Animal Ag Engage


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Four Things I Didn’t Expect to Learn the First Time I Had to Stick My Hand up a Cow’s Butt

1. Animal agriculture is much more scientifically based than most general consumers realize. Believe it or not, there is scientific explanation for nearly every practice used in farming today (discounting my crazy uncle who swears that jumping backwards six times and howling at the moon will absolutely guarantee a bull calf). There is such a depth of scientific knowledge regarding animal agriculture at our fingertips. All it takes is a little curiosity and willingness discover new facts!

2. I never thought I’d be so excited to be in this particular position, but I’m so glad I am! I have learned so much through hands-on experience with cattle, whether that’s “sticking my hand up a cow’s butt” to check for pregnancy, or conducting a breeding soundness exam. Animal practices are completely fascinating, and I can’t wait to apply my knowledge to future careers and endeavors.

3. You can learn a lot from the back end of a cow. Besides quickly learning that cow poop stains (still haven’t figured out a good method to get it out of my clothes), being behind a cow tells you a lot about how that cow is feeling. Perhaps even more than being at the front end of the cow. You can understand many aspects of her body’s health by checking her manure, noticing her temperature, and any potentially abnormal fluids appearing. Taking the time to notice these indicators can really help you out.

4. Maybe we should all stick our hands up a cow’s butt some time. Okay, maybe we don’t all have to go that far. The general idea is that we could all learn a lot from getting a more hands-on experience with the animal agriculture industry. However, if you’re ever given the chance – at least have an open mind!

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A few of my cows on a snowy day. Photo by Erin McCarty

 

 

 


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From Small Farms to Feedlots: The Agriculture Industry Needs Us All

Growing up, I was an active member of the local 4-H Livestock Club, raising many species of livestock and showing them in local fairs as well as shows throughout the state. Though I lived on a small farm in which I was the only family member raising animals for show or consumption, I took a strong interest in the agriculture community in my area and did everything I could to actively engage with producers. I felt as though I had a clear understanding of modern day agriculture – at least in my area, which consisted mostly of smaller cow-calf operations.

straw-bales-2638678_960_720Then I went to college in southwest Virginia, an area rich in large-scale cow-calf farms with feedlots scattered between. I met other agriculture students who lived or worked on 10,000 plus head operations, or had grown up with three chicken houses in their backyard, and I was overwhelmed. I felt as though my experiences surely couldn’t compare to these individuals who had spent their entire lives working cattle through the chute weekly or waking up early on the weekends to take care of piglets. Little old me, who had come from a non-working farm and raised my very meager herd of purebred Angus cattle to a whopping 10 head, I certainly couldn’t give my opinion on farming in front of these other students. However, after spending time around individuals with varying degrees of experience, I found that everyone brought interesting insights to the table regardless of their background.

Don’t discount yourself due to lack of experience.

Experience isn’t everything in the agriculture world. Though previous knowledge certainly helps to understand the workings of agriculture production, lack of experience does not mean you are unable to have informed opinions about its practices. Even though I didn’t have the thorough background in production that some of my counterparts brought to the table, I still had something to contribute. Just as the person who grew up in the heart of a city with no hands-on experience working livestock had valid opinions to offer. Though some of us are more involved in the process, we all

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Me with some Virginia Tech friends attending the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Conference in 2016.

participate in the agriculture world and have something to share.

Never be afraid to speak up.

Even when you feel outnumbered by those who carry more experience than you: speak up! Share what you know! Ask that question to which you’ve been dying to get an answer! This is how we grow and learn from each other as a society. Growth in modern day agriculture comes about when everyone is an active participant in its conversations, and everyone who cares about the future of agriculture deserves to have a part in those discussions.

Learn from others.

If you are the person who grew up on a large scale operation, always have an open mind to others’ opinions, even though your experience may far exceed theirs. Additionally, if you did not grow up on a farm, listen to shared knowledge from those who had that exposure. Never pass up an opportunity to have an educational and potentially enlightening conversation with someone. Furthermore, always be respectful in your interactions with individuals of varying backgrounds, and remember to treat every conversation as an opportunity to learn and grow in your knowledge of agriculture.


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Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

It’s lights, camera, action for America’s farmers and ranchers – whether they auditioned or not. Films are popping up on the big (and small) screen, putting animal agriculture under increased scrutiny. These films often claim they are “shedding light” on the agriculture industry, but they usually leave out the true story.

Producer vs. Producer 

It could be a great thing to have American farmers and ranchers showcased for raising the safest food supply out there and providing great care to their animals, but when film producers attack the producers of our food, fuel and fiber it can spread misconceptions and “alternative facts” – especially when the films are produced by or in collaboration with animal rights groups.

Producing films (and publishing books) is not a new tactic animal rights groups are using to further their mission of putting farmers and ranchers who produce meat, milk, poultry and eggs out of business, but they are getting more attention in recent years. This is due to increased interest in how food gets from the farm to the fork along with the popularity of movie platforms like Netflix.

Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

Documentaries are supposed to provide a factual report of a certain event or issue, but the films produced by activists skew the truth or ignore it all together. Some claim they are giving an “unbiased” look into how food is raised on farms, but is it unbiased if the film is produced a vegan who only interviews other vegans?

