GERMANTOWN — — "The blueberry bushes are loaded! They are literally falling over!"
So says a tweet from Butler's Orchard, accompanied by a picture of giant clusters of blueberries sagging off branches of a bush.
Gone are the days where farms relied on newspaper ads, word of mouth and the occasional TV interview to reach out to customers. Now, pick-your-own farmers are turning to social media websites — such as Facebook, Twitter and foursquare — to alert customers when fruit and produce is ready to be picked.
People are "checking updates immediately in the field," said Tyler Butler, a third-generation farmer at Butler's Orchard, which started as a 20-acre peach orchard in 1950 and now covers 300 acres filled with 10 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
The 25-year-old Butler is heading this Montgomery County farm's dive into the quick-paced world of instant messaging. "I realized that social media was working," Butler said. "If you don't have a Facebook, you're nobody."
Tyler and his aunt, Susan Butler, launched a Facebook account in January of last year, and 2,000 people currently "like" their page. "It's only exponentially going up from there," Tyler Butler said.
But the farmers quickly realized that they needed an even faster way to alert their pickers. Now, customers with smart phones can receive instant updates, whether on Twitter or Facebook, revolutionizing the way the farm communicates.
Chris Garosi, 35, and his daughter were picking blueberries at Butler's one day last month after they had seen a Facebook update posted about the abundant crop. "That's why we're here today," Garosi said. It showed us "when stuff is available [and] what is available."
Butler said the updates are helpful for people who are planning their trip to the farm. People are better informed about what is available for picking and the varying store hours. As popularity grows, he plans to update the sites even more frequently.
Because picking availability is largely influenced by weather — and other phenomena like insects — frequently updating social media sites gives customers more precise information for when specific fruits or vegetables are available. Sometimes Butler will offer specials or coupons to Facebook friends or followers on Twitter.
Loana Nelson, 36, said her family always places orders on Facebook and responds to ads that the Butler farm places on their page. "It's amazing, I love it," Nelson said. "My family always comes here."
Butler is establishing a foursquare account, which allows users to "check-in" wherever they may be at the time. When one user checks in, all of that user's friends are notified, and the connections help spread the word of the farm and what's available.
"My goal this year is to make sure that everyone knows we have these things," Butler said.
Mary Fendrick, 36, and her husband are the newest owners of Rock Hill Orchard, having bought the 140-acre spread in Montgomery County, in December of last year. She has launched a social media campaign that she hopes will expand the small farm's popularity in the region.
The Fendricks have made a number of changes, including launching a Facebook page and a website. The previous owners had a Twitter account, but didn't pass on the password. The new owners said they plan on reviving the account soon and updating it daily.
Fendrick opened the farm's Facebook account in late April, and already as 123 friends. She's using Facebook more and her phone less. "The people who work in the store just love it," Fendrick said. "There were a lot fewer phone calls to answer."
She still tries to personally return every phone call, but using Facebook to communicate with customers has allowed her to give them quicker updates on what's ripe for picking. If there is an excess of a certain crop, she will update her Facebook page, hoping to both attract customers and to avoid letting the food spoil in the field.
Twitter will get the word out even faster.
"It's like a text, it's shorter," Fendrick said. "There are a lot of young people in the area. … They're also looking for good-quality produce."
Fendrick has also started experimenting with using social media for advertising coupons. She said she is seeing a good turnout from the latest offer — a coupon for a free reusable tote bag which about 15 people have printed out and used already.
The owner said that through Facebook and Twitter, her farm's popularity will "spread out in waves" because once people go to one of the websites, "they keep going back."
And that could mean going back to the farm as well.
Twitter messages from Butler's Orchard
It's all about the Red, White and Blue at Butler's!! Local Sweet Red Cherries, Eastern Shore Delicious White ...
Pick-Your-Own TART CHERRIES - Will be SOLD OUT at Close of Business today.
Come out & enjoy the beautiful day picking Blueberries. The picking is quick & the berries are delicious!
The blueberry bushes are loaded! They are literally falling over! ... Delicious, Sweet, Blueberries
This Weekend: Strawberries are still in Season, they are smaller and the picking is not as fast, but the berries...
strawberries are ending quick with all this heat! This will be the last weekend