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HSUS bullies animal ag and hurts low-income families

Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate, shares her story of standing up for agriculture while the Humane Society of the United States pushed for a ballot in Massachusetts that would hurt low-income families at the grocery store. 

Less than a year ago, I attended the 2016 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, my first real introduction to agriculture beyond labels on products in the grocery store. I had recently learned about a ballot initiative filed in my state that, despite efforts to legally challenge its certification, would become Question 3 on the Massachusetts 2016 ballot.

As I considered engaging in this food policy debate, I reflected on my own family’s experience with hunger, homelessness and poverty which drives me in my work for social justice. I recalled the times I would dig through my sofa for change just to purchase a dozen eggs to feed my children some protein for dinner. In deference to the real victims of Q3, I would later agree to become campaign manager for Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice.

In my work, I have always sought to break down the stereotypes we all know too well – that poor people are lazy and uninspired; that if we would just go to work, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather than focus on solutions to poverty, policies began to look more like punishments, as broad brushes of accusations of fraud, waste and abuse taint us all when one bad apple makes a new headline.

While attending last year’s summit, I quickly learned that those of you providing the gift of nutrition have your own unique, yet similar challenges. I noted to Brian Klippenstien of Protect the Harvest at the time that low income families and farmers have their respective stories to share, stories that left untold by us, would be told for us by others with self-serving interests.

My years in policy work have also shown me that when we start to solve for a problem that does not exist, there will be unintended consequences. More often than not, the poor will suffer the worst. Q3 is the very definition of social injustice, those elite with money and satisfied choices imposing burdens on those with neither.

On its surface, Q3 would appeal to the good-hearted voters in Massachusetts who want to prevent cruelty to animals. In reality, Q3 was a cruel indifference to those of us who struggle to feed our families in a state ranked 47th in housing affordability and where our food costs are already 26 percent higher than the national average. Like most everyone, I don’t want to be cruel to animals, but I refuse to be cruel to people.

The Humane Society of the United States and their supporters would ultimately spend $2.7 million on the passage of Q3, while ensuring that the good and truth of agriculture would be a story left untold in my state. HSUS would continue to ignore not only the economic impacts for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, but also the animal welfare trade-offs for the very livestock they claim to protect.

The politics is strange. Imagine if President Trump were to propose doubling the cost of the most affordable and accessible source of protein available to low income families. Outrage would ensue as advocates for the poor and the media would express their disdain for such a heartless and reckless act. Yet, when merchants of veganism do it, compassion for our fellow humans can simply be set aside, it seems.

Thankfully, Mr. Forrest Lucas and the National Pork Producers Council would provide enough funds for me to give voice to the voiceless in this debate. Sadly, we would ultimately be outspent 10:1 as funds directly from HSUS and their supporters in places like California, New York and DC poured into their campaign. Citizens for Farm Animal Protection rained down TV ads that portrayed animals in awful conditions, duping MA voters into thinking these conditions existed across farms in our state and were acceptable, normal agriculture practices across the country.

Walking into this debate, I had no idea how extraordinary our food producers and science partners are at providing healthy, affordable and sustainable nutrition. I am among the grateful who appreciate why your work is so critical and meaningful. I know why, going forward, the coalitions that I am accustomed to working in must be working in partnership with you all who feed us.

HSUS cleverly played on the emotions of voters in a progressive state where we, in general, know very little to nothing about agriculture. HSUS has bullied our local farmers into submission with direct threats to their livelihoods. HSUS lied about the cost, as they did in CA, selling their ‘penny-an-egg’ story to unsuspecting voters. HSUS claimed that consumers were driving their cause, not mentioning the consumers they were referring were retail executives who know about a good marketing plan, not your average shopper on a budget. HSUS called me as a pawn for big agriculture.

HSUS would soon learn that my supporters hadn’t just come to MA to randomly pick some low-income woman to be the face of this campaign. HSUS wasn’t certain how to handle me. This low income grandma, working 2 jobs to survive, with a solid record of 15 years in anti-poverty work, was on a crash course in agriculture. I found myself being the voice for not only those victimized by Q3, but also in defense of agriculture.

I created a unique challenge. HSUS couldn’t protest in front of my home: my neighbors would have had a field day with them. HSUS couldn’t threaten a boycott of my business: I don’t own one. HSUS couldn’t bully me out of this debate: though they tried. Their supporters suggested that I be locked in a cage. Some commented that my children should not exist if I ever struggled to feed them.

