Here is a recent article from the Triskele Facebook page:

Five tips for a more engaging Twitter feed

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If you know what you’re doing Twitter can be very effective. Having recently started a few Twitter accounts from scratch I can share with you some methods that will help you grow your list of followers quickly and, more importantly, help you maintain a genuinely interesting feed that your clients, customers, and donors will actually enjoy!

Starting a new Twitter account can be humbling. Putting your first few tweets out there when you only have one or two followers can feel a little awkward, even embarrassing. That’s the thing about a new Twitter account though; you have to start at zero! A Google search will give you a long list of techniques and tricks you can use to increase followers quickly. I’ll save you some time and give you just five things that I have found to be particularly effective for me:

1. Take the time and generate original content. It’s really not that difficult to come up with things to say about your organization, its people, or things you are doing in the community, is it? Twitter feeds that are nothing but retweets or links to your Instagram page will not keep people very interested. People will be more engaged if they can see your feed is managed by a real person who actually cares enough to write thoughtful things.

2. Reciprocate. When other people and organizations mention you in their tweets – thank them! It seems like such a no-brainer yet I see all kinds of generous tweets and retweets being ignored all the time. Show you care with a retweet or a mention and a sincere thank you!

3. Take your own photos. Photos of your business or nonprofit will convey a much more personal connection than stock images you find online. Photos of people work best. Have some fun with it and get creative, your followers will love it.

4. When you get a new follower, especially if it’s an individual, follow them back and send them a direct message, thanking them for following. Use their name in the message. Be personal and genuine. This person could just be your next best customer, volunteer, or donor. A personal thank you message will be sure to impress.

5. Thank other businesses and organizations that partner with you for what they do. This is different from #2. What we’re talking about here is you generating the thank you tweet, tagging them in it, and surprising them with public thanks and appreciation.

If you can do all these things you’ll end up with a personal, engaging, genuine Twitter feed that people will enjoy.

Oh, one more tip that is applicable to all your social media platforms: Don’t cross post! Posting the exact same photo and comments on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and whatever else you use shows a lack of effort and creativity. People who use multiple platforms will tune out and stop following. I’m sure you’ve seen what I’m talking about, unfortunately, it’s very common.

Of course, there is much more to add to this list. We didn’t even mention hashtags for example, which are another powerful tool. If you want to learn more reach out to me. I can do one-time seminars for you and your staff. If you want me to take over your accounts and drive for a while I can do that too. Shoot me an email.

Now, go tweet something!

 

Here are some examples of original content composed during recent contracts.

 

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Dan Pearson of Pure Sun Farm

 

A conversation with Terri and Dan Pearson of Pure Sun Farm (Pearson’s Mann Valley Farm), River Falls, Wisconsin.

Composed for an engagement campaign in 2017

Dan is the fourth generation of his family to operate this farm on county road MM just a few minutes from town here in River Falls. His great grandfather purchased the farm almost 120 years ago, back in 1898 and they’ve been working it ever since. Dan himself has spent 59 of his 61 years living in the same house and working the same land as his family before him.

Terri moved into the family home after they married and together they started the next generation, three children and now nine grandchildren.

“The land here is perfect for farming,” says Terri, “It’s nice and flat, with no rocks. A perfect row crop farm.”

Terri and Dan have 125 cows on the farm, predominantly the milking shorthorn breed, as well as a large brood of chickens. Terri explains, “Our path to organic began when we became aware of the issues with chemical sprays used in conventional corn production. We gradually decreased our dependence upon petroleum-based products and antibiotic treatments. We became certified organic in 1996. As we became more aware of the healthy profile that organic milk provides we became part of a “grassmilk” initiative in about 2012. Now, our dairy herd is exclusively grass-fed. That means no chemicals or pesticides, no growth hormones in any of the animals and our cows only eat the rich, healthy pasture that nature intended.”

