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Taking Opportunities from the Cattle Pasture to Capitol Hill

Coming from a small, rural town in east-central Missouri, I never would have imaged myself interning in an office near the nation’s Capitol. Yet, growing up on my family’s large, commercial cattle farm has given numerous opportunities that have led me to where I am today. So, how could a small-town farm kid end up here?

The Beginning

If I were asked what my favorite animal was when I was younger, I would have answered “cows!” without hesitation. I knew I lived on a farm with cows, pigs and chickens, but I never realized the importance of agriculture and farming until I was older.

In grade school and high school I was known as the “farm kid”. I could be found wearing my boots almost every day and sporting a shirt from my FFA chapter or 4-H club. I raised and showed beef breeding heifers, breeding gilts and market hogs during my time as a member. (A breeding heifer is a young female cow shown at a fair to exhibit her qualities, a breeding gilt is a young female pig also shown for her qualities, a market hog is a pig grown and showed for his/her qualities and auctioned off during the fair.)

cow calf

Getting on the Right Road

When it came time to choose a college and major, unlike most people I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I was exposed to the agricultural communications field when I visited Kansas State University in the fall of 2011, due to my participation in the National 4-H Meat Judging competition. After that visit, I knew I wanted to be an advocate for the agricultural industry. I had my heart set on going to K-State and being a Wildcat. Yet, the University of Missouri was where I knew I belonged, mostly because it was closer to home and I had some family ties there. At MU there is not an agricultural communications major, instead there is a science and agricultural journalism program, which is where I found my passion.

How I got Here

I was a very active member of 4-H growing up and I served on the Missouri State 4-H Council for three years before retiring in early June. As a 4-H member, I had countless opportunities to minimize my comfort zone and maximize my leadership potential. One opportunity that took me above and beyond my comfort zone was being a participant in Missouri 4-H’s 2015 Legislative Academy. I was not interested in politics, I dreaded American Government class, yet with a smile on my face and a leap of faith I went to the state’s capital. I shadowed my hometown representative and as a savvy college kid, I left my business card and resume “just because”. The very next day I received an email asking me to return to the capital as an intern the following week. I was eager and excited, I accepted the position and caught the “political bug” while interning at the Missouri House of Representatives.

AGJAs the saying goes, “It’s a small world.” You never realize how small of a world it is until you talk to one person and the next thing you know you are interviewing for an internship halfway across the country. I was a participant in the 2015 Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leader’s Conference, where I was sponsored by Farm Credit. As I was thanking one of the ladies from Farm Credit, I happened to give her my introductory elevator speech. The next thing I know, she is giving me a recommendation for an internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. A couple of emails and phone calls later, I was offered the position and decided I was moving to the East Coast for the summer.

Now Here I Am

As a 20 year-old, junior in college, my parents were not too keen of the idea of their youngest child living half way across the country. Yet, with some persuasion I was able to convince them this is what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. As I carry on in life, no matter where connections take me, I will remain a passionate advocate for American agriculture. With an industry that fuels the globe, agriculture is indeed a very “small world”, you never know who you will meet next.


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Directionally Challenged

Trailhead

PathI was always told that if the path before me is straight and clear, you’re probably on someone else’s path. This honestly never made sense to me. At the age of eight years old I could have looked anyone dead in the eye and shared my future plans with certainty. Therefore, of course my path was clear and straight. At first, this belief was valid; I did know what I wanted to do, but that is the tricky part about paths. It is easy to know the general direction I am traveling, but at no point did I know the destination.

The push to “find your path” begins at a young age with constant reiteration that there is not one path; there is not even the right path; in fact, there is only your path. With sincere consideration my path lead me in the direction of becoming a zoo veterinarian. However, like any good path, mine fell victim to weathering. I have learned that this path is not guided, there are no mile markers, and with little solidity in destination, this path takes many turns. Originally I was in route to becoming a zoo veterinarian, then to a farrier, to an equine vet, as well as considering equestrian management. The common ground: agriculture. It was not until later in my high school career that I discovered my fondness for the industry, as a whole, was irrevocable.

murray-stateFinding My Path 

During my four years of high school I developed a fondness for agriculture that to this day causes me to light up when sharing my passion for the field. The agriculture industry is large in physical size as well as large in misconceptions regarding production practices. To put it lightly I found that concept bewildering, but following further consideration I recognized even with substantial passion, I too had a lot to learn. After high school graduation, I attended Murray State University in the unbridled spirit state of Kentucky. While attending Murray State University I pursued a degree that not only complimented my passion for agriculture but my aspiration to advocate on its behalf.  I am proud to say this past May I graduated from Murray State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture with a minor in Political Science.

