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Food, Freedom and Friends – Why I Thank Agriculture

Why am I thankful for agriculture? For me it’s about food, freedom and friends.



My delicious, but not Instagram worthy beef tacos

I’m thankful to agriculture for allowing me to eat four times every day (yes, snack time is important to me). I don’t really need to give thought to where that food came from, how it got there or who produced it. I often do think about those things (for example, I like to go to to enter the code on my milk or dairy foods to see where they were processed), but I do not need to worry about those things because I know we have a safe and abundant food supply with regulation every step of the way to ensure it remains that way. I’ve met hundreds of farmers and I know they care about producing high quality, nutritious and safe food while caring for the land and their animals.

Unfortunately, 1 in 6 children in the United States faces food insecurity. Last year, there were 42.2 million Americans living in food-insecure households. I am thankful for Feeding America, government programs and community organizations who work tirelessly to change that reality. I’m thankful for farmers who are working with local food banks to get food to those in need. But there are places around the world where it’s so much worse.


i-votedWhile food insecurity is a major concern and we still have a lot of work to do to make improvements, I know that our nation’s freedom relies on our ability to have our citizens’ basic needs of food and water met. A friend of mine met a leader in Africa who said there was an uprising in their country every time there was not enough food for the citizens. We are fortunate to have access to the world’s most affordable food supply so we are able to maintain a peaceful state and preserve our freedoms as Americans.

On a more personal level, I’m thankful that we have a robust agriculture industry so I have the freedom to choose my own career path. I don’t need to grow my own food so American agriculture allows me to be free to choose my occupation. I could have studied to become a doctor, electrician, law enforcement officer, computer scientist or farmer. I had the freedom to choose to study animal science and agricultural education and the freedom to choose a career path that makes me feel happy and fulfilled.



Me with some FFA & Cornell friends

A high percentage of my friends work in the agriculture industry. I met my closest friends through FFA, 4-H, attending Cornell University or here in DC. My friends and family make life enjoyable and provide me with a support system.

This thanksgiving season, I will not take for granted my food, freedom or friends and the agriculture industry which makes it all possible.


4-H got me started, FFA got me hooked



When I was in first grade I did enough nagging to convince my mom I should start taking horseback riding lessons. I was so excited for my first lesson that I wanted to wear my best outfit (little did I know it would end up completely covered in horse hair). Jackson was my horse for the hour and Mary was my teacher. I didn’t even ride at that first lesson. I had to learn all about care and safety before I could ride. Mary taught me how to care for Jackson by brushing him and cleaning his hooves. I learned how to safely lead Jackson so I would know how to be safe when working around horses. I don’t really remember my first time actually riding a horse, but I do remember what Mary taught me about care, safety and respect.

Mary, my parents and my 4-H leaders took me to horse shows and got me involved in public speaking competitions. When I got to middle school, I joined FFA. I experienced what peer pressure was. But instead of pressuring me to do something bad, I was being encouraged to run for officer positions and participate in speaking competitions. I judged horses, dairy cows, livestock and poultry. I became a State FFA Officer and gave speeches in front of hundreds. I traveled the country and eventually the world.

In FFA we wore OD and did CDEs and SAEs and went to WLC. Reflecting on my time in FFA, it’s no longer important what all of those letters mean, but what they taught me is everything. They taught me respect, determination and confidence. They gave me role models and allowed me to be a role model for others. They gave me direction and helped me learn that my skills and talents can make a positive difference in this world. They taught me to care for myself, others, animals and the land.

FFA Officer Team

2006-2007 New York State FFA Officer Team

Through these after school activities, I was developing premiere leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. I think that’s a pretty great way for kids to spend their time. I have seen so many individuals grow and develop through these amazing youth organizations and have a positive impact on this world. My fellow state FFA officers are researching dairy cattle nutrition, researching improvements in vegetable production in drought conditions, analyzing economic conditions to help provide protein to a hungry world and teaching the next generation. What an amazing group of people making a positive difference in our world!

My grandfather recently told me he is proud of me, but he was worried about me at first. When I was so involved in 4-H and FFA, he was concerned that agriculture would be a dead end for me. He now sees it as a world of endless opportunity. Agriculture is different today than when he was growing up. It’s better; we’ve made progress and we will continue to make advances that allow us to nourish the world. 4-H got me started in agriculture and FFA got me hooked, and I hope they keep doing that to prepare students to tackle the challenges of the future.


Should we use animals to save human lives?

I missed my father’s birthday last week. No gift, no card, no call; I forgot. I remembered the next day and gave him a call. I figured I could wish him a happy birthday in a public way to help make up for it. He’s not on Facebook so here it is: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD! I’m especially grateful he was able to spend his birthday enjoying the northern New York sunshine and perfect temperatures – because last year he spent it recovering from heart surgery.