Activist films are often how myths get started – because if it’s in a “documentary” it must be 100 percent true, right? Here are a few ways to tell if you’re watching an activist movie, or as Leah McGrath, dietitian and agvocate, likes to call them – “Shockumentaries.”

  • Cherry-picking studies
  • Playing ominous background music
  • Using outdated information and studies from 1841
  • Taking things out of context
  • An animal rights group is the main sponsor
  • The overwhelming majority of the cast is vegan
  • The call to action is “GO VEGAN!”

One of the main claims from an activist film recently released to Netflix is eating one egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes. I was honestly happy to hear this lie included because any rational person would recognize it as crazy and discredit the rest of the movie.

A pig farm

The Animal Agriculture Alliance has more than 20 movie and book reports summarizing these activist films which are available to our members. Each report lists out the main claims so you don’t have to go through the trouble of wasting an hour or two of your time, but can stay informed on what the other side is saying about our industry.

What’s worth watching…

As for what you should watch to learn more about agriculture and food production, how about videos of farmers taking you on a virtual tour of their farms?! They may not be as dramatic as the activist films, but they do show the truth. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fresh Air Farmer – a dairy farmer from Canada taking you on a different farm tour every week (from a celery farm to a pig farm!)
  • Farmland – a movie showcasing young farmers and ranchers across the United States
  • Chicken Checkin videos – the National Chicken Council put together a series of videos showing how broiler chickens are raised
  • Farm tour from Tyson Foods chicken farm – a recent video by Tyson Foods, Inc. about their commitment to animal care and sustainability
  • The Udder Truth – series of videos from dairy farmers about what really happens on America’s dairy farms
  • Veal farm tour – a veal farmer from Wisconsin invites you on a virtual tour
  • Turkey farm tour – a turkey farmers from California takes viewers onto his farm

Turkey farm tour!

Farmers and ranchers realize how important it is to be transparent and many have added advocate to their list of farm chores. They’re the true experts on farm animal care and know if they don’t tell their story animal rights activists will not only tell their version of the story, but make it into a book or film. So, the next time you hear of a “documentary” about animal agriculture ask yourself this question: who is telling the story? The farmers and ranchers who raise and care for the animals or the activists who could care less about animal care and just want to take meat off everyone’s plate?

 


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Growing up the Farmer’s Daughter

Some children grow up in the suburbs, others in the big city, some live in large mansions, others in small apartment buildings, but I believe I had the best place of all tpicture-in-front-of-barno grow up. Where would that be you might ask? My family’s dairy farm. Our farm is proudly located in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (Minnesota) and has been there for four generations. Each and every day on the dairy is something very special to me. There are triumphs and challenges, but I could not be more thankful to have been raised with agriculture in my roots. Here are three of the most important life lessons I learned growing up as the farmer’s daughter.

The cows come first. Always.

Regardless of the day or time, cow care is the top priority for my family. In my home, we do not eat supper or lunch until the cows have received their’s. We don’t clean our home, until the cow barn is taken care of. We don’t go to the doctor until the veterinarian came to check on our cows. Everyone in my family knows and fully understands that the cows come first. Farmers just like my dad, work tirelessly everyday of the year to make sure that their animals are well cared for. Imagine getting a call from your boss at 2:30 a.m. telling you to get to work right away. Most of us would question their sanity and then roll back over in bed. That is not the case for farmers. If my dad knows a cow will be calving in the middle of the night, I can guarantee you he will be up monitoring the birthing process ensuring the cow and newborn calf are well and healthy. There is no such thing as a ‘day off’ in my family.

There is always something to learn.

There are just some things that cannot be taught in the classroom. Thankfully, I have learned many life lessons on the farm. Work ethic, growing from mistakes and failure, and the importance of advocating for what you love are all proficiencies I have learned from the dairy. When you have to be up at sunrise and do not get to bed until way after sunset, you begin to be appreciative for the fact that you have a job that makes time go by in the blink of an eye. When you spend a countless number of hours preparing the land and planting your crops in the spring only to watch a hail storm destroy everything, you begin to be thankful for the fact that no people or animals were hurt. When you read and hear about organizations trying to destroy your livelihood by spreading misinformation, you begin to find the courage within yourself to stand up for what you believe in. I am a better person because of the trials and tribulations, victories and accomplishments I have had on the farm.

Family is forever. kylas-family

It is definitely not a ‘normal’ thing to have to work with your parents, grandparents, and siblings every day, but truthfully, I would not have it any other way. Each day, my family and I wake up knowing that we are taking care of cows that are producing wholesome, nutritious milk and are feeding the world. Being able to lean on your family in times of success and defeat is something I will never take for granted. We support one another in all aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to the farm.

Farming is a family affair. We farmers love what we do and are thankful for the opportunity to work alongside some of our closest friends and family. Just because a farm is large, does not make it a “factory farm” instead of a family farm. Ninety-seven percent of farms in America ar
e family-owned. Just as a person from town or a large city may want to go back to the family business, children of farmers want to do the same. With more family members wanting to continue their agricultural legacy and tradition, it is important that the farm expands in order to support multiple generations. