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It’s More than an Industry

I am constantly reminded how lucky I am to have found an interest in animal agriculture; the work itself is great, but the people are even better. This summer I was able to attend the Ag Media Summit , which is a conference held for those involved in the agricultural communication field. I was again impressed by the kindness and sincerity of the people who work in the agriculture industry.

Everyone is Welcome

As a student, it is easy to be intimidated when meeting professionals who work in your field. We often forget that they are people too and once stood in the same place we did. For the first time, I attended a conference and did not feel like a student; I was immersed in professional conversations and introduced to mutual connections. I was in the presence of industry leaders while still being able to meet many like-minded students. I loved the atmosphere and felt welcome in every room I entered.

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It’s exhilarating to meet new people, especially when they have similar passions and understand why you get so excited about writing and social media. When you are a young professional just kick-starting your career or still finishing your degree, it is encouraging to have alumnus and communicators from across the nation take the time to speak with you about your goals. I can’t speak for other industries, but I know everyone in the agriculture sector is truly a large family wanting each other to succeed. I think that is something pretty special.

We Honor One Another

Since this was my first Ag Media Summit, I wasn’t familiar with who regularly attended or who had made the conference such a success for many consecutive years. So, when the room fell silent during a tribute to someone who had passed away and tears began to fall, all I could do was listen to a cherished man’s story and be thankful that such individuals exist. Even though I’d never met Don, just learning how he had impacted so many lives made me feel as though his memory would impact me.

Throughout the entire conference, we all honored one another. Everyone respected each other as unique, creative individuals and everyone wanted to learn from other people’s experiences. People laughed and shook hands; it was easy to make incredible new relationships. Multiple attendees, students and professionals alike, were awarded for their hard work in the agricultural communication world.

For three days, I interacted with people who write incredible news stories, create beautiful magazine covers and strategically plan the perfect marketing campaigns. Not once did I hear anything negative about someone else’s ideas or passions. Instead, individuals collaborated and sought new ideas. I can’t accurately describe how talented these communicators are or how thankful I am to have met them.

A Bright Future

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I think most of us can agree that the agriculture industry needs a voice now more than ever. Technology continues to improve, new studies are being conducted and consumers have questions about how their food is being raised. It was great to come together with others who work to share the story of agriculture, and I think it is safe to say that our stories will continue to be told.

For me personally, I’ve been inspired to continue pursuing my goals and not be afraid to tell my own story. Besides, every single person has valuable experiences to share. I really believe the story of agriculture will only get better, especially since the story isn’t always about crop genetics or animal husbandry. The stories being told are actually about the remarkable people who make this industry so strong. The agriculture industry isn’t an industry of working strangers; it’s an industry built on family values. I hope we never forget that.

 


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5 reasons why college students should do College Aggies Online!

Untitled design (16)Topanga McBride, a student at Kansas State University studying Ag Communications and Ag Economics and the 2016 individual winner for College Aggies Online shares why college students should sign up for this year’s program!

Back in June of 2016, I was sitting at my internship finding as many different agricultural organizations as I could. In my searching, I stumbled upon the Animal Agriculture Alliance and their College Aggies Online contest. Always one for a good newsletter, I signed up, not realizing I had just put my name in the hat for a 9-week challenge to tell my story. It didn’t hit me until I started getting emails and even a tweet from College Aggies Online saying they were glad I had signed up. I scrambled to figure out what I had just gotten myself into, to conclude that this was a great opportunity. One competition, a trip to the Animal Ag Alliance Summit, countless connections, and one scholarship later, I’m so glad I mistakenly signed up for the contest. If you’re still not sold, here’s five reasons to get yourself involved in the College Aggies Online contest.

1. Do it for the vine (or the followers).
Old reference, right idea. This contest allowed me to make all sorts of connections on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I interacted with the hundreds of other college students in the contest, discussing strategy and learning each other’s experiences. On top of that, the contestants had a mentor each week who was a communicator in the industry we were focusing on. They gave us insight on their experience and advice both through presentations and personal conversations. Because of all this networking, I not only gained hundreds of followers and friends, but also valuable network connections as I pursue a career in the industry.

