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The Alliance Taught Me The Importance of “Why?”

Day One

With any internship, the first day is always the most nerve racking. When starting, there is an expected level of anticipation for traditional intern responsibilities, followed by acceptance because that is the circle of life in the work place. On day one I expected to be picking up coffee, taking clothes to the dry cleaners and answering phones and taking messages. But after day one I quickly learned these were not the tasks I would be responsible for.

I was fortunate enough to play a crucial role in the Alliance this summer; I was able to participate in a number of tasks. I attended two animal rights conferences, drafted several blogs, created social media content, connected with interns working in all aspects of the industry, and tracked media outlets to remain current on industry trends. And while the work load never let up I learned an invaluable lesson this summer. I learned the importance of “Why?”

Understanding the Importance of “Why?”

The need to communicate agricultural practices is at a high. Consumers have become more concerned about where their food is coming from. They want to know the practices that producers use and if these practices line up with their lifestyle, and so they ask the question, “why?” Why farmers implement certain practices, why do companies process food the way they do, why are certain ingredients used, the list is long but the question is the same.

Today all the information that consumers need is at their fingertips. At the click of a button on their phones, laptops, tablets and more, consumers can search for answers to their questions and find them. But there are two sides to every story. This saying is almost cliché because we have heard it uttered so many times, but for the animal agriculture community it could not be truer. A large part of the mission of the Alliance is to protect, to understand who is outputting misleading information with an ulterior motive because no one likes to be the target.

Communication Builds Community

With information coming from multiple sources, why shouldn’t it come from the farmers and ranchers as well, with unbeatable force? By sharing this information consumers are able to build trust by relating their needs to practices and trust leads to continued business transactions. It is commonly said that the biggest problem with communication is that we do not listen to understand; we listen to reply. By understanding the meaning behind “Why?” farmers and ranchers can be reiterating the mutual values they hold with consumers. Communication will lead to community.

A fellow intern this summer quoted, “A customer does not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The animal agriculture community emphasizes animal care every day and this is just one answer to many questions that consumers hold. There is an abundance of information available, but is it the right information? This summer I have asked a lot of questions and I have answered just as many, but most importantly I have learned to understand the importance of “Why?”


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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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Reflections from the Animal Rights National Conference: what can we learn

Attending Animal Rights Conferences blog picture

The Animal Agriculture Alliance frequently attends conferences hosted by animal rights groups. The purpose of attending – to get inside information straight from the source and generate reports for its members. I attended Taking Action for Animals, hosted by the Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Rights National Conference, hosted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement. The experience was eye-opening. I went in open-minded and intrigued by the conference themes. The themes targeted the rights and welfare of all animals. After a few phrases were repeated, the strategic position these organizations held was clear: these conferences are an attempt to undermine the animal agriculture community.

While attending each of the conferences, I did not see eye-to-eye with much of the information shared. Oftentimes the information was outdated, out of context and invalid. There was one speaker howbeit, that I did side with in one regard, Steve Hindi. Hindi is president of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness). During his presentation Hindi said, “We’re winning? That’s absurd.” A statement which I applaud. The animal rights movement is far from a winning force. Hindi verified this truth in front of all attendees at the Animal Rights National Conference.

Why They Are Not Winning farmer-657332__180

Taking Action for Animals and the Animal Rights National Conference are the two primary conferences hosted for animal rights activists. As a result of their significance, messages conveyed were synonymous and presentations paralleled. Despite undeniable resemblance, the animal rights movement as a whole lacks synergy. There is no combination of strengths among organizations. Instead, speakers denounced other animal rights activist groups discrediting their effectiveness as an organization. Besides the lack of unity, the animal rights movement also fails to convey current and original information. Repetitive speeches at workshops with replica information and analogies was a common occurrence.

The animal agriculture community has become the primary focus of activist groups. By targeting animal agriculture, these groups claim they can “spare” the most animals. To do this they attempt to discredit scientifically-backed practices and protocols. With these tactics, activist groups draw profound attention to the animal agriculture community; but these organizations have forgotten a key business strategy –  never underestimate your opponent, but never make them bigger than you either. In attempt to discredit farmers and ranchers, these conferences do just the opposite. The conferences sing the praise of how far we as a collective, undivided industry have come and shine a light on what we are – science based.

My Take-Away 

AAA_group_con-eng-pro_4CAs a result of these conferences, the animal agriculture community must face the “marketing campaign” of the animal rights groups. Immediately, the question “how?” is raised. My answer – we don’t. Instead, we should aim to expand public knowledge about how farm animals are cared for and broaden the understanding of animal agriculture practices. At these conferences Wayne Pacelle and Nick Cooney said, “People are smart.” They are correct, the public simply has minimal exposure to agriculture. Animal welfare is a driving force that influences both the farmers and consumers. The well-being of animals’ health are valued by each, and because of this, practices reflect both values. By seeking what is understood by the public, and further developing their knowledge, there is no fight. The importance of animal care will be unquestionable. So I thank the conference speakers for drawing attention to animal agriculture – now it’s our opportunity to shine a light on the indisputable, humane methods of America’s farmers and ranchers.

The Alliance recently released its report from the 2016 Taking Action for Animals conference, available to Alliance members only.


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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.