Despite our efforts, Q3 would pass overwhelmingly in MA, with a 2022 implementation date. As predicted, HSUS has moved along to another small, coastal state that, like my own, ranks among the very lowest in agriculture receipts in the country. HSUS is taking to state legislatures and ballots what they have been losing at the check-out counter where 90 percent of us purchase conventional eggs.

As I consider my next steps in this debate, I am reminded that HSUS did not happen overnight. Campaigns take time. Now, I know there has been an on-going food policy debate where those most impacted – and harmed – have been absent. I am here to take my seat at the table. HSUS is now pressing further, trying to bully big agriculture into producing slower growing broilers driving up the consumer price of chicken meat. That negotiation does not include the voice of those most adversely impacted. Any meaningful debate on these issues requires the presence of one of its major stakeholder groups –low income consumers.

In MA, nearly 800,000 residents rely on the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). Nationwide, that number is 45.5 million. We know that these numbers only scratch the surface at what food insecurity in the United States really looks like.

We must be more united and assertive in protecting and distributing our abundance. We must have the victims of this debate join with those who produce. The voice of low-income consumers can no longer be excluded from the negotiating tables. It is critical we unite urban and rural partnerships to promote food security and protect our dinner plates from the self-appointed food police.


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Cast your vote for two farmers to win our blog and photo contests!

The top entries for our Instagram and blog contests have been selected and now it’s up to you to decide which ones will be the winners and receive a free registration to our 2017 Stakeholders Summit! Cast your vote by Friday, March 10th and the lucky winners will be announced on Monday, March 13th!

Blog Post Entries 

The farmers with the top blog posts are…

  1. Nicole Small, Kansas Farm Mom: “Action Please”
  2. Wanda Patsche, Minnesota pig farmer: “Action, Please – Minnesota “Farm-to-table style” 
  3. Melinda B., Cattle rancher: “Action, Please!”

Please vote for your favorite Action, Please story and the winner will receive a free registration and hotel stay to attend the Summit to Connect to Protect Animal Ag! The two runner-ups will be invited to come at a discounted rate.

 

Instagram Photo Entries 

We received so many great entries that we couldn’t limit ourselves to picking just three photos, so we picked our top five!

Laura Daniels, Wisconsin dairy farmer

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Karra James, Kansas beef rancher and row crop farmer

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Michelle MillerThe Farm Babe, sheep and cattle farmer

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Krista Stauffer, The Farmer’s Wifee, dairy farmer

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Lauren Arbogast, Paint The Town Ag, Virginia chicken farmer

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Please vote for your favorite farm photo and the winner will receive a free registration and hotel stay to attend the 2017 Summit and the two runner-ups will be invited to come at a discounted rate!

 


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We can all root for Team Agriculture

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Young Farmers and Ranchers FUSION conference with the American Farm Bureau Federation. I competed in the Maryland State Collegiate Discussion Meet and had won a trip to the FUSION conference emily-1to compete in the national competition! Food labels and tax policy reform were just two of the topics I discussed with students from across the nation. In addition to learning to work cooperatively in a solution-based discussion, there were also a wide variety of sessions, speakers, and fellow Young Farmers and Ranchers who I learned a few things from.

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“4:1”

This is the ratio of how many positive agriculture posts, articles, stories, etc. that it takes to counteract ONE negative story. In my session on advocacy through video and film, it was stressed that we, as farmers and ranchers and agriculture advocates, need to share our stories as much as possible to reach the public. You can throw out statistics all day and go back and forth with someone on who’s right and who’s wrong, but they cannot argue with your story. They cannot tell you that your life experiences are not real. WE are the ones who know the truths about our industry, WE are the ones living this lifestyle, WE are the ones passionate about what we do and if WE do not do it, nobody else is going to.

Engagement

“Engagement is what’s going to allow agriculture to survive in the future.” –Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation President

Not only emily-2is it important to share our stories, it is also important to take it one step further and engage with the public. Consumers do not always trust farming but they DO trust farmers. Use this to your advantage. Answer questions people have and pose new ones that make them think. Any time that you can have a positive interaction and get through to someone, you are creating another potential advocate!

Support

“You don’t have to be on the football team to still cheer for them. You don’t have to be involved with agriculture to still support it.”