Dan: “ We’ve been talking about healthy fats in milk for 20 years here on the farm. Well before popular trends also decided it was a good thing. When your cows eat nothing but grass the milk they produce not only tastes better, it’s packed with healthy fats, vitamins, and antioxidants. Now we see Grass-fed milk, often called, “Grassmilk” is one of the fastest growing products in our industry! It’s outselling regular organic milk at many Co-ops and organic-focused grocery stores around the country.”

One healthy fat, in particular, has some people very interested in grassmilk: CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid. While more studies need to be done it does appear CLA may be a relatively effective cancer fighter. Milk from a pastured cow has up to five times more CLA than milk from a grain-fed cow.

Dan and Terri are very enthusiastic when it comes to promoting a healthy, organic diet. Over the years they’ve seen many changes in the food industry and experienced a great deal of change in their own diets. After all, they need to be as healthy as possible for their extremely physically demanding job on the farm. Dan often recommends people start shopping at the WE Market Co-op as a great source of locally grown, truly organic produce.

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Dan and Terri of Pure Sun Farm

The Pearson’s dairy farm is a member of the Organic Valley Co-op along with about 2000 other farms. Of those, 1,800 of them are dairy farms but only 140 of them raise grass-fed cows. Dan and Terri’s farm is one of only 30 farms in Wisconsin that are entirely grass-fed producers.

Dan is very involved with the Organic Valley Co-op and works with them on making sure everything they produce under the Organic Valley brand is as regional as can be. They are constantly figuring out ways to reduce mileage on their trucks and be as responsible as possible when it comes to the local environment. One of their primary concerns, of course, is to do what they can for regional farmers and encourage those who aren’t already, to take the step toward becoming organic.

Here in River Falls, Dan and Terri were instrumental in coming up with the “Transfer of Development Rights” or TDR for Troy Township. This ensures that high-quality farming land will remain just that while allowing local landowners to sell off the less desirable land for development. This will help River Falls to grow as a community but still retain open space, farming land, and environmentally sensitive land at the same time.

Milk from the Pearson’s Farm can be found in the Organic Valley “Grassmilk” cartons in the cooler here at WE Market Co-op. When you buy the milk or other Organic Valley products you are directly supporting hard working local families like Dan and Terri Pearson. They give back to our community in many ways. They live here, they shop here, and they contribute to our sustainable future by helping with projects such as the aforementioned Transfer of Development Rights.

Buy some healthy, great tasting Grassmilk, and raise a glass to Terri and Dan.

Cheers!


 

 

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Ryan, Lindsey, and Tillia of Rising Sun Farm

 

Rising Sun Farm

An interview piece composed as part of a contract in March 2017

 

We arrived on a crisp, somewhat windy, but beautiful blue-sky spring day. Lindsey met us at the beginning of the walk to the farm from the parking lot. She had her adorable and very happy daughter, Tillia, with her in a stroller.
We slowly walk down the gravel road and Lindsey tells us all about the long history of Rising Sun Farm. Ryan’s father Roger Browne started the farm forty years ago along with another gentleman by the name of Keith. The original land is now divided and Keith runs an apple orchard on his part of the property. Roger still works there with them on the original farmland and lives in the family house that he built with his own hands all those years ago, although Lindsey and Ryan are now starting to take over much of the operations.
We come to the main field. It’s on a gentle slope and down the hill, we can see the hoop houses. Off to the left is the house and right in front of us is a very elaborate mobile chicken coop, or “chicken tractor”, surrounded by what appear to be very content chickens who are wandering about in the sunshine, clucking and pecking at the ground. Lindsey explains, “The coop has no floor so the chicken manure falls directly onto the soil beneath. It’s a very effective natural fertilizer. We move the coop about 10 feet every day to expose a new section of the field to the chicken’s manure. They are our main source of fertilizer and an integral part of our farming system. It’s a great example of how we like to do things around here. Whenever possible we’re farming with age-old methods which are efficient and practical for our land”

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The mobile chicken coop at Rising Sun Farm.