Choosing My Direction 

It has been fourteen years since I was eight years old and began the trek in search of my career goals. I am now living in Washington D.C. – a long awaited goal – working with an organization dedicated towards bridging the communication gap between farm and fork. Without a doubt, I am facing the direction of what I believe to be my end goal. Currently, I aspire to broaden my knowledge on the American animal agriculture industry and further identify the root of common misconceptions. As I move forward with my time here at the Animal Agriculture Alliance I am able to explore many aspects of the industry under continuous scrutiny. With this backbone of information I plan to continue my career by expanding my understanding of agricultural misconceptions to a global scale.

“You will recognize your own path when you come upon it, because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need” –Jerry Gillies. At first, I thought the push to find my path was meaningless, then as my goals continued to change I found the assignment unmanageable.  Now that I have discovered an endless energy for a particular field I am prepared for whatever back-country, scenic, and narrow road this path takes me down, starting with contesting the misconceptions of animal agriculture.


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5 things to know for #JuneDairyMonth

june-dairy-month-twIf you read my last blog post, you may know that I am a dairy cow person. Something about those black and white spots drew me in and I stuck around for the ice cream. During my collegiate studies, I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the hardworking individuals who look over these cows and provide high quality dairy products for American families. Here is some information to know for June Dairy Month:

1. Animal care is the first concern for dairy farmers.  

Animal well-being and care is the top priority in any production animal facility. Dairy farmers work hard to ensure that every animal receives the best 12442717_1081168835279252_1142547140_ntreatment. Calves grow up to become the cows that produce milk, so farmers make it a priority to get them off to a healthy start. Most dairy calves are moved into calf hutches – clean, dry individual pens that have ample space for the calf to freely move about – after birth and live there for the first three months. Each calf receives individual milk feedings while also having access to water and feed around the clock. Housing calves individually prevents disease between calves, allows the farmer to closely monitor each calf, and gives the calf a clean environment to live in.

Cow comfort is important to dairy farmers because comfortable cows are happy cows. Dairy farmers provide clean, dry bedding for their cows and access to food and water 24 hours a day. Farmers closely watch the herd to monitor each cow. Dairy producers are committed to providing quality animal care.

 

2. Dairy farmers work with veterinarians and other experts to provide the highest quality products and animal care.

The dairy industry works with veterinarians and other experts to establish guidelines for the proper care of dairy cows. The National Dairy FARM Program is a nationwide, verifiable animal well-being program that brings consistency and uniformity to on-farm animal care and production practices. The FARM program provides resources for farmers including materials on animal care, environmental stewardship and herd health. More than 90 percent of all the milk in the United States comes from farmers who have joined the FARM program. FARM promotes a culture of continuous improvement that inspires dairy farmers to do things even better every day.

3. Dairy farmers are committed to environmental stewardship

Dairy farmers live on or near the land that they farm. They understand the importance of protecting natural resources and that caring for the land, water and air is a responsibility they share with he local community. Dairy farmers work with experts to find ways to reduce their environmental footprint, conserve water and develop renewable energy sources. Dairy farmers can recycle manure as high quality fertilizer on the fields. Federal, state and local clean water laws regulate how manure is applied on cropland, so nutrients are absorbed by crops, not groundwater. Farmers can clean, recycle, and reuse dairy cow bedding. The dairy industry has significantly reduced the greenhouse gas emissions that goes along with making a gallon of milk and has voluntarily committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emission by another 25 percent by 2020. Dairy farmers know that the key to sustainability in agriculture is only reached by being responsible stewards of the environment.

4. All milk goes through strict quality controls to ensure safety.

Dairy farmers are committed to providing a safe, wholesome dairy products like cheese, milk and yogurt. Strict governmental standards ensure that both conventional and organic milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious, so you can feel confident in consuming all varieties of milk, cheese and yogurt. Milking equipment delivers milk directly from the cows in a refrigerated holding tank to preserve freshness and safety. The milk is then quickly transported to processing plants for continued freshness and safety. Did you know that every tank of milk in the United States is tested for antibiotics? In the unlikely event that milk tests positive for antibiotics, it is disposed of immediately and does not enter the food supply. All of these measures demonstrate dairy farmers’ commitment to providing safe and healthy products.

5. Milk is a nutritious part to any diet!

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If you are a lucky calf, you can drink your milk and have your ice cream too!

Dairy is an important source of vital nutrients including calcium, vitamin A, phosphorus and protein. Dairy isn’t just milk, of course. Other dairy foods, such as yogurt and cheese, are packed with nutrients and vitamins that are part of a healthy lifestyle. For good health and essential nutrients, it is important to get your three servings of dairy everyday!

So go ahead and enjoy that glass of milk, cup of yogurt, slice of cheese or my favorite, scoop of ice cream. If you want to know more about the dairy community, visit www.dairygood.org!

Happy June Dairy Month!