During a networking luncheon at FUSION, I spoke with some collegiate members about getting those outside of agriculture involved.  It was mentioned that some people are really into football, some basketball and some baseball, but whatever sport it is, everyone still cheers regardless of being on the team or not. The agriculture industry needs this type of support too, now more than ever. There are fewer and fewer farmers every year feeding a growing population and it affects EVERYONE. We depend on agriculture for our food, our clothes, our shelter, etc. We may not all play on “Team Agriculture” but it has a huge role in our lives and we need to get behind it to ensure a successful future for it!

Overall, the FUSION conference was a great experience filled with many opportunities for learning and growth. It is truly amazing seeing so many Young Farmers and Ranchers so passionate and interested in sustaining and building the future for agriculture! I cannot wait for the conference next year in Reno!emily

 

 


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Did you take action for animal agriculture? Share it with us!

Last year’s Stakeholders Summit focused on taking action to secure a bright future for animal agriculture. Well, it’s that time of year again and we want to know what you did to take action! Did you talk to people in your community, start a club or teach a lesson at a local school, join social media to start advocating, invite neighbors to your farm or something else to help secure a bright future for our industry? If you did, we want to feature you at the 2017 Summit! Share a photo with a few sentences explaining the picture or video testimonial and we will share your Action, Please story with our Summit attendees this May! The deadline to submit stories is April 7, 2017!

Please share your photos and videos on Instagram or Twitter and tag the Alliance! You can also send your photos and videos to Casey at cwhitaker@animalagalliance.org!


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My Agriculture Story

The number of people directly involved in the agriculture industry today is dwindling at an alarming rate. The majority of those left were raised on farms and always knew it was an industry they wanted to be involved with for the rest of their lives. This was not the case for me. I grew up in the suburbs in a neighborhood in Southern Maryland where I played with other children instead of pigs and chickens. But as I sit and write this from the Animal Agriculture Alliance office in Arlington, Va., I too know that this is an industry I want to be involved with for the rest of my life.

The Early Days

When I was younger, my mom used to joke that if I could choose between a day at an cattle-chuteamusement park and a day at the barn, I would choose the barn every time. I was not fortunate enough to grow up on a farm but my cousins were – and boy, did I envy them! Typical visits with them usually included me begging to go to the barn to see all of their animals. I always got my way.

A few months before I started high school, I received an offer that completely changed my life. My older cousins had aged out of 4-H and there was only one sibling left to prepare and show all of the animals over the summer and at our local county fairs. I had been recruited to help out and I was hooked! Just about every weekend I was at their house working in the barnpalpating dreading the thought of my mother coming to take me home at the end of the day. Over the next couple years I became more and more involved due to my willingness to try just about anything related to agriculture – including learning what it meant to palpate a heifer (pictured left).  In addition to showing beef cattle and goats, I participated on the Livestock Judging and Skillathon teams through 4-H.

 

My Start in Ag-vocationccfb

2014 was a big year for me! I was graduating high school, earned a spot on the Maryland state Skillathon team and was selected as a delegate for National 4-H Congress! It was also the year I was chosen to be Miss Charles County Farm Bureau. I spent the next year learning more and more about agriculture within my county as well as the state. I attended county Farm Bureau meetings where I learned about legislation regarding the agriculture industry, mingled with and gave speeches to our county commissioners and officers, and competed in the Miss Maryland Agriculture contest.

The contest is held at our state fair every year in August and is a competition between the Farm Bureau ambassadors from each county. There are multiple rounds throughout the contest – interviews, first impressions, round table discussions, and finally a speech and fishbowl question and answer given to all of the spectators in the Cow Palace. It was through my time as a Farm Bureau ambassador that I learned about the importance of advocating for this industry that I love so much!

I’m Not in Southern Maryland Anymorestate-fair

After my time in 4-H, I realized I wanted to do something related to the cattle industry. I enrolled at my state school, the University of Maryland, where I am currently a junior studying animal science and agribusiness economics. Attending such a diverse school with a very small agriculture department, my eyes were really opened to the disconnect between farmers and consumers, especially those with no direct ties to agriculture. This is where I realized I wanted to focus on consumer education and help to bridge the communication gap! My passion for production animal agriculture and my interest in consumer education on how your food gets from farm to table is what led me to apply for the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s communications internship program.

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The Alliance sticker on the back of my truck.