Ryan comes over and greets us. We learn there was a costly accident on the farm last night. One of the doors to the hoop houses somehow blew open and hundreds of tiny seedlings had frozen. Roger was reportedly already at work planting new ones and ordering more seeds in what would be many hours worth of work to recover from this loss. “It’s a major setback, it’ll delay some crops by weeks,” Ryan tells us.

We enter one of a number of hoop houses and it becomes apparent just how many crops this farm grows and exactly how much work it all takes. Hundreds of tiny plants line the floor of this one house. Row after row, of tiny plants all in their own little cubes of soil (no plastic pots here!). Lindsey starts pointing out the different varieties. “These are basil, these are kale, these are parsley….” The list is impressively long. “Our farm grows much more produce than a typical CSA of this size,” Lindsey says by way of example, “We are extremely efficient. We have only 2.5 acres of cultivated land but we are able to grow a massive amount of food. WE Market Co-op is our main purchaser of course but we also supply produce to a number of other retailers and even a few regional restaurants.”
Lindsey and Ryan are very friendly, immediately likable people who are clearly very proud of what they are doing here on the farm. We easily end up deep in conversation about farming methods, the market for organic produce, the broader industry, and even climate. We touched on the challenges of small farms and talked about what it takes to make ends meet. “Divorce and bankruptcy are the two leading causes of small farms disappearing,” Lindsey tells us. “The hardest thing about farming like this is there’s almost no control. We do what we can. The hoop houses, for example, extend our growing season and help control the temperature to some degree, but even they can only do so much. If you go into farming thinking you can control everything you’ll quickly burn out.”
Lindsey and Ryan tell us about a spring rainfall event two years ago that pounded them with so much rain they had to dig trenches around the tomato crops in an effort to stop flooding.
Ryan concludes, “Farming is physically demanding and when the weather doesn’t cooperate it can be mentally very tough to pick yourself back up and keep going. When it does all come together though, when you get just the right amount of rain and just the right amount of sun at the perfect time, it’s incredible! All your work flourishes into something that’s way more than the sum of its parts. You feel like you’re part of something much bigger than just your own hard work. It’s truly amazing.”
Our conversation turns to the market for organics and the struggles of getting people to understand the benefits of organic food. “The difference in taste is obvious,” says Ryan, “Getting people to buy it and spend a little more for it in the first place is one of the main challenges. It’s better for you too, more nutrient dense, fresher, but getting that message across is difficult. Many people have lost the connection to the land and don’t consider what’s in season locally anymore. If they want strawberries in December they’re going to go buy them where ever they can find them. We would encourage people to pay more attention to seasonality. After all, it’ll taste better. Sure you can buy strawberries in December but how far have they traveled? How do they taste?”
Luckily there are a lot of people here in Wisconsin who do care about freshness and quality! Many of them even volunteer on the farm; they are a big part of the operation each year. This year Lindsey and Ryan have two interns who live on the property with them and work alongside them learning their techniques. They are already here, working with the family.
“The work is hard but the volunteers say they enjoy it,” Ryan assures us. As often as possible they are farming with only hand tools. All the weeding is done by hand – All 2.5 acres of it. Those of you who tire easily of weeding your back yard might want to consider doing a day of weeding at Rising Sun, it’ll give you a whole new perspective!
Right now in the early spring, the workload consists of making maple syrup, planting and replanting literally thousands of seedlings, picking rocks out of the fields and very soon tilling them, ready for planting. On top of all that are the many repairs and maintenance to be done on the machinery they do have. This all takes time and all needs to be done before the really busy season arrives. Lindsey and Ryan are both already putting in around 40 hours each at this time of year. That will ramp up soon.
If you’d like to visit Rising Sun Farm you’ll find they have a store at their entrance where they sell whatever is in season. Plenty of maple syrup right now! If you’d like to volunteer you can reach out to them through their Facebook page.


