Animal Ag Engage

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The faces behind the Animal Agriculture Alliance

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is a small, but mighty team with just four full-time staff members. Our mission is bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and we figured you might be wondering why all of us at the Alliance are passionate about our work, so we’d like to take this opportunity to share a little bit about our backgrounds and why we enjoy working on behalf of animal agriculture.

Kay HeadshotKay Johnson Smith, President and CEO

My dad always joked my sisters and I were city girls growing up in the country.  I used to think that was because we loved shopping, sports and all of the activities that came along with school.  We spent more time in town than in the country where I grew up in south central Virginia.

While all that’s true, it occurred to me recently maybe he meant we had the luxury of not worrying about where our food was coming from or having to spend endless hours growing it or caring for the animals that provided us milk, eggs or meat.  He grew up in a large family that logged and farmed for a living.  He told us many stories about milking cows before they could have breakfast and go to school, and then having to do it again before dinner.  There was little time for play or spending time away from the farm, but they loved this life and were very proud of their family business.

Not long after college, my political science degree helped me land a position in public affairs at the Virginia Farm Bureau.  I soon realized I was working on behalf of people just like my family: hard working, strong values and a commitment to doing things right.  I had found my passion: agriculture.

I’m thankful that led me to the Alliance in 1994, and I couldn’t be more proud to continue to have the privilege of working on behalf of America’s amazing farmers, ranchers and all of the stakeholders who help produce our nation’s food and fiber so people like me can enjoy a life without worry about where my food will come from or how it is produced.

2015-AFIA-29Casey Whitaker, Communications Coordinator

I didn’t come from an agriculture background, but I’m grateful I found agriculture when I did. I grew up on the outskirts of the Washington D.C area and my childhood dream was to become a veterinarian, but I found my passion elsewhere during my sophomore year at Auburn University.

When changing my major I wasn’t 100 percent sure of what I wanted to do with my life, but one thing I was certain of is I wanted to stay within the College of Agriculture. I wanted a career working on behalf of the men and women that showed me what it meant to not only work hard, but work with a true passion and love for what they do every day. I wanted to have that same passion and I knew I could find it in agriculture.

11406270_907503572622173_2636870306716014651_oI studied Agricultural Communications and joined the Alliance 10 months ago as an intern before being hired as the Communications Coordinator because I felt like I could make a real difference with the Alliance and be able to give back to the agricultural community. At the Alliance I am able to take my passion for agriculture and help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork through social media and educational resources to positively influence public perception about animal agriculture. I have enjoyed every moment I have been here and am looking forward to the new year with a great team!

2015-AFIA-27Hannah Thompson, Director of Communications

Although I have roots in production agriculture on both sides of my family, I grew up in town on a small bit of land that my family used as a hobby farm to house our horses, chickens and the occasional sheep or goat. As much as my mother wanted me to show horses in 4-H, my interests were elsewhere: dairy cattle.

Our close family friends owned a dairy farm, and anytime we would visit I would immediately slip under the gate and be out with the cows. On my eighth birthday, I received the gift that would shape my future: a Brown Swiss heifer calf. This calf, named Joy, would be my ticket to getting involved with the dairy industry and joining 4-H and later FFA.hannah kid

Through these organizations, I was able to meet so many hardworking farmers who devote their time and energy to ensuring that their animals are receiving the best care. I knew I wanted to find a career that would allow me to give back to the community that has given me so much, and I have definitely found that at the Alliance!

Our mission of bridging the communication gap between farm and fork is personal to me because so many of my friends and family members depend on this vital industry that we all love: animal agriculture. I am proud to go to work every day and put my passion and education to work on behalf of all of our nation’s livestock and poultry farm families.

Allyson HeadshotAllyson Jones-Brimmer, Membership and Marketing Manager

I grew up in a rural area in northern New York, but not on a farm. My family drove by a small dairy farm and a large, expanding dairy farm on a daily basis. What exactly was happening in those barns and fields was a mystery to me. I was involved in 4-H because I rode and showed horses, which led me to join FFA and enroll in agriculture classes in high school. These experiences helped me gain an understanding of what was happening in the barns and fields. The more I learned, the more amazed I was by the ingenuity and innovation of farmers. The more farmers I met, the more appreciative I was of their hard work and dedication to their AJB FFAanimals, land, employees and community. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share the story of agriculture with others. That led me to study Animal Science and Agricultural Science Education. I joined the Alliance seven months ago because I am passionate about the Alliance’s mission of bridging the communication gap between farm and fork.

