Megan McAndrew of Bismarck wasn’t having much luck in the dating scene — either online or in person.
Though McAndrew, 64, was ready for a relationship after being a widow for more than a decade, the North Dakota transplants from New England — the region of the northeast United States and not the Hettinger County town — wasn’t bumping into Mr. Right on a street corner or via a handful of Internet dating services.
FarmersOnly.com, a dating website geared mostly toward middle Americans who share the same basic values and life philosophies — in other words, not the big city cocktail party crowd.
After dabbling on matchmaking sites like eHarmony with little or no success, McAndrew remembered a piece that former USA Today columnist Craig Wilson wrote about Farmers Only several years ago.
“For some reason, I remembered that column,” Megan said. “It was funny because Craig was a neighbor of a friend of mine in Washington, (D.C), and he was far from being Mr. Farmland, but his column was about how women would complain that they couldn’t find nice men. He wrote about there being ‘real people’ in the Heartland and they should go on Farmers Only.”
Flash forward to last November when Megan, after signing up for the Farmers Only service, happened to bump into Lyle, a Devils Lake man who works in the agriculture business and owns a farm. Megan said, as of Valentine’s Day, the couple seems to have hit it off very well over the course of the past few months.
“I got a message from Lyle saying that he liked my profile,” Megan said. “I sent him a message back and said we could have a drink at the Toasted Frog if he’d like and we could have dinner if we didn’t hate each other after that. I was a nice evening and it was nice to meet somebody, especially because I feel a little out of order here in North Dakota — I’m not really a North Dakota person.”
Though anyone would wonder what a North Dakota farmer saw in McAndrew — an education assessor at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck — Farmers Only founder Jerry Miller said that’s part of the beauty of his creation, which was started in 2005.
“Even though the site is called Farmers Only, it has really grown to be people, not only in agriculture, but also just people who live in rural areas and enjoy the outdoors and animals,” said Miller, who is based in Ohio. “It’s down-to-earth people. The number of actual farms has gone down over the years, but there are a lot of people that had agriculture in their family tree or who identified with that type of lifestyle. A lot of people lost their small family farms and moved to major markets.”
The way Farmers Only works, people can look around for free, but need to pay a monthly fee for the ability to communicate with other members. In the past year alone, the site’s membership has doubled to “well over one million,” according to Miller.
“In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would go this far, but I knew there was a need for a service like this,” Miller said. “I was doing agricultural marketing back in 2005 and I was talking to this farm girl who had just gotten a divorce. I was doing business with her and she confided in me that she felt she would never meet anyone new. She said she already knew everybody in her small community and that she didn’t have time to socialize while working on the farm all day.”
The next time he saw his business acquaintance, Miller said, she reported that she had little success with online dating.
“She tried one of the big dating sites,” Miller said. “About a month later, I was talking to her and she said, ‘The guys that contacted me just couldn’t relate to the lifestyle of a farmer.’ She said they just didn’t have a clue. I told her I’d find a site geared toward farmers, but there was nothing out there. I talked to other people and I was hearing the same story over and over again.”
With a little entrepreneurial ingenuity and some networking, Miller created Farmers Only and, like Megan and Lyle’s story, the rest is history.
“We’re growing at such a rapid pace now, it’s amazing,” Miller said. “We get success stories coming in like crazy. When I get an email saying, ‘We got married and now we’re having our first kid,’ it’s just unbelievable to
know that you had a hand in changing so many people’s lives. Our site is kind of like going to a singles party where you know you have something in common with everyone else. Something else that you don’t always think about is the fact that people often meet others on the site who turn out to be really good friends.”
Whether a farmer, rancher, rural resident, or simply someone new to North Dakota working in the booming Bakken, Miller said Farmers Only is a great way to get the conversation going.
“Our slogan is, ‘City folks just don’t get it,” Miller said. “I was on the Today Show a few months back and they must have asked me about 20 times — ‘What do you mean city folks just don’t get it?’ Living in the country is a lot different than living in New York City.”