Animal Ag Engage


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A Flashback to ’15 – College Aggies, Activists and Online Engagement

Jennifer Weinberg, 2015 College Aggies Online (CAO) second place individual winner, grew up on a beef cattle ranch in New Jersey. In 2015, she graduated from George Washington University with a degree in Political Communications. Her goal is to defend the rights of farmers in the court of law and public opinion by fusing together her love for agriculture with her current and future knowledge of law. 

Beef CattleBeing a part of the College Aggies Online program provided me the opportunity to do exactly what I love to do more than most everything else- talk about cattle and agriculture. Entering the competition taught me one thing- engagement defending agriculture on social media has never been needed more, or in higher demand. Opponents of agriculture have taken to the seas of social media in their attempts to end meat consumption. To their credit- they are good at it – “it” being using vast emotionally-engaging propaganda to drive a wedge of mistrust between shoppers and farmers. It’s time that the agricultural community mounts a force online to disrupt this and the CAO program was exactly that driving force for me.

Growing up on a small family-owned beef cattle farm gives me something in common with many other farmers, as 97 percent of U.S. farms are family owned, and I got to share my reality through creating various graphics and posts that I shared on social media platforms. Without the CAO program, activists would be able to continue telling their completely one-sided story of agriculture. Through the various seminars and tasks handed to us in each of the nine weeks of the program, we gained knowledge and encouragement that helped us learn to be heard.

In this however, being heard is not simply enough. The College Aggies program helped me see that not only was it important to be engaged with the PQA Plusonline world, but sharing my story had to do more than simply show a glimpse into my life; it had to do its part to combat the very negative framing that has been pushed forth about agriculture in America. Due to the changing tides of technology, it is no secret that information is spread almost instantly online. Not only is it a quick mode of information transfer, it’s efficient in changing how people form opinions and adapt behaviors. For instance, a Facebook post by an activist group that contorts the pig-preferred, safe usage of gestation crates for sows into an evil tortuous prison cell degrading the value of life, if seen by an individual who unknowingly takes it to be an expression of reality, can cause such an emotionally-formed opinion that they decide to stop eating pork products or even, stop eating meat all together. This decision has a significant effect on the market of supply and demand for pig farmers. This effect grows as more people change their eating and consumption habits, and activist engagement on social media is designed to do exactly that. One of the best parts of the CAO program was that learning how to combat this while avoiding the negativity of anti-agriculturalists.

450 poundsAvoiding this negativity was not hard because I drew on the experiences I have with agriculture. I was not aware before the program to the degree in which in both central New Jersey, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, and in the nation’s capital where I went to college, the average person’s conception of American agriculture is plagued with illusions of animals in pain and suffering by the hand of “heartless farmers”. This simply is not true, but before CAO I did not know what I could do about it.

By being a part of the College Aggies Online program I was able to learn how to effectively combat this online by balancing my conveyance of the facts with emotionally salient materials that shoppers want to see. In other words, I got to share my story of what farming ACTUALLY looks like through informative posts that show the lighter, meaningful relationship that farmers share with their livestock. I am forever grateful for the Animal Agriculture Alliance for providing me the opportunity to learn how to express my story through social media and other mediums like on the “Future Problem Solvers” Panel at the 2016 Summit that allowed my voice to be heard. That’s what needs to happen more and more from all of us, both young and old –  if we want to preserve the industries that feed us and have fed us since even before we called ourselves “Americans.”  Luckily, the CAO program is here to teach us all how to be heard, and be heard effectively.

“In no other country do so few people produce so much food, to feed so many, at such reasonable prices.” –


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Everyone Needs a Farmer, Three Times a Day

A Growing Community

The agriculture community is vast and continues to not only grow, but also to develop new practice methods. In a field so large not only can it be difficult to be well versed on all its subject matter, but it is also easy to find information that is subjective as opposed to objective. As an intern at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, my experiences have exposed me to the wide scope of information being shared along with those who are sharing it. In short, I have acknowledged the importance of the connection that needs to be made with all sides of the spectrum regarding individuals and their eating habits.