 

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Get to know your STEP Board of Directors

Article composed in 2016 for use by STEP in its engagement campaign

Sometimes when I mention I’m a STEP board member people are a little confused by exactly what that means. A nonprofit Board of Directors is often not as visible as they could be and maybe even a little bit mysterious.

I’d say being a member of the STEP Board of Directors actually means I’m part of one of the most generous, hard-working volunteer groups you’re ever likely to meet.

Currently, there are 18 board members at STEP and we all volunteer for either a three or a four-year term. Our board members do this because they genuinely care about the community they live in and want to give back.

From talking with people who serve on other boards over the years I’ve come to learn the STEP board functions in a way that is not commonly seen elsewhere. We are a “working board”. Everyone on this board enjoys getting involved and making things happen. We volunteer far more time than many people might suspect, in fact, some of us treat this like it’s a second job. The hours spent on various projects and events really add up! This is what makes being a member of the STEP board such a rewarding experience. The camaraderie. The shared goals and vision. The teamwork.

We have members from many different backgrounds who bring all kinds of skills to the table. We are school teachers, salespeople, small business owners, doctors, lawyers and stay at home parents. Just recently the former Mayor of St. Louis Park, Jeff Jacobs, has rejoined us for a second term of service. It takes all kinds of experience to do this successfully and everyone joins in wherever they feel they can best help.

The official STEP mission is as follows; “STEP strengthens our community by responding to the basic emergency needs of individuals and families in St. Louis Park.

As an individual board member, our job is to, “Provide governance to the organization, represent it to the community, and accept the ultimate legal authority for it.”

This means we are all held accountable for the financial well-being of STEP and making sure all our efforts to grow the organization and help our community are done within the law. It also means we are out and about in St. Louis Park attending events both hosted by STEP and otherwise. We are out there meeting people and telling them about STEP in a constant effort to bring awareness to our mission.

I asked the chair of the board, Dick Parsons, to tell me about something that he has accomplished during his time with us that he was particularly proud of. He said, “Probably the event I find most rewarding was leading the team of board members and friends of STEP that helped find, fully vet, and then purchase our current home at 6812 Lake Street. In 2009 and 2010 we looked at several buildings before we finalized the acquisition, signing the mortgage in March 2010.  Moving into the building in May 2010 fulfilled STEP’s long held dream of a permanent home.  Then, thanks to generous donors and strong community support, we were able to pay off the mortgage in 2013”.

You can see from this example board members are involved in every aspect of running the organization from the planning of fundraising events and hosting them all the way up to finding a new building to house the organization! It truly does take a strong team of people with very different fields of expertise.

Of course, as Dick mentions, the success STEP has experienced in its mission is a reflection of the community we have here in ST. Louis Park. People here really do care and want to help their friends and neighbors in need. This makes our job a lot easier!

Here’s a photo of the current STEP Board of Directors. We are your friends and neighbors. We are volunteers. We love what we do and guide this organization with integrity, pride and hard work.

However, we couldn’t any of it without the support of people like you.

STEP Board of Directors

Absent: Cindy Motzko, Dave Homans, Erin Gonzalez-Bardzinski, Joe Tatalovich, John Steffenhagen.

Thank you!

Jason Alvey

You can learn more about STEP by visiting their website here: http://www.stepslp.org


 

Hidden Struggle

This article was written in 2016 by Jason Alvey as original content for use by STEP with its engagement campaign.

Houses in St. Louis ParkPoverty and economic struggle in St. Louis Park is hard to see.

At STEP we see it every day.

One of the challenges we face at STEP is promoting awareness of this problem in our community. Many are simply unaware of the struggle some people in St Louis Park face. It’s hidden from view.

Dozens of people come to STEP every day for assistance. They are your neighbors. They live in your apartment building. They live three doors down on your street. People who need assistance may work with you but you’ll never hear about what they’re going through because the stigma associated with needing help; they’re not going to just come out and tell you how difficult their lives are. Problems may stem from very personal issues and remain secret. In fact, many of our clients have no one else they can talk with; the social workers at STEP are their only friendly but unbiased person they can go to. Can you imagine how difficult that must be?

