THE internet blog has, of course, become a very popular communication tool with a whole variety of people partaking in it.
In the farming world too, the blog is an important player, with many Irish foodies now using a blog regularly to showcase and market their particular style of food, and also to push their product onto a wider market.
However, not all involved in the production of food have taken to blogging with such relish. The Irish male farmer, for example, (myself included,) has for the most part avoided the blog.
The blog, like the introduction of the round baler 20 years ago, is something we treat with suspicion.
As a consequence, finding a traditional Irish farmer writing a good entertaining blog is a tough chore.
However, women, as always, are a different matter. Women farmers, or farmerettes as some like to be known, or farmers’ wives — indeed, all categories of country women — have taken to the keyboard and the blog with panache. And, in so doing, have made their lives and the lives of all who read their blogs more interesting.
Lorna Sixsmith is one such interesting blogger. www.irishfarmerette.com is her site, and the farmer’s wife from Co Laois is now a well-established figure in the blogging world.
In her blog, she writes about her family life, the busy life on a farm family in modern day Ireland. The highs, the lows, all recounted in colourful detail.
Lorna is married to Brian James, and they have two children, Will aged 10 and Kate aged 8. Between them, they run a dairy and beef enterprise in Co Laois. They farm about 300 acres. With a milk quota of 420,000 litres, they milk 85 to 90 cows, mostly bred to Friesian. Freshly calved heifers and young cows are sold each year, with the bull calves fattened and finished in the second year as bull beef.
In this busy life, Lorna still finds the time to write her blog. And an enjoyable one it is too. One of Lorna’s recent blogs which I particularly enjoyed was about feeding calves. Bucket versus teat feeder was the heading on the piece, but I found as I read it that Lorna was able to bring in so much more than simply discussing buckets and teats, even drifting into the TV show Sex and the City to make a certain point.
In another blog, she gave advice to those considering marrying a farmer.
Again, it was a witty blog, and yet had more than a grain of truth in its content. Clearly, Lorna enjoys writing her blog.
"Blogging is a way of telling others about whatever you are doing. Many Irish people lived on farms as kids or visited grandparents on their farms, and they have an interest in Irish farming. I believe the interest is there for farming as a popular topic. "Reading other blogs can be interesting too, and leads to offline meetings such as tweet-ups."
‘Tweet up’ indeed, Lorna. Us farmers are a long way from tweet-ups (she says there’s a farmerettes tweet-up next Sunday in Kilkenny). She explains the benefits for the farmer blogger.
"What I enjoy about reading farming blogs from other countries is their different ways of farming and their pride in their farm.
"For example, most American blogs will tell you how many generations of their family has been farming.
"Farmers here in Ireland could use blogging to educate others about their industry, show them how their food is produced, show them why the CAP payment is necessary, for example, and demonstrate to those abroad who buy the Irish meat we produce why it is a niche product. We have ‘free range’ beef and milk, which many other countries do not have."
Lorna sees a blog as being akin to a diary.
"Farming changes so quickly, particularly in terms of technology. I’d love to have more photographs from when we made the small square bales, for example, or more knowledge about how my grandparents farmed and how they felt about it.
"A blog can be a historical document for future generations, as well as an educational and informative document for others now."
I ask, "Isn’t it a rather open diary? Open to the world in fact. Does husband Brian worry about what you write? Us farmers can be a prickly crew, after all."
"That makes me wonder," Lorna laughs, "as to what I’ve written that you might think is too personal. He doesn’t read it, to be honest. Partly because he knows what is going on in my life anyway, so there’s no need to.
"And partly because he doesn’t want to be saying to me that I could have written about something in a different way, knowing it would drive me mad.
"And yes, he is fairly easy going. As long as I don’t get any information wrong about his cows, he’s happy enough I don’t write anything that I’m not happy about sharing. I may never have a conversation with anyone about it, but have no problem sharing it with readers. I see it as writing a personal type column, in a way."
One necessary component to writing a decent blog is, of course, having a good grasp of the English language.
"In some ways, I’d love to write full-time, but never seem to get around to settling to it, there’s always something else to do first! I do read a lot, I love crime and historical fiction. I’d read a book a week, if I had the time.
"I have a BA in English and History, and worked as an English teacher for a few years. However, I don’t want my degree to put others off believing they can’t blog.
"I believe that many Irish people are natural storytellers, and by writing about what they are passionate about, the writing will be interesting and will be read. Blogs do provide a spellcheck, if one needs them!"
Lorna’s blog, as I stated, is full of humour. Is this outlook on life important to her?
"Well, there’s no point in being miserable! I’m not saying that things don’t get me down occasionally, of course they do. But I think farmers, by and large, are an optimistic lot. If we get a bad year, the hope is there that the next year will bring good weather and good yields.
"I think the secret is to look on something as an event rather than a problem, don’t stay in the past, look to the future. My husband is very optimistic and cheerful. I tend to be more of a realist, except when it comes to money!
"For both of us though, the journey is the enjoyable bit. When we reach a goal, we both tend to say ‘okay, what’s next?’ "I think it is also about taking pleasure in the small things. Isolation too is a common problem is farming, and blogging can offer a great way of connecting with others, abroad and in Ireland."
Lorna has made many new friends through blogging in recent years.
"I think most of my friendships that have been created during the last three years have been because of social media. Most are in Ireland, and I’ve met them in person since initially connecting online, but I would read and comment on blogs from abroad regularly. I met my business partner for Write on Track on Twitter in 2009, and we met in person for the first time at a blog awards in March 2010, and then went into business together towards the end of 2011.
(Write on Track offers social media courses online).