FFALike many people I do not have a background in agriculture. Agriculture was not a field I had involvement in until I took my first agriculture science class as a freshman in high school. The class exposed me to the unspoken truth that was made notable by Brenda Schoepp. “Once in your life you may need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” It is when I finally understood this truth that I knew I wanted to become more vocal in speaking out on issues of concern for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

A Need for Effective Communication 

Currently there is a great need to bridge the communication gap regarding the truth that serves as the backbone of American animal agriculture. America’s farmers and ranchers have faced combative comments from animal activists as well as animal rights organizations. They want to know what the agriculture community’s defense is and explain again how farmers and ranchers care. These comments are all confrontational in nature, but by following two steps when responding to – or proactively confronting – these comments the agriculture community can take progressive strides forward regarding farmer’s sincere consideration for animal welfare.

  1. Focus on a particular segment of agriculture

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

Animal agriculture encompasses many different species and topics, such as animal welfare. Focus on a particular topic such as pigs, chickens, beef cattle, etc. With all of the different species, there are different farmers and ranchers utilizing different techniques. Because of this, farmers frequently specialize in one of the livestock or poultry species. With this specialization, farmers and ranchers can not only provide more tailored care and welfare practices for their animals, they can also provide specifically designed nutrition plans and specially designed housing. Consumers are hungry to know more about their food. By highlighting the benefits of specialization through focusing on the information about particular species, the consumer can see the emphasis farmers and ranchers put on animal welfare.

  1. Provide facts

Consumers want to know where their food is coming from. By providing facts and adding them to anecdotes of farmers utilizing these practices, information will be better retained. Farmers are constantly learning about new practices and systems they can use to raise their livestock, similarly to how consumers are constantly learning about where their food is coming from. As the majority of consumers are more than two generations removed from the farm, it is difficult to fully understand why farmers do what they do. This is why we encourage consumers to do their own research and decide for themselves what they should eat or not eat. In today’s world, food labels are becoming harder and harder to read, therefore, farmers are trying to be open about how their livestock is raised. The facts about your food are out there, go get them.

13941052_1204172576288928_195915745_nContinue Your Education 

President Kennedy said, “Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized.” Then and now, the education of agriculture needs to be continuously spread. By being specific in the information being shared and providing facts along with anecdotes the true face of animal agriculture will leave no room for contentious questions. Never stop learning because agriculture never stops teaching.


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Without Agriculture, I wouldn’t be an Aggie

Heather Abeita is the 2015 College Aggies Online third place individual winner. She grew up on a small farm and ranch in New Mexico and was actively involved in 4-H and FFA. She is a senior studying Agricultural Biology at New Mexico State University with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. Read Heather’s original post here

“Agriculture: noun; the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.”heather

The definition of Agriculture can easily be looked up, but actually living the life and being able to experience it is a whole different story and telling the other side of the story was exactly what I did in College Aggies Online (CAO). There were so many things I learned during CAO, which ranged from learning about GMOs, how hormones are illegal to use in the poultry and pork industry to why we even have to import beef to the United States. Growing up on a small farm and being active in FFA and 4-H, I thought I knew quite a bit of information of the agriculture industry, but being able to participate in CAO I learned so much more.

My favorite part of CAO was being able to advocate for agriculture and telling the other side of agriculture. There are so many stories making the agriculture industry look like horrible people who want to destroy the land, which is not true at all.

I am a better agvocate today because CAO has taught me so many great points on how to be a great agvocate and how to communicate and fill the gap from the agriculture community to people who may not know much about agriculture. It now makes it easier for me as well and I am more confident in being able to compose an answer to a question whereas before I was not as comfortable answering questions about GMOs and hormone use (or lack thereof) in poultry.

Over the course of the nine weeks, I loved learning how to make an infographic which helps in explaining topics when advocating because there is a visual that people can actually see. I loved every bit of the competition and it was also pretty convenient because everything is mostly online-based and works better for your schedule.

My overall experience of CAO was a very impactful nine weeks of learning about various topics within the agriculture industry. Learning about all the various topics in the agriculture industry will help me in my future career of wanting to be a veterinarian because of the many connections and topics. I stumbled across College Aggies on Facebook and I thought I would give it a go and it was the best decision I made. I’ve also met so many other students and others who are involved in agriculture while attending the Tyson Foods tour as well as Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s Stakeholders Summit in Washington D.C. who want the best for agriculture.

