After Ryan Kuster of Wisconsin opened a YouTube account in March 2007, he didn’t touch it for about three years. But after the social media platform contacted him about a paid video opportunity, Kuster began spotlighting his family’s farm operation, including feeding livestock, cleaning barns and running machinery.
Now, the videos not only put a little cash in the pockets of this student, a sophomore studying ag business at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. (He started at $10 a month and now makes upward of $100.) They also help educate consumers about where their food comes from, and Kuster says he’s been contacted by teachers who are showing the clips to their students in the classroom.
"I was always into photography in high school, so one day at the end of high school I bought my own camera," Kuster says. It was a high-definition camera, so I decided to start taking it around the barn."
The family owns four separate farms totaling about 800 acres. Kuster’s grandfather started the operation in the mid-1950s. Their focus is dairy cattle, though they also raise between 200 and 300 beef cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Kuster’s brother, Travis, works on the farm full-time, and Kuster generally starts helping him at about 5 a.m. most mornings. He helps feed cattle, clean out stalls and spread lime.
The first video Kuster published to YouTube featured Kuster being chased by calves. It didn’t get any traffic until he shared it on a forum one year later and began telling others about it.
Over time, Kuster added more videos, including several showing tractors in action. He started being more descriptive about how things work, and viewers started writing him to say how cool they thought the videos were.
"It was motivation to keep making good videos," Kuster says. He uploaded videos every other weekend during the summer, though it was hard to find time to produce them – he generally works from 5 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. at night.
People who have watched Kuster’s videos seem most interested in learning about tractors and how crops are handled, he says. Several have told him the videos bring back memories from when they were kids. He enjoys showing crops from the time they’re in the ground to the growing process and post-harvest. He hopes to shoot a harvesting video this fall.
A recently launched Facebook page, also titled "How Farms Work," aims to further that mission. Upon graduation, Kuster hopes to return to the family farm to work alongside his brother, dad and grandfather. He enjoys the idea of being his own boss and working outdoors.
"I think working from home is probably the best thing to do because basically the only thing that’s out there pushing you is your own motivation," Kuster says.
Click here to go the "How Farms Work" channel on YouTube. Then click here to visit the "How Farms Work" page on Facebook.