2. If you’re into strategy and competition, this contest is full of it.
There is not another competition that compares to College Aggies Online. Strategy is one of my top strengths and this competition gave me the opportunity to exercise it. The contest runs on a points system – whoever has the most points wins. While placing the top posts and entries is up to the judges, simply completing all the tasks is half of the battle. Each week, I’d scan over the score sheet to see who was leading and took the time to learn from their entries to understand what was successful. If you like some healthy competition, College Aggies Online has it.

3. Give your social media some purpose.
We all use our social media differently. This contest helped me understand how I wanted to use each platform with the audiences I already had. My tweets were no longer just about whatever funny hashtag was trending, my Instagram featured less pointless selfies, and my Facebook allowed me to feature stories of my friends instead of just me. I see my social media very differently, and continue to use these platforms more as a tool and less as an online journal and photo album.

4. Meet #AgChat celebrities in real life at Animal Ag Alliance Summit.
The top three finalists and a representative from the top club get to attend the Summit, wherever it may be. This was the first conference I went to where I recognized people all over the room because I’ve interacted with them on #AgChat, or read their blog. Everyone came from different industries and it was exciting to see poultry farmers and beef producers work together over the challenges that face them. I walked away from the Summit abuzz with all sorts of new information and a motivation to keep working towards my career in this industry.

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5. Agriculture needs more voices. It needs your voice.
You’ve heard before that agriculture is a small industry, an aging industry, a necessary industry, etc. You may not think you as a college student have something to offer. That’s where you’re wrong. We each have unique networks we are a part of and unique stories of our experiences in this industry. I can tell you a lot more about how a cow gets milked than I can tell you about row crops and the seasons. I have great reach in Northern Colorado with my environmentally-conscious peers, but I don’t have any connections to comfort food lovers in the South. For people outside of agriculture to feel comfortable with the food that they eat and the practices that make it possible, they need to be able to find a person in this industry they identify with. By telling your story, there is someone out there that will see part of themselves in you that they will never see in me. This contest trains you how to best tell your story in the most personal way possible to make the biggest impact.

If you’re still not convinced, reach out to the Animal Ag Alliance, another previous contestant, or myself. We all can help you understand if this contest is an opportunity for you. Hopefully you’ll get involved by choice instead of by accident, but I’m sure glad I did. Thank you for the opportunities and the experiences, Animal Ag Alliance. I cannot wait to see what stories are shared this coming fall.


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Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg!

Mr. Zuckerberg,

As champions for farmers and ranchers, we know sharing the stories of the people and families who raise and produce our food is key to helping consumers better understand where their food comes from. We are excited to see you joining us as you visit farm families across the country and share their stories on Facebook.

As you know, there is a lot of misinformation being shared online about food and agriculture – often times by people generations removed from agriculture. We appreciate you sharing how much hard work, dedication and passion farmers and ranchers have for raising livestock while feeding families everywhere.

The Alliance is no stranger to receiving negative comments from groups that are opposed to animal agriculture as we work to bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. We’ve noticed that you are now receiving some of the same comments on your posts and standing strong in the face of their tactics is not always easy. The Alliance team and the farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, animal health companies and other farm organizations we represent want you to know how much your recognition and appreciation of the people who grow and raise our food means to each of us.

We sincerely thank you for being a supportive advocate of the agriculture community!

 

 


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‘What The Health’ claims get debunked

Some determined activists will say almost anything to convince people to go vegan. One example of this is “What The Health,” a film you might have seen while scrolling through Netflix. If you’ve watched the movie, it may have left you feeling confused about the nutritional value of meat, milk, poultry and eggs.

Several scientists, dietitians and agriculture advocates have started speaking out against the film and helping viewers find factual information to make decisions about their diets. Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise analyzed each health claim made in the film and concluded that 96 percent were bogus and not based on sound science. Dr. Harriet Hall, a retired family physician says the film “cherry-picks scientific studies, exaggerates, makes claims that are untrue, relies on testimonials and interviews with questionable “experts,” and fails to put the evidence into perspective.”

Here are some of the main claims from the film debunked:

Red and processed meats cause cancer

The World Health Organization (WHO) report that brought this controversy to the forefront relied on a few weak studies and ignored numerous other studies that have affirmed the nutritional benefits of consuming meat. Since the report was released, the WHO said “meat provides a number of essential nutrients and, when consumed in moderation, has a place in a healthy diet.”