There are many ways lives can be economically disrupted. A Harvard study showed that medical crisis causes a massive 62% of personal bankruptcy filings. It’s worth noting 70% of that group did have health insurance. It just wasn’t enough. Even with insurance, either a single health incident or chronic situations can create substantial debt and loss of income. It can happen to anyone.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose circumstances have changed. Imagine all your savings gone. Imagine all your credit cards maxed out and the credit collectors calling every day. Accompanying this can be a lack of social outlets, unrelenting stress, and feelings of inadequacy due to coming up short on what you expect to be able to provide for your family and yourself. It can have a significant impact on your mental health, making stabilizing your situation even more challenging.

dsc_0088STEP is here to nonjudgmentally provide basic needs for our friends and neighbors who are suffering. We help them with food, clothing, and rides. Perhaps by meeting people’s needs, we are able to help people keep their dignity.

Thank you for helping us with our mission.

Jason Alvey

You can learn more about STEP by visiting their website: http://www.stepslp.org


My wife and I both ride bikes

A Facebook post that garnered considerable attention in 2015

My wife and I both ride bikes, as do most of our friends. We ride them to work and we ride them for exercise and fun. When we are riding on the street we always obey the rules of the road. We are courteous, friendly and very aware of the traffic around us. When I’m riding to work on my bike I’m saving gas, staying fit and reducing traffic. Traffic is made of cars. Cars are traffic. Not bikes.

On a bicycle, I am easily passed by anyone driving a car. That driver may have to wait one or two seconds to pass me safely but ultimately I am not going to cause that driver any delay at all. The cars ahead of them might, but my bicycle and I won’t. That driver is not going to be late for work because I’m on my bike. Nobody has ever said to his or her boss, “Sorry I’m late, this cyclist was just awful this morning, he delayed me for half an hour.”

The Greenway alone sees 5000 cyclists per day. That’s a lot of cars off the road and I think it could be a powerful message if delivered the right way.

The rage, the insults, and the threat of violence sometimes directed at me from a driver is completely disproportionate, inappropriate and in some cases, very scary.

More and more people are taking to bikes in large cities around this country to get to work and other places. How long before we can do so without fearing misdirected anger from drivers? Let’s politely remind them that cyclists are not traffic. Cars are. Sure there are some bad apples out there on bikes but overwhelmingly cyclists are good people from all walks of life. Your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers all ride bikes. We take cars off the streets when we do.

dsc_0468I want to live in a city where I know my wife will be safe when she rides to work. We’re not quite there yet.

 


Good Beer. Offensive Labels.

This article was picked up by City Pages and promoted on their media resulting in over 10,000 views on Facebook.

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Photo from The Four Firkins, St. Louis Park location.

Recently someone at a retail liquor store out east emailed me to ask if I’d ever refused to stock a beer because the label was sexist or offensive. My answer, sadly, was “Yes we have”. In all my time in the beer industry, I’d never yet seen a label as blatantly misogynistic as this one that she was referring to. We chose not to include the image here or even a link. If you want to see it, just Google “Mt. U Cream Ale” and click on image search. It’ll come right up.

A Google search will quickly find many more offensive and sexist beer labels from all over the U.S. The mind boggles at what is going through the heads of the people designing and approving these labels. These are examples of the very worst however, many breweries are labeling their beers with images or names that are maybe not quite as blatant but still using innuendo and sexism to try and sell their product.

Many craft breweries seem to forget their customer base is not exclusively 23-year-old guys. Having said that, I know plenty of 23-year-old guys who are mature enough to realize these labels are terrible. So who are these labels aimed at? Are breweries intentionally looking for a customer base of sleazy uneducated men? I doubt it. It seems to be a case of little education and in these specific cases at least, total ignorance. The label designers do not realize that labeling their beers with images of women in lurid positions is not only an insight into a misogynist culture at the brewery, but also limits their potential customer base.

