If you had come up to me a few months ago and told me that I was going to drop out of school and move to Washington, D.C. with 15 credits left until graduation, I would have laughed and silently questioned your sanity. And yet, here I am – thrilled to be the newest intern at the Animal Agriculture Alliance for this Fall semester! My name is Valerie Downs. I am fortunate enough to be studying public relations at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida (stay tuned to see how well I survive the Northern winter. It’s only September and I am already freezing). Before I became a Floridian, though, I was a Marylander. I spent the vast majority of my life in the Hagerstown area of Western Maryland. I wish I could tell you that I grew up on a farm and have a beautiful background in agriculture, but unfortunately I do not. All I really have to offer is a passion to learn as much as I can about the industry and an equal desire to share what I have learned with you.
What I Have Been Learning
Although I have only been working at the Alliance for a few short weeks, I have already learned so much. When I dropped all of my classes, one of the things I was most disappointed about was pulling out of my first graphic design class. During my time with the Alliance, though, I have been learning Photoshop. I have even created graphics that were posted to the Alliance’s social media platforms. I’ve gotten to sit in on meetings and listen to key members of the animal agriculture industry speak. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I am definitely learning more here than I would have learned in the classroom.
Not everything that I’ve learned so far has been quite so academic. Besides discovering the joys of people watching on the metro, I have been developing an even deeper respect for all of those who work in the agriculture industry.
My childhood home was right next door to my grandpa’s little hobby “farm.” He just keeps a few horses and tends to his fields and a relatively sizable garden. During the hottest part of every summer, he’d always recruit my cousins and I to help with hay harvesting. I remember growing a respect for those who work full-time on farms somewhere between sweating more than I ever have in my life and discovering black snakes hidden in hay bales. One thing that really sticks out to me about those summers is how my grandpa could spend all day throwing heavy hay bales around but still come in the house at night singing his silly made-up songs about lightning bugs or caterpillars with all the cheerfulness of a songbird. Even though it was hard work, he was always so passionate about what he was doing that it made him and everyone around him glow.
There is a real passion in the animal agriculture industry, and it doesn’t stop on the farm. When I told my friends and family that I had accepted this wonderful opportunity with the Alliance, the ones who have had experience in agriculture all told me the same thing: once you get a taste of working in this industry, you will never want to leave. Several different people told me that those who work in animal agriculture foster a caring workplace environment like no other – so much so that it makes you want to stay there forever. And I have yet to see anything other than exactly that.
What I Hope to Learn
Looking at everything that I’ve learned so far, I am so excited to continue on my journey with the Alliance. I still have so much left to learn. I’m looking forward to meeting more people and hearing their animal agriculture stories. One of the most important things I hope to take away from this internship is the ability to know how to communicate to everyday consumers about the animal agriculture industry. I look forward to sharing everything that I learn with you. I hope that even though I do not have a background in animal agriculture, my point of view that comes from looking into the industry as an outsider can be helpful to you.
There are so many stories floating around the Internet and sometimes even the media that are not based in truth. When I was looking at the Alliance before accepting this internship one quote from our President and CEO, Kay Johnson Smith, resonated with me: “Our duty is to be honest, be truthful, and be factual in the representation of the issues we deal with.” The truth is as important to the Alliance as it is to the consumer, and that is exactly the kind of organization from which I want to learn.