A 2015 meta-analysis of 27 studies concluded that the link between cancer and red meat consumption is actually pretty weak. In another 2015 meta-analysis of 19 studies, scientists concluded “the results from our analyses do not support an association between red meat or processed consumption and prostate cancer.”

Sodium nitrite, a salt used to cure meats like sausage, bacon and ham is often brought to the table when discussing cancer and processed meat; but the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is considered the “gold standard” in determining whether substances cause cancer, completed a multi-year study that found nitrite was not associated with cancer. NTP maintains a list of chemicals found to be carcinogenic. Sodium nitrite is not on that list.

Sugar and carbohydrates don’t cause diabetes, instead it is caused by eating meat

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), type 2 diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. Starchy foods can be a part of a healthy meal plan, but portion size is key. Being overweight does increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain. Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes. The ADA recommends that people should avoid intake a sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes.

A 2016 study and meta-analysis regarding sugar and diabetes concluded, “habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes.”

Eating one egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes

Yes, they actually made this outrageous claim. There’s no way an egg has the same health effects as smoking cigarettes. Eggs are packed with 6 grams of protein, 14 essential nutrients (including choline and vitamin D) and they’re only 70 calories each – how can you beat that combo?!

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three healthy eating patterns…all of which include eggs. According to a 2015 peer reviewed study about the effects of egg and egg-derived foods on human health, “eggs represent a very important food source, especially for some populations such as the elderly, pregnant women, children, convalescents and people who are sports training.”

Pregnant women who eat meat, milk and eggs are introducing toxins to their child

Wrong again. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a pregnant woman should eat lean read meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas to obtain the daily recommended dose of iron during pregnancy.  A 2013 study states pregnant women “should eat foods that contain adequate amounts of choline” and milk, meat and eggs just happen to be choline-rich! Now you may say – pregnant women can skip meat, milk and eggs if they take a prenatal vitamin, right? Nope. The study also states that “prenatal vitamin supplements do not contain an adequate source of choline.”

Milk contains pus

Let’s put this misinformation, frequently used to try to scare you out of drinking milk, to rest. Here’s an awesome explanation from Carrie Mess, a Wisconsin dairy farmer…

Somatic cell count (SCC) is a measurement of how many white blood cells are present in the milk. “White blood cells are the infection fighters in our body and so an elevated white blood cell presence or on a dairy farm an elevated SCC is a signal that there may be an infection that the cow is fighting. Dairy farmers are paid more money for milk that has a low SCC, if our cell count raises above normal levels they will dock the amount we get paid for our milk, if it raises even higher they stop taking our milk and we can’t sell it. So not only do we not want our cows to be sick, it would cost us a lot of money and could cost us our farms if we were to ignore a high SCC. While the current US regulation is that milk must have a cell count under 750, dairy coops and companies generally require under 400 and most dairy farms aim for a SCC under 200. So, does this mean that we are allowing some pus into your milk? No. All milk is going to have some white blood cells in it, that’s the nature of a product that comes from an animal, cells happen.”

For these and more claims from the film debunked, check out this resource from the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The Alliance also provides detailed reports to its members on popular books and movies pushed by animal rights activists along with films that are positive towards farmers and ranchers.

This film is tagged as a “documentary,” but I would argue it should be categorized as a comedy because it has so many absurd allegations about food and agriculture.

As always, if you have concerns about your health or the foods you eat, you should consult your doctor!


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Understanding Consumers’ Relationship with Food

Dr. Tamika Sims, director of food technology communications at The International Food Information Council shares key findings from their recent Food and Health Survey.

The majority of today’s population is several generations removed from agriculture and are often susceptible to believing myths and misinformation about how their food is produced. To help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork, it is key to first understand consumers’ relationship with food. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey marked the 12th installment of this signature research.  This year’s survey shed light on the way consumers think about and perceive food and health, providing deep insights into food habits and purchase drivers. It investigated important issues regarding consumer confusion, the food information landscape, heath and diet, food components, food production, sustainability, and food safety. The online survey included 1,002 Americans from ages 18 to 80 and was nationally representative.