A little over two weeks ago when I started at the Alliance, I entered the “real world” chapter of my story. I now have my first “real” job and I am more motivated than ever to continue working towards my career goals. I’m so excited for my semester interning with the Alliance and I cannot wait to see what opportunities are in store for the future!


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Farmers and ranchers can enter to win a FREE registration to the 2017 Stakeholders Summit!

The Animal Agriculture Alliance’s Stakeholders Summit is one of the must-go-to events of the year! Set for May 3-4, 2017, the Summit will take place in Kansas City, Mo.

With the theme of “Connect to Protect Animal Ag: #ActionPlease2017,” the conference will build on the 2016 Summit’s focus of taking action to secure a bright future for animal agriculture. Speakers will give the audience actionable solutions to take home and implement on their farm or in their business.

Sound exciting? Are you a farmer or rancher who advocates for animal agriculture? Well here’s your chance to enter to win a FREE registration to the event!

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Blog Contest:

Write a blog post telling your “Action, Please” story! This can be something you’ve done to help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork in your community and engage with consumers about animal agriculture.

What you need to do:

  • Write a 500-750 word blog post
  • Publish your blog post somewhere public before March 1
  • Promote your blog on Twitter and use the hashtag #AAA17 and tag @animalag

The Alliance will respond to your tweet to acknowledge it being entered into the contest. On March 2, 2017 we will announce the top three blog posts. Then, the top three will be up for public voting. The farmer that receives the most votes by the stated deadline will win a free registration to our Summit! The farmers in second and third place will receive a discounted registration to attend.

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Instagram Photo Contest:

If photography is more your style, here’s what you can do to win a free registration:

  • Share your favorite farm photo on Instagram before March 1
  • Use the hashtag #AAA17
  • Tag @animalagalliance

The Alliance will comment on your photo to acknowledge it being entered into the contest. On March 2, 2017 we will announce the top three photos. Then, the top three will be up for public voting. The farmer that receives the most likes by the stated deadline will win a free registration to our Summit! The farmers in second and third place will receive a discounted registration to attend. We’ll also choose some of our favorite photos to use for Alliance social media graphics in the future!

If you know a farmer or rancher who should be at our Stakeholders Summit, tell them about this opportunity!

 


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Celebrating 30 years of bridging the gap between farm and fork

Story by Peyton Johnson, junior in public relations and Spanish at James Madison University.

Since its launch in 1987, the Animal Agriculture Alliance has been a central voice in the animal agriculture industry, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork. As the nation’s largest and oldest coalition speaking for the entire animal agriculture industry, the Alliance is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017.

In the last three decades, the animal agriculture industry has battled campaigns from anti-animal agriculture groups across the U.S., a misled public, and “undercover” activists. While many of these groups have changed courses over the years, the animal agriculture industry works to better inform the public every day.

History and Milestones

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President & CEO Kay Johnson Smith represents the Animal Industry Foundation (later the Animal Agriculture Alliance) at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association trade show in 1999. Also pictured is Don Hecht, formerly with Elanco Animal Health (now retired) and chair of the AIF from 1998 to 2000.

As the animal rights movement in the U.S. began to focus on agriculture in the early 1980s, leaders in animal agriculture met regularly to discuss activist groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). These groups’ campaigns were targeting farming, ranching and the animal protein industry. In 1986, the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) formed the Animal Industry Foundation (AIF) to have an organization solely dedicated to monitoring the activist groups’ efforts, informing the animal agriculture industry of the activists’ actions and coordinating a unified effort to correct misinformation. The AIF launched in 1987 and later became formally known as the Animal Agriculture Alliance in 2001.

“The board of directors decided the new name reflected the true nature of the organization’s purpose, bringing all stakeholders together to provide a unified voice on behalf of animal agriculture,” explained Kay Johnson Smith, Alliance president and CEO. She added that the name change came after a long-term strategic planning process.

Since its inception, the Alliance has represented a diverse array of entities in the animal agriculture industry, ranging from farmers and ranchers, to companies and associations, to scientists and dietitians. Because there are so many voices within one industry, the formation of the Alliance was crucial to unite stakeholders, creating one strong voice to represent all sectors of the animal agriculture industry.

In order to share information within the animal agriculture industry and to be a resource for the media and the public, the Alliance launched its first website in late 1995 – far ahead of most others in agriculture – establishing the organization as a leader in communication and outreach.

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The Alliance’s “Adopt a Teacher” program helped put accurate information about animal agriculture in front of students across the country.

