which way western influencer?

Influence in the Middle of Nowhere

Kelsey Briggs
February 9, 2024
Updated Mar 08, 2024

It is one of the most rewarding professions on Earth. Yet it’s also isolating, with one of the highest suicide rates of all occupations. American farmers and ranchers are at war with something unseen to the naked eye—their mental health.

By 2050, farmers and ranchers will have to provide enough food to feed over 9 billion people.

That’s…a lot of pressure. With limited financial resources, unforgiving weather, poor crop yields, and deadly diseases among livestock, it can feel as if the entire world is against our primary food source. It’s difficult to fathom the mental toll and level of isolation.

For example, in 2022, the Texas Tribune reported that Texas farmers lost an estimated $2 billion of their cotton crop due to drought and extreme heat. The hard-hit area stretches from Lubbock to the top of the Panhandle region, and produces 66% of the state’s cotton and cottonseed. That’s more than a third of the nation’s total crop and 4% of the global yield.

For farmers, so much is out of their control—leading to stress, depression, and worst of all, suicide attempts. A study conducted in 2020 revealed the suicide rate for farmers, ranchers, and those in the agricultural community was 43.7 deaths per 100,000 individuals, a rate that is significantly higher than the suicide rate among the general population.

There’s an unexpected bright spot, however. Many of the younger agricultural community are using social media as a solace and as a way to be less isolated. TikTok and Instagram are giving people in the Western community a voice that reaches those outside their immediate circles, something many haven’t had before. A voice that reaches consumers who don’t have a direct hand in agriculture to learn about where their food is coming from and the people who produce it. “As simple and silly as it seems, I just want people to remember that there are faces and families behind their food because I think if we could get back to a place where we knew these faces and families better, there would be a lot less confusion and fear behind food labels, food practices and food in general,” said Natalie Kovarik, a generational rancher and host of the DiscoverAg podcast. Those who grow up in rural communities are well aware that everyone knows everyone, from the trucks they drive to their involvement in local initiatives.  Most are notable figures in their communities, serving on school boards or city councils. Finding someone to talk to about mental health struggles and confidantes with discretion can be difficult, to say the least. Mental health resources are available to these groups, but they may not feel understood by providers. Many agriculturalists face issues unfamiliar to the average person—the financial struggles after drought, pests overtaking the best crop of the season, watching a newborn baby calf die after tending to it for 12 hours straight, and on. Even if there is stigma or discomfort in talking to licensed therapists, tuning in to fellow agriculturalists is natural.

These individuals vary as much as their content does: from a farmer operating a 120-year-old ranch to three sisters running a dairy farm, from a vet tech on Taylor Sheridan’s (creator of Yellowstone) ranch to an agriculturalist advocating the community to the general public. All have one thing in common—the desire to educate outsiders and provide a space where other farmers and ranchers can feel seen and heard.

Emmie Sperandeo
Corporate-American-Turned-Cowgirl Vagabond

Picture it: away from the hustle and bustle of any major city, a lone cowgirl rides across the endless fields in Big Sky Country accompanied by her dog, horses, bison, and a camera. No one would hear a peep as her horse crosses a rushing, cool stream covered with snow—unless she posted it online.She spends her days working hard on cowhand activities that include doctoring sick cattle, riding long hours on horseback to move cattle from a summer to fall pasture, hunting down any lost cattle in the mountains, feeding horses, and other daily chores. The only difference from any other cowhand is that she also vlogs about it.

Emmie Sperandeo’s videos each reach over 200k views on TikTok and Instagram and, until recently, didn’t feature sponsored content.

Emmie, also known as @emogoatmom on Instagram and @steadyrein on TikTok, used to punch the clock working a regular 9-5. She was a product of corporate America with no background in agriculture, only riding horses in her younger days.

Then, one day, she quit her job and set out to become a videographer on the ranches in Montana. After three months, she decided to buy and live out of a horse trailer as she traveled from ranch to ranch for work.

You can watch her race her beloved horse, Raven, among the snowy fields of Montana (and make it look easy), spot videos of her attending a women’s-only bronc riding clinic (yes, just as the rodeo cowboys do), and wrangling cattle in Africa and Mexico. She also adopted a baby bison, named her Lucy, and trained her to ride.

In January 2023, a freak accident nearly killed her. While gathering cattle in the mountains, her horse spooked, fell back on her, and crushed her skull. Sperandeo’s chance of survival looked slim. Now, she is talking openly about her road to recovery and how she’s working on getting through it all.

The epitome of toughness and grit, her candid conversations about mental health keep her audience engaged. From doctor visits to dates to wrangling solitude, her transparency is her gift to the public.

@gatlin_didier Reply to @marshall.m.g what a Cattle Guard is with Darrell Bibbins #farmer #fyp #howthingswork #darrellbibbins ♬ Where I Come From - Alan Jackson

Gatlin Didier
"I can't even influence my dog, so I'm definitely no influencer"

Growing up and maintaining a 120-year-old farm out in the plains of western Oklahoma feels like the job of someone highly traditional, but it’s actually run by someone with a TikTok series called “Farm Stuff with Darrell.” (Side note: Darrell is this creator’s content alter ego.)

