Imagine a sweeping blue sky over green and gold fields spreading up to a horizon ringed by mountains. The nearest human not related to you by blood is miles away. Sure, the scent of sweet hay is exhilarating, but isolation takes a toll. And a farmer’s life is usually isolated.
“Loneliness is a huge problem for farmers and ranchers. Sometimes these tough, strong guys break into tears on the phone, worried they’ll never find someone to share their lives,” says Jerry Miller, founder of the FarmersOnly.com matchmaking site. “Most farmers either marry a high school sweetheart or meet a spouse in college. FarmersOnly is there for people looking for love later in life.”
Technology Fuels the Connections
Thirty-five percent of FarmersOnly’s more than 500,000 members are older than 50, the site’s media director Michael Gober says. Senior members are divided 50:50 between male and female.
Miller is confident that FarmersOnly will have 1 million members by 2014, despite the fact that the site’s only TV commercials are homemade and date from around 2007. The ads end with the words, “City folks just don’t get it.”
Times have changed.
FarmersOnly calculates that five percent of site members are city folks willing to move and share the country life with the right farmer, and that percentage is growing.
“Mobile technology, smartphones, revolutionized how our members approach romance,” Miller explains.
Before smartphones evolved into a palm-sized media centers, farmers had to wait until they got home at the end of a long, dawn-to-dusk day before they could to sit at their computers and log on. Now, they can Skype with a potential date, text an answer to a “flirt” or swap photos while they’re sitting on a tractor. Miller takes phone calls from seniors who find technology a challenge and helps them upload photos.
The Joy of Surprise
Miller, who spent his childhood on a swath of land between a horse farm and a dairy farm, launched FarmersOnly after a divorced female farmer friend told him she had tried several dating sites but couldn’t find the right match. She said the people who ran these other sites had no clue about what’s important in life.
Most dating sites have complex mathematical formulas behind their matchmaking questionnaires. In a recent Ted talk, OKCupid founder Christian Rudder explained that his site assigned every question points depending on how important the answer is to the person taking the quiz.
“We leave more to chance,” Miller says. “If you have a huge thick file of data on someone, you miss out on the joy of surprise. You have to be compatible on key issues. The rest is an adventure.”
FarmersOnly men often post photos of their tractors and pickups. Their bios frequently assure women that they know how to handle a blizzard, drought or power outage as well as run an agricultural business. And they feel compelled to remind women that farm houses are nothing to billionaire Ted Turner’s Montana ranch.
“My farm is beautiful to me, a pond and fruit orchards flowering every spring. But ladies need to understand farm life is not a spa vacation,” writes one 65-year-old farmer. “I’m up before dawn, working on accounts after midnight. It may be 2 years before I can go on vacation.”
He promises any potential spouse with a telecommuting job that he has a room and tech skills to set up a home office for her. But if she needs a university or Starbucks to fuel her creativity, the nearest city that has both is 200 miles away.
Geography can pose a challenge, so Miller tries to make FarmersOnly a place where members can find social solace even if they’re not finding dates. Farmers post notices of horse shows, cattle auctions and festivals, and invite anyone, male and female, to attend the event with them. One senior told him she now exchanges Christmas cards with 32 FarmersOnly pals.
“Some members want friends as much as a spouse,” he muses.
That’s why he’s built a dating site that’s not just for dating – and not for farmers only.