Sustainability Taking a Top Spot for More than Half of Consumers

Sustainability is a broad term, and can mean many different things to different people. Over half of Americans stated that the importance of food being produced in a sustainable way was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” To understand what consumers valued, specific to sustainability, the Food and Health survey found that reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food, conserving the natural habitat, and conserving farmland over multiple generations were the top three reasons. Fewer consumers highlighted that the food supply was a consideration in their understanding of sustainability.

Consumers and Industry Understand Sustainability Differently

The intriguing narrative presented by these data show that the features of sustainability that consumers found least important are the aspects that the food industry is more focused on. For example, the food industry is committed to producing more food with less natural resources and has developed pledges to reduce the use of greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste created from their products.

Confidence in Food Supply Down Slightly

The Food and Health Survey also investigated consumer trust and confidence in the food supply. More than 50% of Americans stated that they were “somewhat confident” or ”very confident” in the safety of the U.S. food supply, down slightly from last year’s survey.

Consumers were also asked what they considered to be the most important food safety issues today. Data demonstrated that foodborne illness from bacteria was the most important food safety issue, with about 25% of Americans highlighting this concern. Further, carcinogens and cancer-causing chemicals in food were ranked second on the list of food safety issues, with significantly more consumers citing this as their top concern compared last year.

Confidence in Animal Products High after Knowledge of FDA Rule

Animal antibiotics got a spotlight question this year to follow-up from the 2016 Survey. With the new FDA antibiotic rule that recently came into effect, the survey aimed to gain knowledge into changing consumer feelings towards animal products. This rule prohibits the use of growth-promotion antibiotics and states that antibiotic issuance must include veterinary oversight for the administration of certain drugs. These tactics are aimed to limit antimicrobial resistance in animals and humans. The Food and Health Survey examined if this rule altered consumer confidence in purchasing animal products as well as confidence in veterinarians and farmers using antibiotics responsibly. The survey found that just below 50% of consumers were at least “somewhat more confident” in purchasing animal products and responsible use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians.

If you wish to learn more insights from our survey, please follow the link below to the full report.

2017 Food and Health Survey


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3 Tips for Consumer Engagement this Fair Season

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Summer is upon us and while I was growing up, that only meant one thing: county fair season is here! Once school was out in early June, I spent each summer morning and afternoon in the barn with my family doing chores and preparing for the county fair. This included many hours spent washing my livestock, walking them around a practice show ring, watching the news and reading the paper to learn about what was happening in the industry and organizing my tack to get ready for the fair.

In addition to showing my livestock, some of the most memorable moments were spent hanging out with my friends in the barn. Every once in a while, though, somebody would pass through the barns and make a comment about how farmers do not care for their animals or another hurtful claim. Whether these individuals were uninformed consumers or animal activists trying to disrupt the fair, it was important to know how to respond. Recently, animal extremists have been targeting agriculture fairs as a way to protest animal agriculture, so I want to take this opportunity to share some suggestions for handling these types of situations.

1 – Communicate Respectfully
I’m sure that those of us who grew up showing livestock can recall a handful of conversations with consumers walking through the barn. Some of those conversations were comical – like the time a woman declared that my friend’s goats were ‘adorable!’ when in fact, she was looking at four sheep. Or when a man and his son asked if I was spraying chemicals on my pig when actually I was using a spray bottle filled with water to keep my pigs cool in the summer heat. While it is easy to laugh at these absurd questions and remarks, we should use them as chances to educate. Instead of responding with an eye roll, take the opportunity to engage with the fair-goer and share a positive story of how you care for your animals.

If animal extremists confront you, seek a fair manager or other designated spokesperson to help. Having a designated spokesperson to answer questions and share key messages with the activists will alleviate pressure on the youth exhibitors and the exhibitors will  also learn from the experience.

2 – Show You Care
Just as the old saying goes: they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Often those walking through the livestock barns are interested in learning more about animals and how they are raised. In order to be seen as a trustworthy source, show fair-goers you care by telling them how you care for your animals. It can be easy to complete your daily chore routine with nothing more than a glance in the fair-goers’ direction. Instead, chore time could be a great opportunity to explain what ingredients are in the feed that your animal eats, and how you prepare your animal for the fair.

3- Tell Them Why
NutrientsInMeatIt is no secret that livestock exhibitors often get asked, “Are you really going to eat that animal after the fair?!” or “Why do you show your animal?” Let fair-goers know that you were aware when you decided to participate in the livestock project that your animal would become an important part of the food supply. Meat is an important source of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals that are not found in plant-based foods. Be sure to remind them that because of farmers, we have food, fuel and fiber that make our day-to-day lives possible.

