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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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