wiggly or convenient store becomes my next angle. And usually, their family background aligns with current events, social trends and historic moments in agriculture. Organic farmer Sedrick Rowe is now the poster child for hemp since breaking ground in Georgia summer 2020. I wrote his newsworthy narrative for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant project Black Farmers’ Network (BFN), and it earned the following nationwide results:
CASE STUDY 1: ORGANIC FARMER SEDRICK ROWE
“Your stories really put me on the map,” said Sedrick Rowe. “I get it now.”
CHALLENGES: This first-generation farmer had a difficult time moving his agribusiness, Rowe Organic Farms, online to reach new audiences. Stuck on how to link up with other young farmers wanting to start their own agribusinesses, too.
SOLUTIONS: Through editorial work with BFN, I developed a series of feature stories highlighting Rowe’s pioneering ag career. Stressing the fact he was one of only three certified organic peanut farmers in Georgia at the time and the first African-American organic hemp farmer licensed in South Georgia. Those stories transitioned into trending Facebook/Instagram posts. A one-page responsive site designed by my creative partner Tonya Wright of Wright Touch Designs continued his brand story, which in turn connected him with other young Black producers. Curiosity-raising press releases to local media helped put Rowe on journalists’ editorial budgets.
BENEFITS: Simply sharing his original narrative in feature form generated an instant buzz. Because most of Rowe’s colleagues, customers, family and friends were already online, the process to spread his agricultural story became a rather easy feat. I developed engaging articles about his innovative farming methods for up to a year, including captivate photography and dissemination of these materials on social. The reshares, likes and comments transitioned into new publicity and financial opportunities for Rowe.
RESULTS: My creative content earned Rowe both local and national publicity. And never-imagined business collaborations. He became centerpiece to a New York Times article about Black farmers and the continued conversation about discrimination on the land. Georgia Farm Bureau’s TV program Farm Monitor featured Rowe about his first-year hemp success. A venture capitalist contacted him to join a cannabis advisory board in Georgia.
WRITING STORIES STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART:
As a journalist, it’s my job to build trust with sources. That reliable person they can count on to tell their truth. No bells. No whistles. To always deliver stories from a familiar place to readers. Once that bond is established, the storytelling genuinely unfolds. When I met lifelong farmer Donnie McCrary, his Southern experiences hooked me. A reflection of my own family’s struggles with racism and land sustainability. McCrary actually lived the discrimination USDA has so long pressed on Black farming families for decades. A prejudicial account I broke to the public and is now trending on social media, in printed publications:
CASE STUDY 2: VETERAN FARMER DONNIE MCCRARY
“When that story came out, my phone wouldn’t stop ringin’,” said McCrary. “I never knew losing my land would mean that much to everybody.”
CHALLENGES: A retired academic, McCrary wanted more young Black farmers to know his story and that they have a resource in him. He also wanted to bring awareness to his never-talked-about USDA experience in historic court case Pigford v. Glickman.
SOLUTIONS: I researched and wrote a feature story about McCrary for BFN. Using the network’s site and social media presence, I posted his inspiring article. I also showed him how to used email and text messaging to share the story with family, friends and colleagues.
BENEFITS: Using new media helped push McCrary’s gripping report to the masses in a matter of minutes. The feedback McCrary wanted happened almost overnight.
RESULTS: On BFN’s Facebook page, McCrary organically reached 16,673 people, 1,833 engagements and 138 shares. Network followers even started sharing their personal stories about McCrary. Now, McCrary is collaborating with young, Black farmers like Rowe to pay his ag knowledge forward. His underdog story made it into the digital pages of Georgia’s largest newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, spring 2021.
EDUCATING READERS ABOUT THE BLACK BELT’S VALUE:
The educational value of covering the Black Belt Region is crucial to my coverage. Why I profile Black farmers isn’t just to check off an assignment and move to the next subject. My deeper motivations are to help make readers more knowledgeable about the generational struggles of this region’s African-American producers. Why they’re behind in land ownership, hesitate to joining a now digital-driven economy. Meeting and apprenticing under international Black Belt scholar and political scientist Dr. Veronica Womack gave me an opportunity to unravel Black farmers’ roadblocks to agricultural prosperity. Exploring the “why” and “how” of every farmer I interview. Womack is founder of BFN. This is how I used storytelling to shove her 20-year Black Belt research and genius down mass media channels.
CASE STUDY 3: RURAL RESEARCHER DR. VERONICA WOMACK
“Like me, Candace is a product of the Black Belt,” said Womack. “What better person to change the narrative of what others think they know about Black people of this region.”
CHALLENGES: Womack wanted to transform her 20-year Black Belt research into a website. One that promoted Black farmers of the region, including their products and services. Ultimately, she aimed for a digital platform that would change the narrative of how the world viewed Black producers from Rural America. Innovators. Thought leaders.
SOLUTIONS: Wright and I collaborated on responsive designs. BlackFarmersNetwork.com to house the stories of the featured farmers. And VeronicaWomack.com to highlight her research as a modern companion site. I also repurposed the sites’ information on social media and as email marketing campaigns.
BENEFITS: The network site gave Black Belt farmers a digital home to share their farming experiences and agribusinesses with brand-new audiences. Because most of the farmers featured and customers were already online, the site gave additional publicity and helped boost credibility within the industry. Womack’s site not only reached new markets but made her Black Belt work more accessible.
RESULTS: Both platforms quickly piqued public and media interest. Womack earned air and broadcast time. The following national media gravitated to her academic research by way of digital storytelling, marketing and branding: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Clean Eating, NPR, The New York Times, The Nation and The Wall Street Journal.