“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Firefighter, rock-star, princess and football player were always common answers for me. Yet as the years went by, my responses became more complex and so did the question. In high school it was, “where are you going after graduation?” and now in college it’s, “what would you like to do with your degree?” These questions likely get asked thousands of times a day throughout the world, but how many answers ever involve the word agriculture?
I grew up with my heart set on becoming a veterinarian. It never occurred to me that my hatred of math might be a problem and that my love for writing could benefit my career. It took a very rude awakening, but I eventually realized that veterinary medicine was not for me; agricultural communication was. But when I declared my major in ag comm, I questioned how I could ever be credible since I hadn’t grown up on a farm.
Let’s Take a Step Back
If the history of agriculture tells us anything, it’s that the industry is constantly changing. This means that education and communication are changing constantly as well. I doubt when the Morrill and Hatch Acts were passed anyone anticipated we’d be studying drone technology and the best ways to reach an audience on Facebook, but here we are. And here I am, studying communications and learning more about the animal ag industry so I can share the stories of producers who care so deeply for their animals.
The first Morrill Act was passed in 1862 and the Hatch Act a few years later in 1887. These pieces of legislation, along with the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, have changed agriculture and my life. Each act emphasized agriculture, education and research, which have essentially shaped everyone’s livelihood. Without the establishment of land-grant universities, agriculture may have never had such high priorities for research and extension. Plus, I may have never had the opportunity to show cattle through 4-H, understand the importance of animal health or fall in love with my university. These acts set the foundation for lifelong learning, outreach and change.
You Have to Keep Up with the Times
As I’ve already addressed, the agriculture industry is constantly evolving. As a communicator and student, it is important (and difficult) to keep up with everything going on, especially when you didn’t have a great foundation of agriculture literacy growing up.
In the year 1900, farmers accounted for 31 percent of the U.S. labor force. More than 100 years later, it accounts for less than 2 percent. We do have to consider that advanced technology allows fewer farmers to produce more food, but what does this mean for the gap between farm and fork? It means that people are disconnected from how food ends up on their plates. In fact, 7 percent of Americans believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. It makes you question what perceptions people have about strawberry milk, too, doesn’t it? There is information available at our fingertips, yet there are some interesting misconceptions.
Anyone Can Be an ‘Agvocate’
When I decided I wanted to share my story and the story of animal agriculture, I was anxious. I was afraid I could never connect with producers, professionals, peers or consumers because I worried they wouldn’t trust me. Because why should they? The only true exposure I’d had to livestock production was showing cattle that weren’t even mine! It took a year or so of college for me to figure this out, but my voice is necessary and welcome in this industry. It’s even possible that my background has given me an advantage when connecting with those around me. Having the status of ‘farm kid’ may not matter as much as it used to when it comes to advocating for the industry.
I am grateful for what the past has given me and I am excited for what my future will hold. I anticipate gaining great skills during my time with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, becoming a strong communicator for animal health and traveling the globe to experience different animal ag systems. Of course, there are concerns and obstacles that myself and the industry will face, but I am no longer weary that I don’t belong. In my opinion, all it takes is passion and a little bit of curiosity. Even though not everyone can be a farmer, everyone is a part of the agriculture industry. That’s something that will never change.
So, as you continue to take classes, search for jobs or find new hobbies, I challenge you to approach the question a little differently. When someone asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” why not tell them you plan to get involved with agriculture. Because believe it or not, you already are.