For those that question why you participate in livestock shows, share with them what you have learned. For me, it was a tremendous amount of responsibility that came with raising animals and caring for them daily, often putting their needs before my own. I made lasting friendships with my fair friends who shared my values and passion for animal agriculture. Showing livestock also meant that I was able to contribute to the food chain by raising a nutritious product that would provide food for a family’s table. And more than anything, showing livestock allowed me to spend time with my family in a way that no other activity could.

So next time a family walks through the barn at your county fair, take the time to answer their questions and tell them about your project – engage with them and show them how you care for your animal. Always be sure to treat fair-goers with respect so they learn to understand, appreciate and respect our livelihood in the animal agriculture industry.

For more fair and exposition security and engagement tips, contact the Animal Agriculture Alliance at hthompson@animalagalliance.org or call 703-562-5160.


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Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

It’s lights, camera, action for America’s farmers and ranchers – whether they auditioned or not. Films are popping up on the big (and small) screen, putting animal agriculture under increased scrutiny. These films often claim they are “shedding light” on the agriculture industry, but they usually leave out the true story.

Producer vs. Producer 

It could be a great thing to have American farmers and ranchers showcased for raising the safest food supply out there and providing great care to their animals, but when film producers attack the producers of our food, fuel and fiber it can spread misconceptions and “alternative facts” – especially when the films are produced by or in collaboration with animal rights groups.

Producing films (and publishing books) is not a new tactic animal rights groups are using to further their mission of putting farmers and ranchers who produce meat, milk, poultry and eggs out of business, but they are getting more attention in recent years. This is due to increased interest in how food gets from the farm to the fork along with the popularity of movie platforms like Netflix.

Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

Documentaries are supposed to provide a factual report of a certain event or issue, but the films produced by activists skew the truth or ignore it all together. Some claim they are giving an “unbiased” look into how food is raised on farms, but is it unbiased if the film is produced a vegan who only interviews other vegans?

Activist films are often how myths get started – because if it’s in a “documentary” it must be 100 percent true, right? Here are a few ways to tell if you’re watching an activist movie, or as Leah McGrath, dietitian and agvocate, likes to call them – “Shockumentaries.”

  • Cherry-picking studies
  • Playing ominous background music
  • Using outdated information and studies from 1841
  • Taking things out of context
  • An animal rights group is the main sponsor
  • The overwhelming majority of the cast is vegan
  • The call to action is “GO VEGAN!”

One of the main claims from an activist film recently released to Netflix is eating one egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes. I was honestly happy to hear this lie included because any rational person would recognize it as crazy and discredit the rest of the movie.

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The Animal Agriculture Alliance has more than 20 movie and book reports summarizing these activist films which are available to our members. Each report lists out the main claims so you don’t have to go through the trouble of wasting an hour or two of your time, but can stay informed on what the other side is saying about our industry.

What’s worth watching…

As for what you should watch to learn more about agriculture and food production, how about videos of farmers taking you on a virtual tour of their farms?! They may not be as dramatic as the activist films, but they do show the truth. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fresh Air Farmer – a dairy farmer from Canada taking you on a different farm tour every week (from a celery farm to a pig farm!)
  • Farmland – a movie showcasing young farmers and ranchers across the United States
  • Chicken Checkin videos – the National Chicken Council put together a series of videos showing how broiler chickens are raised
  • Farm tour from Tyson Foods chicken farm – a recent video by Tyson Foods, Inc. about their commitment to animal care and sustainability
  • The Udder Truth – series of videos from dairy farmers about what really happens on America’s dairy farms
  • Veal farm tour – a veal farmer from Wisconsin invites you on a virtual tour
  • Turkey farm tour – a turkey farmers from California takes viewers onto his farm

Turkey farm tour!

Farmers and ranchers realize how important it is to be transparent and many have added advocate to their list of farm chores. They’re the true experts on farm animal care and know if they don’t tell their story animal rights activists will not only tell their version of the story, but make it into a book or film. So, the next time you hear of a “documentary” about animal agriculture ask yourself this question: who is telling the story? The farmers and ranchers who raise and care for the animals or the activists who could care less about animal care and just want to take meat off everyone’s plate?