In early 1996, the Alliance produced its first public service announcement that aired on TV and radio stations across America. Then the Alliance sponsored a kids’ cooking TV show that showcased recipes featuring animal protein and provided farm tours. These shows aired in classrooms across the country as well. The Alliance targeted children to provide them with necessary resources to form strong, fact-based opinions about the animal agriculture industry at an early age.

This industry was and still is in great need of a united voice because trends in agriculture narratives are constantly evolving. Today, there is a large need for open conversation between consumers and producers surrounding food sources and the treatment of animals before they become food.

By facilitating engaging dialogue between consumers and producers, the Alliance has helped to shift the animal agriculture industry toward open, transparent conversations with farmers and ranchers understanding the need to engage with consumers. The Alliance emphasizes engaging with all stakeholders, instead of simply providing educational materials. All voices are heard and understand the processes chosen by the other. By focusing on the long-overlooked relationship between consumers and producers, the Alliance has established itself as a thought-leader and an educational resource inside and outside of the animal agriculture industry.

The Alliance continues to demonstrate leadership in the field by utilizing social media and by engaging agriculture and mainstream media. In 2014, the Alliance, along with the pork industry, invited 12 influential food bloggers – only one of whom had ever been on a farm – to tour a swine farm, meat lab and pork production facility.  From that tour, there were more than 20 million impressions or views of content produced by the bloggers about their visit.

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The look of the Animal Agriculture Alliance from its inception in 1987 (left) to 2017 (right).

In 2015, the Alliance conducted a re-branding effort, marking a major organization milestone, according to Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of communications.

“In order to create a look that is appealing to today’s consumer, the Alliance modernized its website and all educational materials to focus on our updated motto: Connect, engage and protect,” said Thompson-Weeman.

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Alliance president and CEO Kay Johnson Smith (left) and vice president of communications (right) Hannah Thompson-Weeman talk with media at the 2016 National Association of Farm Broadcasters Trade Talk event.

Additionally, using its 30 years of resources, the organization writes regularly for some of the industry’s leading publications; is actively engaged on all major social media platforms; writes its own weekly blog which gets tens of thousands of hits – and has provided hundreds of presentations and media interviews nationally and internationally as a recognized expert on farm animal welfare issues.

The Alliance has several committees that work to connect and unify the animal agriculture industry as a whole. Through its Issues Management Committee, the Alliance informs stakeholders on industry-related trends, upcoming issues, current media narratives and strategies to combat misinformation from anti-animal agriculture groups. The Alliance’s Communications Steering Committee monitors current and upcoming media stories and creates resources on how to be proactive with science-based information. The Alliance speaks at many industry-related events and blogs on the topics regularly to share trends and strategies.

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Alliance membership and marketing manager Allyson Jones-Brimmer represents the Alliance at the 2016 International Processing and Production Expo.

“While it was once a challenge to get companies in agriculture to understand the potential impact of the very driven activist groups such as PETA and HSUS, when the agriculture industry leaders began to feel long-term business impacts from these groups, they understood the importance of the Alliance – and they still do today,” said Johnson Smith.

Looking Back to Plan Forward

As the Alliance continues to implement current efforts throughout 2017, it also will launch new projects and initiatives to continue to strengthen the animal agriculture industry. While the Alliance has always had a strong online presence in today’s traditional social media (Facebook and Twitter), the organization will continue to expand its use of newer platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

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Alliance communications coordinator Casey Whitaker appears on the Alliance’s Snapchat account.

“The Alliance has grown not only in numbers of members and staff but also in its understanding of strategies used by activists and its own tactics to ensure agriculture’s voice is a key part of the conversations,” said Johnson Smith. She added that, “the Alliance has become more adept at identifying threats, developing proactive responses and coordinating diverse interests to provide a strong, unified voice for agriculture.”

While the Alliance has grown immensely over the past 30 years and made its impacts felt throughout the industry, it also understands that there are always areas for growth.

The anti-animal agriculture groups are not going away, which gives the Alliance a raison d’être.  It is important for all stakeholders in the animal agriculture, feed, animal health, biotechnology, meat and food industries to work together because changes caused by activist groups impact stakeholders, up and down the food chain.

“We are all in this together, and the Alliance is here to connect, engage and protect all of animal agriculture,” concluded Johnson Smith.


