Saturday, February 22, 2014

Online dating site for ag folks takes off, pairing agrarian dreamers, rodeo stars and agribiz magnates.

By: Sara Rubin

When she’s not doing work at a salon, Kayleen Deaver trains horses, riding in complicated clover-shaped patterns on dusty terrain, testing the agility of the animal and her own strength. It might look sexy from far away, but up close it’s not especially glamorous.
“It’s very hard to have a connection with people who don’t like horse poop,” Deaver explains. “When you meet people they always try to change you and tell you, ‘Oh barrel racing is not forever.’ But I’ve been doing it 18 years.”
So the 33-year-old single mom’s foray into online dating went pretty poorly at the start, with Plenty of Fish turning up guys who thought they were into dating a cowgirl, but maybe were just essentializing cowgirls.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, cowgirl!’ Deaver says. “Then they go out and see what they do. People don’t really think of how much work goes into it when you compete.”
So the cheeky, dismissive tagline of FarmersOnly.com – “City folks just don’t get it” – was compelling for Deaver. She met Michael Gomes, 37, after just a few days on the site. He’s a cow-calf consultant to Central Valley dairies and father of three; the two are now engaged, and plan to get married this year.
Deaver signed up at the urging of a friend, without having seen the TV commercials that have propelled FarmersOnly to more than 1 million users. If you can get past the talking animals in the ads, you’ll see footage of happy people line dancing – in stark contrast to date activities presumably popular among “city slickers” – which probably resonates only if you’re of legit country ilk.
“In America there’s two groups of people,” founder Jerry Miller explains. “One group is blue suits, conference rooms, taxicabs and four-dollar cups of coffee. If you’re part of that group, this site’s not for you.
“Group two is just more into outdoors, animal, a simpler life, and just down to earth, not as materialistic,” he says.
For Deaver and Gomes – neither of whom is a farmer – that’s true. The couple is one of FarmersOnly’s success stories, representative of one of the site’s fastest-growing markets: California.
When Miller launched the site in 2006, he envisioned the appeal would be mostly for small-town midwest farmers. But the site has caught on among other sectors: small organic farmers in not-so-remote areas (like Northern California), and the “dreamers,” as Miller calls them. Salinas Valley and Monterey County farms don’t much resemble those amber waves of grain. And you’ll likely find plenty of local agribiz folks who appreciate four-dollar cups of coffee.
Among them: Abel Valdez who works in the IT department of a large Salinas agribiz company. He dates through Match.com and OKCupid.com. He’s seen the FarmersOnly commercials, but the site doesn’t interest him.
“I can totally see why it fills a niche,” he says. “If you are a farmer and interested only in farmers, then you have the preselection done.”
But there’s the rub. How many actual farmers work in Salinas Valley ag? The industry is made up of lawyers, salespeople, logistics workers, finance professionals, food safety inspectors and IT folks, besides the forklift drivers, harvest crews and field workers that get crops in the ground and out of it.
“Most young professionals have great incomes and the ones with experience are in the $100k club, have degrees, travel and have taste for good food and wine,” Valdez says.
When you think of a “farmer” in Salinas, you might not think of a barrel racer; it’s maybe more a blue-suit-wearing, latte-drinking, wine-tasting professional who wears loafers, not boots.
I wear cowboy boots sometimes and consume my fair share of four-dollar cups of coffee, but I also fall into Miller’s “dreamer” category. I sometimes wistfully envision a rural property with chickens, goats and a couple of acres of vegetables. It’s enough of a vision to create a free profile on FarmersOnly.com to see who’s out there that might share my dream.
For employment, I can check off options like “raise alpacas,” “organic farmer” or “agribusiness.” Journalist is not an option, so I settle on “farmer wannabe.”
I log in as my alter-ego cowgirl987812, and on a Wednesday morning, there are 11,975 members logged on. First up: A 55-year-old Pacific Grove widower who’s “looking for a country gal.” There’s a 65-year-old insurance broker from Aromas who has a fondness for riding 4x4s, fly fishing and skeet shooting.
There’s a 27-year-old Chico State senior from Watsonville who’s majoring in animal science, and 34-year-old Prunedale man who writes, “I’m looking for a hard-working hottie that loves outdoors and family.”

I have a feeling my idea of outdoors, which involves no weapons or animal capture, might be just a little too different than his.

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