 


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We All Have a Voice for Agriculture

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Firefighter, rock-star, princess and football player were always common answers for me. Yet as the years went by, my responses became more complex and so did the question. In high school it was, “where are you going after graduation?” and now in college it’s, “what would you like to do with your degree?” These questions likely get asked thousands of times a day throughout the world, but how many answers ever involve the word agriculture?

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I grew up with my heart set on becoming a veterinarian. It never occurred to me that my hatred of math might be a problem and that my love for writing could benefit my career. It took a very rude awakening, but I eventually realized that veterinary medicine was not for me; agricultural communication was. But when I declared my major in ag comm, I questioned how I could ever be credible since I hadn’t grown up on a farm.

Let’s Take a Step Back

If the history of agriculture tells us anything, it’s that the industry is constantly changing. This means that education and communication are changing constantly as well. I doubt when the Morrill and Hatch Acts were passed anyone anticipated we’d be studying drone technology and the best ways to reach an audience on Facebook, but here we are. And here I am, studying communications and learning more about the animal ag industry so I can share the stories of producers who care so deeply for their animals.

The first Morrill Act was passed in 1862 and the Hatch Act a few years later in 1887. These pieces of legislation, along with the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, have changed agriculture and my life. Each act emphasized agriculture, education and research, which have essentially shaped everyone’s livelihood. Without the establishment of land-grant universities, agriculture may have never had such high priorities for research and extension. Plus, I may have never had the opportunity to show cattle through 4-H, understand the importance of animal health or fall in love with my university. These acts set the foundation for lifelong learning, outreach and change.

You Have to Keep Up with the Times

As I’ve already addressed, the agriculture industry is constantly evolving. As a communicator and student, it is important (and difficult) to keep up with everything going on, especially when you didn’t have a great foundation of agriculture literacy growing up.

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In the year 1900, farmers accounted for 31 percent of the U.S. labor force. More than 100 years later, it accounts for less than 2 percent. We do have to consider that advanced technology allows fewer farmers to produce more food, but what does this mean for the gap between farm and fork? It means that people are disconnected from how food ends up on their plates. In fact, 7 percent of Americans believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. It makes you question what perceptions people have about strawberry milk, too, doesn’t it? There is information available at our fingertips, yet there are some interesting misconceptions.

Anyone Can Be an ‘Agvocate’

When I decided I wanted to share my story and the story of animal agriculture, I was anxious. I was afraid I could never connect with producers, professionals, peers or consumers because I worried they wouldn’t trust me. Because why should they? The only true exposure I’d had to livestock production was showing cattle that weren’t even mine! It took a year or so of college for me to figure this out, but my voice is necessary and welcome in this industry. It’s even possible that my background has given me an advantage when connecting with those around me. Having the status of ‘farm kid’ may not matter as much as it used to when it comes to advocating for the industry.

I am grateful for what the past has given me and I am excited for what my future will hold. I anticipate gaining great skills during my time with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, becoming a strong communicator for animal health and traveling the globe to experience different animal ag systems. Of course, there are concerns and obstacles that myself and the industry will face, but I am no longer weary that I don’t belong. In my opinion, all it takes is passion and a little bit of curiosity. Even though not everyone can be a farmer, everyone is a part of the agriculture industry. That’s something that will never change.

pexels-photo-95425So, as you continue to take classes, search for jobs or find new hobbies, I challenge you to approach the question a little differently. When someone asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” why not tell them you plan to get involved with agriculture. Because believe it or not, you already are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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What Will You Do?

My Roots

cornfield.jpgFive generations. For five generations my family has grown crops and raised livestock for food, fuel and fiber just outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. I have always considered myself lucky to be raised on a farm that is committed to providing food for a hungry world.

Growing up on a farm in a large metropolitan suburb, my family’s farming intentions were questioned more than once as housing developments, new roads and businesses started closing in on our acreage. It seemed that not everyone understood what my dad does as a farmer, and I often had to explain how the crops and livestock we grow get from our farm to their table.

Realizing that even my peers did not understand much about agriculture, I became interested in telling my farming story and sharing facts about farmers’ role in producing healthy food. To become a more skilled advocate and learn techniques that would help me share my story with others, I chose to major in agriculture communications.

