The first time Hayden Fox posted to TikTok was to share an inside joke that has left farmers chuckling for years. A fourth-generation farmer himself, Fox was delivering a load of straw to a customer who kept calling it hay.
Niche content? Fox certainly thought so. As it turns out, the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) alum had unknowingly tapped into a corner of the social media platform where an eager audience awaited.
Thirty thousand views later, Fox realized: “Oh wow, people actually care about this stuff.”
It may be because Fox provides a unique view on agriculture. He challenges farming stereotypes at every turn as a 25-year-old, queer farmer with two million followers on TikTok.
His knowledge and experience growing up in a southwestern Ontario farming family, coupled with his charismatic personality, distinctive laugh and ability to find the humour in anything, bring a kind of authenticity social media marketers dream of.
Fox does it naturally, showing the world something it didn’t know existed.
Visit his page and you could learn a fun farming fact, view a breathtaking rural landscape, watch Fox teach his father a TikTok dance, help him break down gender barriers in agriculture, or learn about the woman who came onto his property and tore down the Pride flag Fox had on his barn.
That experience is not reflective of most of Cayuga, Fox said. His home community has for the most part been supportive, even surprising Fox, who had not yet come out publicly before he began posting as The Fruity Farmer.
“I never felt pushed out by TikTok, but it was the thing that helped me jump,” he said. “It would have taken me a long time to be openly gay in my community if it wasn’t for a platform like TikTok.”
“I honestly don’t know if I identify as anything,” he said, “but I think queer is the best way to put it.”
TikTok, Gen Z and reaching millions
Because of the platform’s design, TikTok connects its creators to its users in a much more efficient, organic way. Its algorithms send videos to the “For You Page” each user has so people are exposed to content from anyone on the app, not just those they follow.
As Fox puts it: “I don’t know 10,000 people, but 10,000 people just saw me.”
Through TikTok, Fox has connected with other LGBTQ2IA+ farmers, but they are mostly American and amount to only a dozen or so. “I know there are hundreds out there,” he said. “We just don’t know them because maybe they’re afraid to be themselves.”
Fox, who never strategizes or plans his content, initially got on TikTok to connect with fellow Gen Z. It is the fastest growing platform in Canada, and for Gen Z, not just a social media app, but a search engine too, giving Google a run for its money.
Users can track their own data, and Fox said when he started posting, more than half of his viewers were under the age of 30 and just five per cent were between 45 and 50 years old. That demographic now comprises nearly 30 per cent of his audience.
It’s hard to know what brings people to his TikTok, but Fox said people reach out all the time to say they are inspired watching Fox be unapologetically himself, some of whom also struggle growing up queer in small communities.
“Those heartfelt messages remind me that I’m doing the right thing with this,” he said.
Farming as a family tradition
Back on the family-owned cash crop farm, it’s just Fox, his father and an uncle who run the operation his great-great-grandfather started. The roots of agriculture are deep in the family tree, the Foxes having once farmed the land where Toronto Pearson International Airport now stands.
Fox takes great pride in being a farmer. Earlier this year he ventured to Vancouver, B.C. to live in the city, taking a leave from the farm to see if it was in fact where he saw his future. Three months later, he was back, happiest in the field behind the wheel of his tractor, connected to the land and its bounty.
“I’ve grown a lot as a person,” he said, crediting his education at OAC with giving him a fresh perspective on farming and imparting skills he uses daily from accounting to marketing to economics. “Farms are really multimillion-dollar businesses that run completely different than any other business out there.”
He also understands the challenges facing farms right now. A 2023 report from the Arrell Food Institute found 40 per cent of farmers are set to retire by 2033 and 66 per cent have no succession plan in place. There is also the constant threat of land developers and other corporations seeking economic opportunities who regularly visit farms like Fox’s to make offers.
“I worry about it,” he said. “To me, tradition and culture are so important.”
Those values apply to agriculture, but to LGBTQ2IA communities as well. After his Pride flag was stolen, Fox took to TikTok for his signature “story time” and floated the idea of painting his 150-year-old barn entirely in rainbow colours. His audience went wild.
Plans are still in motion for the barn’s makeover. In the meantime, he has responded with a flag bigger, brighter and flying higher at the top of a 120-foot-tall grain elevator.
“The whole situation reminded me that not everyone is as open as you think,” he said. “People’s rights are not on a progressing timeline but more like a pendulum that swings back and forth. Just because you have them doesn’t mean people are not going to try to take them away.”