It all started when Gatlin Didier made a video explaining windmills after a viewer spotted one in a previous video and asked what it was. Instead of dryly recounting the use of a tool used as a water pump for livestock tanks, he livened up the content with a Hank Hill-esque accent.

His audience loved it—leading him to create over 50 more videos explaining standard farm tools, from the use of barns on a farm to sponsored content he wove seamlessly into his series.

He even gets his grandmother involved. Granny Bibbins (another alter ego!) plays a spitfire in his videos, warning Didier’s character of women up to no good and giving life advice.

“The beauty of the Internet and social media is the ability to connect with people from all walks of life. I've met and heard some amazing stories from people because of it and that's truly a powerful thing. It can really be a tool for good if we decide to use it that way. Especially being farmers and ranchers from the middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma and having our nearest neighbor a mile away from us—having millions of followers doesn't make this so-called isolation feel so lonely.”
Gatlin Didier

Natalie Kovarik
Showcasing the beauty of the Western lifestyle

According to the USDA, a single farmer can feed 155 people on average. But farmers are largely invisible to most Americans, who have no idea where their food comes from beyond the grocery stores—nor do they give it much thought.

However, individuals like Natalie Kovarik strive to have more open conversations online about the agricultural community. Her explanation for why she dedicates time to content creation is simple. “I think folks are craving to be connected to their food source again, and an easy way to do that for me as a rancher is through social media.”

Kovarik has built an impressive reputation and audience: she currently has over 100K Instagram followers, 20K on TikTok, and 8K followers on LinkedIn. Yes, LinkedIn. Farmers are professionals!

As a generational cowgirl, she understands that there may always be a disconnect if farmers and ranchers do not educate the public about the industry.

“As a female, Millennial rancher I strive to have more people feel connected to their food sources out of simply just relating to me as a person. The modern progression of our world has disconnected us from a lot of our daily conveniences—not just food. But given where we are as a society, we're missing that lifeline we used to have to what's on our plate. Because of that, I think folks are craving to be connected to their food source again, and an easy way to do that for me as a rancher is through social media.”
Natalia Kovarik


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♬ original sound - Nyfarmgirls

NY Farm Girls
Reminding the world that NYC is not the only thing in NY

People often forget that New York is more than just the City—upstate New York has a vast, thriving agricultural community, and the NY Farm Girls are three sisters from that community who document their lives on a dairy farm.

These Gen Z women bring along followers for everything: harvesting crops, feeding and milking cows, discussing the struggles of working with family, and showing off when they dress up.

Their “farm vlogs” video playlist is educational and entertaining, showing the “joys and discomforts of agricultural life (part of the creed of Future Farmers of America), and the comments section is a testimony to the positive impact they have among their community.

Abby Fogarty Arnold
Authentic cowgirl and your Internet best friend

Aside from winning the 2022 Cowgirl Magazine 30 under 30 Lifestyle Influencer award, Abby is a simple gal who lives out her days with her husband in one of the largest ranches in Texas, the 6666’s (aka filmmaker and actor, Taylor Sheridan’s latest purchase.)

Abby is a native Oklahoman who grew up in the hills of Osage County, often called “God’s country,” where buffalo roam and the skies are endless. She grew up riding horses and tending cattle, and her background is deeply rooted in one of the largest ranches in Oklahoma, the Mullendore Cross Bell Ranch.

Her content blends authentic Western outfit inspiration and her daily life on the ranch, from riding the range between the Kansas and Oklahoma border on horseback to showcasing her life as a vet tech alongside her husband.

Every week, she posts an anonymous sticker and invites her audience to share anything they want with her. Some submissions are about relationships, but most ask about issues pertaining to mental health.

While she’s not a licensed therapist and does not claim to be, her naturally warm persona makes people feel they can ask her about anything. And they can—she proves to be a true Internet friend by providing relatable insight into her personal life and offering advice in the intimate manner of a childhood friend.

There are countless creators not listed above who are also advancing the conversation around mental health for agriculturists, such as Jenna Paulette, a country musician whose music video to her hit single “You Ain’t No Cowboy” shines a light on the internal battle farmers and ranchers face.

The video opens with a disclaimer and a shot of a lone cowboy. The text over him talks about the devastation they face and the rate at which suicides occur—something rarely, if ever, showcased within the country music industry.

Social media, more often than not, is seen as something detrimental to our mental and emotional health, but not enough people consider the benefits it brings to less visible communities.

Next time you delight in a medium-rare steak or browse the produce aisles at the grocery store, remember to send up some gratitude for the farmers and ranchers whose endless sacrifices make it possible.

Kelsey Briggs is the Content Marketing Coordinator at Fohr, and an Oklahoma native living in New York City. Follow her @kelseytbriggs or email her at kelsey@fohr.co 

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