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Life Lessons from 2016

Just like that, another year is almost coming to a close! Where the heck has the time gone?! It seems like just yesterday, I was ringing in 2016 with some of my closest friends and family. Looking back at the last 12 months, I cannot help but be thankful for all of the opportunities I have been blessed with, especially within the agriculture community. Throughout this year, I have learned many life lessons…

Spring semester 2016 at South Dakota State University was definitely a rewarding one. This was the time I would finally start my Agricultural Education courses and be placed in a classroom to observe and assist. I was so excited! My first day there, I knew I was going to love interacting with the students and teaching them about different aspects of agriculture and leadership. These students challenged me in many different ways, but I learned so much and grew personally and professionally. Life lesson #1: “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” -Theodore Roosevelt. This is my all time favorite quote! Boy, did it ever ring true during my time in the classroom. I learned that if did not show my students how much I truly cared about them and the subject I was teaching, it would be difficult for them to learn anything from me.

Fast forward to Ag Day 2016 and I am on a plane to Washington D.C. to advocate for agriculture in our nation’s capital with students from across the United States. Through this program we were able to learn about different aspects of agricultural policy, network with professionals within public policy and meet with our Congressmen and women to celebrate Ag Day. Because of this experience (thanks to Ag Future of America) I knew I wanted to be an intern inkyla-1 D.C. Life lesson #2: There is a disconnect between rural America and D.C., but there are hardworking and passionate people who are trying to minimize that gap.
Summer 2016 was filled with courses, corn and crowns. This odd combination included my summer classes, an internship and serving as Minnesota’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way. It was a hectic, rewarding summer! Life lesson #3: Get yourself a mentor. My mentors helped me immensely during this busy summer. They always had a listening ear, words of encouragement and expert advice. Without them, I do not think I would have been able to get through this summer!

My internship allowed me to travel across Minnesota and Wisconsin supporting and assisting farmers. It was an absolute privilege to meet some of the most hardworking people in the country. Even though these people are working 24/7 to provide food for our country and world, they are doing so with perseverance and a great attitude. Life lesson #4: If you find a job you love, you will never work again. Farmers are the perfect example of this. Their demanding occupation could not be done if they did not believe wholeheartedly in what they were doing. Most of the farmers I have met are in it for the lifestyle, not the paycheck.

In August, it was time for me to pass the crown to the 63rd Princess Kay of the Milky Way. (Princess Kay is the goodwill ambassador for the Minnesota’s dairy community.) As I stood on the stage that so many other young dairywomen have stood before, I could not help but be thankful for the kylaopportunities I had been given thanks to this experience.
My heart swelled with joy as I set the crown on our new Princess Kay, knowing she would be in for the ride of a lifetime. Life lesson #5: Advocate for what you believe in. I spent an entire year traveling Minnesota to schools, conferences and community events talking about the importance of the dairy community. I am thankful for every conversation had, relationship built and memory made through this experience.

Two weeks after giving up the crown, I packed my bags and started my journey across the country to Arlington, Virginia to start my internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. This internship has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Being surrounded by a team of passionate women in agriculture was a true blessing. The projects I worked on have given me real-life, applicable experience that I will utilize for the rest of my professional career. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking in all of the sights, sounds and history of Washington D.C., networking with professionals in agricultural policy and supporting the team at the Alliance. Life lesson #6: “There is no comfort in a growth zone, and no growth in a comfort zone.” Moving across the country has its challenges, but it has been something special. Who would have thought that after this internship I would actually end up changing my major? Not me! I am happy with my decision to switch to Agricultural Communications because it is a career path I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. Telkyla-2ling the story of agriculture has always been something I have loved doing.  Now, I can do it as a career!

My time in D.C. and at the Alliance is coming to an end, with a greater understanding of my purpose and a full heart, I will head back home to Minnesota thankful for each and every opportunity I had this year. These few experiences and lessons are just a small portion of all the wonderful things that happened in 2016. If 2017 is anything like this past year, I know it will be an unforgettable adventure. Life lesson #7: Work hard and believe in yourself. There is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it. 

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and a wonderful New Year!


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Family and Farmers – Why I Thank Ag

Kay Johnson Smith, Animal Agriculture Alliance president and CEO joins us this week to share why she thanks agriculture!

Recently at my youngest uncle’s – 80th birthday party – it truly hit me (again) exactly why I feel so blessed agriculture is my career and such a huge part of my life.  My parents both grew up on farms.  My dad’s family operated a dairy and logged (think timber) for a living.  My surviving uncles, now 84, 82 and 80, all still log, and my youngest uncle also helps his sons with their sawmill business and still has beef cattle.