Sadly, animal rights activists would rather he wasn’t able to celebrate any more birthdays than have a lifesaving procedure to transplant a healthy valve made from bovine tissue in his heart to replace the one that was failing him. Although animal rights activists may engage in what looks like animal welfare advocacy from time to time, their true goal is total animal liberation. If they ever succeed, this would mean no more pets, zoos, animals used for food and clothing, and animals used for research that could lead to life-saving medicines and procedures for humans.

My dad is healthy today and living a normal life because of advances in science, technology, medicine and the use of animals in medicine.allyson and dad

Should we use animals to save human lives? I’m not talking about the big picture, philosophical debate. I’m talking about standing next to a loved one’s bedside in the hospital room and wondering if you’ll see them tomorrow, if they’ll get to celebrate another birthday, if he’ll be there to walk me down the aisle. In those moments, the only answer is yes. Yes, we should use animals. I have a hard time imagining that anyone who has experienced this feeling would advocate against using animals to save human lives.

There were options to not use animal tissue to mend him; however, doctors discussed the complications and risks associated with those options. Using bovine tissue was the best option for my dad. It’s possible the medical community would not have been able to develop these other options without studying and researching using animals. Animals have been helping improve research and medicine for ages. Research on dogs and cattle in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to understanding insulin and treating diabetes, which was a deadly disease at the time.

Currently, there is a shortage of human organs donated to those who need transplants. According to the U.S. Government Information on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation, an average of 22 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. That is not acceptable. Scientists are working every day to discover solutions to this problem. If you or a loved one are depending on this research, the only option is for scientists to use all available resources to find solutions, including using animals.

It’s important for me to note that I also believe animals should receive best care possible throughout their life. I care that animals are raised in comfortable conditions, are free from pain and suffering, are provided quality nutrition and are treated for illness. Every farmer, rancher and researcher that I’ve met has shared these feelings on animal care. I know those I’ve worked with are doing their best every day to give their animals the best.

I’m thankful for modern medicine, just as I’m thankful for modern agriculture. We are better off today because we have both.

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What can the agriculture community learn from Google?

All of us at the AlliaPicture1nce just got back from an action-packed, fun-filled week in Kansas City, Mo. for our 2015 Annual Stakeholders Summit. “The Journey to Extraordinary” was our first summit held outside of the Washington, D.C. area and my first Summit ever. What a great way to start my position as membership and marketing manager! Hearing our high-quality speakers share their stories and advice, I began to wonder what the agriculture community could learn from completely different businesses. One of my favorite companies, Google, has a list of ten things they know to be true that drive their business. Five of those were also themes shared at our Summit.

1.  “You can make money without doing evil.”

How true is that!? A focus on profitability does not make someone a villain. I’ll venture to guess that the critics who make that argument do what they do for money, too. I bet they go to a job on a regular basis, or figured out a gig to work from home, or started their own business, or have a family member who earns money and shares it with them, or gets some sort of assistance from others. We all need food, water, shelter and clothing, and having money is the easiest way to get those essentials. The lucky ones get to make a positive difference in that job, and some have enough free time after earning their money to volunteer for causes that they feel passionate about.

It irks me when people want farmers to farm in a way that makes them less profitable just for the sake of doing things like they did in the olden days, even when those practices are not supported by science to be any more beneficial to our health or the environment – and sometimes even less so. We had a few speakers on sustainability in Kansas City. Being sustainable means being socially responsible, environmentally sound, and economically viable. Too often people forget you need to make a profit to be sustainable.

Photo credit: Google

Photo credit: Google

2.  “You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.”

For Google, this is about being mobile and being where the user is. For the agriculture community, I think of this as how we are always on the go, our consumers are always on the go and we often fail to meet each other in the same place. We need to be transparent in our businesses and available to meet consumers where they are looking for answers. If we don’t do a good job with this, farmers may lose their right to farm the way they know is best for their animals and the land because of costly regulation or customers dictating required farming practices without a solid understanding of animal care.

ask a farmer

Photo credit:

3.  “There’s always more information out there.”

And sometimes it’s misinformation. Thanks to our friends at Google, we have easy access to an unthinkable amount of information. People have short attention spans and the science of agriculture and food is complex. Most people don’t want to wade through all of the information that’s out there to find the truth. So I challenge you to get better at telling your story and connecting with consumers on an emotional level, instead of teaching them about the science. When they have questions about the science, hopefully they reach out to YOU instead of Google.

4.  “You can be serious without a suit.”

We in agriculture may have a bit of an image problem. Farming, agriculture and food are serious business along with being lifestyle choices. Farmers and ranchers are typically well educated, experienced, hard-working individuals, but they are not always perceived that way. Typically, consumers trust farmers. So again, I’m begging you, be the trustworthy source and share your passion with others.

5.  “Great just isn’t good enough.”

We can do better. We will do better. We are all on the journey to extraordinary and we will strive for continuous improvement. Google often enjoys residing at the top of Fortune’s list of best companies to work for. If you treat your employees well, put their health, safety, and satisfaction first, they will do the same for your business.

Take some time out of your day to think about what companies or brands you connect with and figure out why they do what they do. What can you learn from them and apply to your business?