Imagine planting and harvesting your crops with the click of a computer mouse. Imagine talking with your neighbors instantly on-line. Imagine a marketplace that always buys your crops for more than it cost to produce them. No, it is not a dream or some future utopia; it is the world of virtual farming, one of the newest applications in the world of social media. If you are not involved with Facebook, then you have no idea what I am talking about and will be completely lost for the rest of this column. Your time would be better spent on the news page of thtis web site or looking through the classifieds that deal with the real world of agricultural production. If, on the other hand, you have been sucked into the new world of social media, then you are part of a phenomenon that can help teach consumers about farming in a whole new way.

Facebook, like most things connected to the internet, started out as a simple way to network with friends. Now there are all kinds of applications that range from the silly to the sublime. There are fan pages, quizzes, and a bewildering number of games. One of these games, which is quickly becoming very popular, is Farm Town. As the name implies this is a farming game that also incorporates the community aspects of a rural community.

With this game, you can plant a field, harvest that crop, sell or store that crop, buy animals, and purchase fences, buildings and trees. You can earn money by working on other people’s farms, communicate with your neighbors, and more. It is all very simple and all very safe. There are no diseases, no deaths, no market crashes, no hail storms or droughts, and no bank foreclosures. Yet the game is engaging and, if you are not careful, rather addictive. Like farming, it can get into your blood.

As research for this column I asked members of my family to start playing the game. This has led to some very strange changes at our house. Dinner table conversations gravitate to who is planting what and when certain crops will be ready for harvest. I have heard phrases like “I will get to my homework in a minute after I plant my corn,” or “Dinner will be ready after I harvest my strawberries.” This game has sound effects, so the house is filled with the sound of clucking chickens and grunting pigs, a fact that is causing our dogs no end of confusion.

In addition to farming, the game incorporates the social aspect of a rural community. You have to choose people to be your neighbors. These are people with whom you communicate, to whom you give gifts, and on whose farms you can work. While visiting the marketplace, you can meet and talk with people from all over the world who are also playing this game. To my surprise, a number of noted agricultural leaders are playing this game and are part of the social network of Farm Town.

To read Truitt's entire column, link to Hoosier Ag Today.