We Have Work to Do

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The peta2 brochure that was handed to me freshman year.

It wasn’t long after I settled into my freshman year, that a group of students in matching t-shirts handed me and other students walking to class a ‘Guide to Going Vegan’ brochure. After class I read the brochure, published by peta2 (a branch of PETA that targets youth and young adults). The brochure was filled with vegan recipes and false information about “factory farms.”

I was concerned. There I was, surrounded by impressionable college peers who were uninformed about the safe and humane animal agriculture practices. Being handed a brochure with misinformation about animal agriculture on an agriculture campus while walking to an agriculture education class made me realize… those of us with a passion for animal agriculture have our work cut out for us.

Taking Action  

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This summer, I will take action while interning with the Animal Agriculture Alliance: an organization that stands up to protect producers, engage influencers and connect industry stakeholders to bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. There is an immense need to share farmers’ commitment to responsibly and ethically produce meat, milk, poultry and eggs.

For those who have the privilege of working in the agriculture industry, I encourage you to share your story. Personally, I get to spend my summer creating social media content that busts myths, shares facts and answers questions about the animal agriculture industry. What will you do? With all of us working together, we can dispel the myths of animal agriculture and ensure a secure, safe and reliable food future.


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“This is My First Summit!”

Over the course of my semester interning with the Animal Ag Alliance, preparation for the 2017 Stakeholders Summit was the main focus. I had witnessed how much work each member of the Alliance team had put into this event, listened to them discuss new ways to ensure every attendee was engaged, and strategize how they would make this year’s Summit the best one yet. Needless to say, I had pretty high expectation for the annual event.

Myself at the Alliance photo booth at Summit.

Board of Directors Meeting

The day before the official start of Summit was the Alliance’s spring Board of Directors meeting. With their strong connections to major industry organizations, the Alliance’s Board is filled with individuals who I am completely in awe of. Surrounded by and having the opportunity to mingle with representatives from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, etc. was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. Stepping into my first “real” job, it was incredible having the opportunity to spend the day alongside so many people in positions that I aspire to be in.

Connect, Engage, Protect

Once Summit officially kicked off, each morning and afternoon focused on one core aspect of the Alliance’s work: connect, engage, and protect. The connect segment focused on misconceptions related to food. The Alliance team was able to provide a consumer focus group comprised of people that ate out at least 4 times a week. Attendees were able to hear why they choose the foods that they do related to labeling and what they associate those labels with.

Casey, Alliance communications manager and I having fun at one of the receptions.

The engage portion of the day was headlined by author Nina Teicholz, who spoke the importance of animal products in a healthy diet. It was great hearing from someone who was not biased related to this issue. She admitted that previously she was a believer that animal products were not good for your health, leading her to follow a vegetarian diet. She eventually discovered that this was not true and noted that she actually lost weight after introducing animal products back into her diet. The remainder of the day was broken into two breakout tracks: engaging with consumers, and engaging with the media to ensure the public has accurate information related to animal agriculture. I sat in on the media portion and was able to gain a better understanding of how to work with biased media.

Thursday morning was focused on protecting animal agriculture from people and organizations that are working tirelessly to end it. This was probably my favorite part of the event! Part of my responsibility with the Alliance was to monitor the news every morning for issues related to animal welfare and animal rights, and it was so cool to hear from experts on these issues in their fields. Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate, closed the conference and was absolutely great to listen to. She brought up an important food topic, but one that I do not think of often. She shared her personal story and the hardships she’s faced securing food for her family. She was a great choice to wrap up Summit!

Two of the College Aggies winners and I showing people how to use the photo booth props!

College Aggies

I was fortunate enough to spend a good bit of time with the College Aggies Online winners during Summit. These winners are peers that I look up to and were absolutely deserving of the recognition they received. It was so cool meeting students from across the country and hearing about their campus experiences at their perspective schools. Hearing about how much they enjoyed participating in the College Aggies Online program has inspired me to participate in the contest this fall. I can’t wait to signup! 

Attending the 2017 Stakeholders Summit was an incredible experience and I am so thankful for having had the opportunity to attend! The event provided so many networking and learning opportunities which is super important for a college student like me! If you were not able to attend this year, I highly encourage you to signup for next year!