If you would like to give a personal donation to support our mission please click here.

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Farm tours and a city girl

image11My internship with the Alliance is coming to an end, and I’m sad to leave no matter how great South Florida temperatures are sounding right now! I’ve learned so much during my time here – not only about animal agriculture but about life in general. I think that the number one life lesson I’ll be taking back to Florida with me is this: no matter what the situation is, I need to look into things myself and form my own opinions before accepting what I read and hear as fact.

image31Throughout my internship with the Alliance, I’ve had the privilege of visiting several farms.  I was able to tour both the pork adventure and the dairy adventure at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Indiana. A major poultry company’s employees were kind enough to give me and some of my coworkers a tour of one of their hatcheries as well as two chicken farms.  I was also lucky enough to visit an Angus beef cattle farm and a sheep farm.  Through these experiences, I have gotten an opportunity to collect an understanding of the way modern animal agriculture really looks.  I’m more than happy to share with you the things I’ve learned along the way:

Some things may look confusing if you don’t have the context behind science-based practices.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I went into this internship without any experience in animal agriculture.  I would be considered a typical consumer.  I’ve learned that the first step in creating a better understanding of animal agriculture is for us as consumers to be aware that we do not know everything about the industry – and with such a broad and diverse industry, it would be hard for anyone to! Farmers make up only 2% of the population in America and many of us are removed from agriculture by several generations.  It’s not a bad thing, it just means that we might need some additional information for us to fully understand what and why farmers do certain things.

Ready to tour a chicken barn!

Ready to tour a chicken barn!

For example, if someone posted a picture of broiler chickens (chickens raised for meat) claiming that they are raised in crowded barns, we might believe that chickens are raised without the space they need to roam and be comfortable.  A closer look into the truth reveals that experts with the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) have conducted studies and found that broiler chickens need a minimum of one-half square foot per bird.  Typical chicken barns, however, allow eight-tenths of a square foot per bird.  Chickens have a flocking mentality, which means that they like to be in close proximity to one another.  So, while some may claim broiler chickens are raised in overcrowded conditions, the truth is that the birds are given more than the necessary space they need and they group together out of preference.

This is only one example.  More than likely, there are management practices that consumers might not understand at first glance in every species-specific part of animal agriculture. Farmers rely on science-based practices to take the best care of their animals and many farmers (like the ones I met!) are more than happy to explain why they do what they do – we just need to ask.

Farmers are passionate about what they do.

Farmers are passionate about their work.  That’s something that I was able to witness first-hand.  It was easy for me to tell just by studying their

image17faces that they were proud of their workplaces and were happy to have visitors look around at the results of their hard work.  When one of us asked a particular farmer why he has chosen to continue raising chickens over the years, he smiled and happily answered, “We just like raising chickens.”  If you had met the Angus beef cattle farmer that I met, there would be no doubt in your mind that he is passionate about what he does.  The sheep farmer that showed us around his farm was equally passionate about his animals.  It stood as a common theme throughout my farm tours, and it’s something I’ll remember for a long time.

Farmers want to do their job well and provide the best care for their animals.

Farmers want to treat their animals well not only because it’s their passion, but also because it’s their business.  This requires farmers to build relationships with the animals they raise.  We had a lot of discussion while touring farms, most of which centered around animal image28care.  One thing that really struck me was that when we asked questions like “How do you know what to do to make the animals the most comfortable?” several different farmers would say something to the effect of “They’ll tell me what they need.”  In order to build this kind of intimacy with the animals they raise, farmers spend a lot of time with them studying their behaviors. Good animal management pays farmers back in more ways than one.  Well cared for animals are not only the pride of the farmer, but also create a better market and a happier consumer.

After getting a behind-the-scenes look, I feel confident that the animal products I eat are a result of responsible animal care and a farmer’s careful attention.

I know that people are becoming more and more interested in the food they eat and where it came from, and that is a wonderful thing!  After getting an inside look into the world of animal agriculture, I can say that I feel comfortable eating the burgers, pork chops, eggs, milk, chicken and turkey I love.  I hope my story and experience encourages you to ask your own questions and form your own opinions.  I will say that after finding my own answers, I’m confident that you’ll be pleased with what you learn as well!