Ask most people what a Craft Brewery is and I’m sure you’ll hear all kinds of romantic notions about artisan, old-school brewing techniques, passion, and creativity. Those are certainly the kinds of things I think about when dreaming of my favorite craft beers. These sexual labels and juvenile dirty names are nothing but lowbrow and immature.

When I entered the craft beer industry in 2008 I never would have dreamed that some craft brewers themselves would be contributing to a culture of disrespecting women.

I reached out to our branding and web specialists, Bicycle Theory for a professional opinion. Here’s what owner Ben McCoy had to say about the issue:

The challenge with sexual innuendo in marketing is its potential to repel as many customers as it attracts.

What male-dominated industries (like beer) often forget, is that sexual innuendo is basically a one-trick-pony. It may spur a few individuals to pick one up for fun, but it also objectifies half the population. And over the long term, this approach will almost certainly create more problems than it’s worth. Some may say “relax, it’s just a joke.” And that’s great. If your brand is a joke, then put it on blast and enjoy the ride (while it lasts). But the type of investment required to produce and distribute beer makes this a very expensive joke. Others may say that “all press is good press,” but most craft brewers we know can’t afford the time or money that PR challenges of this nature may require. And still, others may say, “but it’s a niche brand and haters gonna hate?” Fantastic. Hate is just a niche that requires you to absorb on an ongoing stream of negativity because haters also love to hate.

 So can sexual innuendo work? Yes. Will it increase your brand’s reach? Doubtful. Is it worth the hassle? Probably not.”

Here at The Four Firkins, we see every day how craft beer is enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Craft beer is no longer a niche. There are plenty of people who would never buy beer with such a label no matter how good the beer inside was.

Imagine a busy professional woman buying beers for the office get-together. Do these brewers think for a minute that this woman would buy a beer with a label like this and present it to her coworkers?

How about the father of a 13-year-old daughter. Is that man likely to sit on his couch and drink this beer in front of his little girl? No. He’s not. Unless he is also ignorant and doesn’t care about the message he’s sending his daughter.

In my experience as a specialty beer retailer, I can say this with some confidence: Other than brewing bad beer the second best way to ruin or devalue your brand is to put bad labels on your beer.

Marketing is powerful stuff. Bad marketing is even more effective at turning someone off your product than good marketing is at getting people to purchase. We see evidence of this every day here in our retail stores. No matter how good a beer is, even with our encouragement, if someone doesn’t like the label they will not buy it. Furthermore, if the retailer themselves is so offended at a label they won’t even stock the beer then chances of a consumer purchasing it drops quickly to zero.

Here are some labeling guidelines for any new breweries out there who might be reading this as they struggle with naming their beer, label design, and logos.

  1. If you are thinking of portraying women on your label in a demeaning manner: Don’t do it.
  2. Avoid using juvenile sexual innuendo in your names. It will limit and eventually decrease your sales. If you’re unsure how offensive it might be, show it to your wife, your grandmother, your daughters, or any woman you know.
  3. Think about imagery and design that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people. People of all ages and both genders drink craft beer.

Craft beer enthusiasts are often very disappointed with the beer selection at high-end restaurants. These abysmal beer lists are often due to a lack of education on the part of the restaurant, especially when found alongside a brilliant wine and cocktail selection. In some cases, the poor packaging is a legitimate justification. Imagine serving a trashy image on a craft beer bottle next to a bottle of imported Pinot Noir. For craft beer to continue to rise to fine dining status, the caliber of packaging must match that of other beverages.

Sexually explicit beer labels make it more difficult for all craft breweries by worsening the overall image of the entire industry.

If you see a beer with a label that offends you let the retailer know you don’t approve. The retailer is not forced to carry the beer, they make a conscious choice to do so. If the brewery and the store never get any feedback this issue may never go away.

Jason Alvey.