Becoming a CAO individual winner was such an amazing accomplishment because I was not only representing myself but New Mexico State University. I was very excited that over the course of the nine weeks my hard work paid off in being one of the top individual winners. It meant a lot to me placing because there was competition with the other individuals and I was always looking for ideas to step up my game and how I could be a better advocate.

I hope others will take what they learn over the course of the nine weeks and become awesome advocators. I hope that they don’t stop advocating once it is all over but to keep advocating for agriculture because it is so vital, especially right now when there are so many voices who are speaking against the agriculture industry. We are hearing about GMOs and the use of antibiotics that may ultimately lead to bills being passed by lawmakers who have never stepped foot on a farm. So let’s all agvocate and become a stronger voice for agriculture!

The 2016 competition kicks off September 19. Sign up today!

 


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AGGIES are AMAZING

Jessica Miller is the 2015 College Aggies Online first place individual winner. She received her undergraduate degree in animal science and is now a graduate student studying agriculture education at Oklahoma State University. She grew up on a beef farm in Oklahoma and showed cattle, judged horses and livestock and participated in 4-H. Read Jessica’s original post here

Summer is about to end and school is right around the corner. I almost can’t believe it myself. Days pass by so quickly anymore and the things I look forward to now are fairs and fall. However, I am also looking forward to something else that happens in the fall that is much more exciting.

College Aggie’s Online (CAO), an initiative of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, is one of my main highlights that I look forward to now that I was so involved in it last year. I’d have to say the whole entire event was my favorite just because it challenged me to push myself and get things done.

I learned so much in those nine weeks and applied them after the event ended. I learned about the kind of people who tend to “hate” on agriculture as well as how to handle them online and in person. I learned so many ways of how to properly advocate for Ag in order to teach people where their food comes from. I am way better at advocating because of CAO and I help teach visitors at our school dairy farm about where their milk comes from and handle their questions with the confidence I didn’t have before CAO.

Overall, CAO was thrilling, challenging and fun. I first heard about the contest through others who had done it at my school. Our dairy club had recently won the club competition and had gone to the Alliance’s annual Stakeholders Summit, which the president had told me had been a load of fun. Since I loved to compete and loved to advocate for agriculture, I went ahead and joined the competition. I never knew how much fun I would have.

My first post was a dairy show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I made it a point in my schedule to share at least twice a day everyday when I wasn’t busy with school or work. I enjoyed the blogs, AgChat and all of the various assignments we did.

I didn’t really expect to win the CAO competition. I tried my best to do all the assignments and get the points I needed. However, winning the competition meant I had given it my all,  learned how to properly advocate for Ag, had kept pushing myself to do well and get all of the assignments finished. Winning the competition meant everything to me. I also got to experience Washington, D.C. for the first time in my life which was something this country girl was not used to, but I loved every minute of it and the Summit while getting to meet people and see things I had never seen.

I hope others gain the experience and have the fun I had during this competition. It is important we learn the facts about the Ag industry and learn about our detractors as well – because in the end, we have people who don’t support our farmers and ranchers and use what they call “facts” against us. In all honesty, what they use as facts are usually false or taken out of context and we as agriculturalists need to learn how to handle such accusations while maintaining a diplomatic demeanor.

I believe our youth in Ag is the future. If we arm our youth with knowledge of why and how we do things in agriculture, they can use it to defend our way of life against the ones who want to criticize it. Having knowledge that is correct and factual is mightier than the sword and if younger generations defend agriculture, we will have a promising future. I believe that CAO and the Alliance are the best at getting youth involved in advocating for Ag.

Thank you College Aggies and Animal Ag Alliance for everything!

Here is a link to the panel I was on discussing futures in Ag at the Alliance’s annual conference. This was an amazing experience if not a little nerve wracking just because it was my first time, but it was enjoyable and down right fun!

This year’s College Aggies Online scholarship competition kicks off September 19. To sign up, visit the Alliance website!