That probably seems amazing to most people, but to me, that’s just how the Nichols are – and how most of the farmers I’ve been fortunate to meet are.  Hardworking, passionate, dedicated, salt-of-the earth people who love what they do, and can’t imagine not doing it – regardless of their age.

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My three uncles and their wives!

My personal interest and college degree were solidly established in the political arena, but that’s how I was (re)introduced to agriculture and the people who grow and raise our food – now more than 25 years ago.  It was truly because of the people in agriculture that resulted in why I chose to stay in agriculture for my career.  And I’ve loved it every day since.

I’ve been blessed to travel the United States and many other countries around the world with the Alliance (I’m in Mexico as I type) and almost everyone I’ve met has been genuine and works hard to do the right thing.  In addition to hardworking, they are incredibly intelligent – blessed with both “book sense” and common sense.  They are always seeking to improve, searching for ways to improve by listening to what consumers want, watching the markets and supporting research and adopting new methods and processes based on science.

Farmers and ranchers have to understand and care for their animals, the environment and employees, know how to predict the markets and weather; engage in sales and marketing, understand and be adaptive to legislative and regulatory policies (local, state and national); be food safety experts given their animals or crops ultimately become food.  And now we expect them to actively engage communications and social media in order to demonstrate their commitment to transparency.

We expect a lot, and often don’t understand how all of our demands impact not only their business and way of life, but how the requisite changes truly impact their animals or land or even the safety and cost of our food.  I urge people to learn more before supporting emotionally charged causes that have a negative impact on our nation’s food producers – and ultimately everything between them and your dinner plate.

We are so fortunate to have such dedicated farmers and ranchers – less than two percent of our 300+ million population – who allow the rest of us to have choice jobs, take time off for vacations, and feed our families for less than 9% of our discretionary income – less than any other country in the world. So this holiday season, take time to visit family and get to know the amazing men and women who dedicate their lives to feeding my family and yours.  That is why I thank ag!


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Tis The Season to Thank Agriculture

Food has a long history of bringing people together, especially during the holiday season. No matter our religion, political beliefs or which football jersey we wear, we can amicably sit around the table and enjoy our neighbor’s company with a warm meal. Food surrounds us in times of happiness and in times of sorrow. It is something we cannot live without and part of something bigger that we often take for granted. Agriculture.

With the holiday season among us, I can’t help but reflect on the reasons I have to thank agriculture for the gifts it provides not only during the holidays, but every day. This is why I thank agriculture:

  1. I thank agriculture for introducing me to my best friends, career and passion.

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    My best friends I met in the College of Ag at Auburn University!

  2. For the farmers and ranchers who don’t take a holiday off from raising livestock and growing crops.
  3. The dedication to animal care that all farmers share, not matter what size their farm.
  4. The people who care about the future of animal agriculture as much as I do.
  5. For the dairy cows and farmers who provide high quality cream for my coffee addiction.
  6. Bacon.
  7. All the students currently studying agriculture and working to become a voice for our industry.
  8. For giving me the peace of mind knowing that our country has the safest food supply in the world.
  9. The many choices in the grocery store – whether its produced a certain way or has a certain label, I know it is safe and nutritious.
  10. Chicken, turkey and pork free from added hormones…also known as all chicken, turkey and pork in the United States.
  11. For all the farmers who have hosted a farm tour and have reminded me why I love doing what I do.
  12. All my favorite wool and cotton sweaters, socks and scarves that keep me warm during the winter.
  13. For not only my food, but for the food I feed Zaza and Barney.Zaza and Barney!
  14. The colleagues in the sheep, beef, chicken, veal, turkey and dairy industries who at the end of the day unite for animal agriculture.
  15. Knowing that when I find a recipe online I can find the ingredients just down the road.
  16. The things I use every day that I don’t realize are made with by-products from animal agriculture.
  17. The small, but mighty team I get to be a part of at the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
  18. And a million other reasons!

The men and women involved in agriculture are some of the most dedicated, passionate and hard working people I know and to work on behalf of people I have the utmost respect for is an honor.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday season and remembers to thank agriculture for for all the presents it provides without fancy wrapping paper or bows. Please join me in sharing why you thank agriculture on social media with #WhyIThankAg!

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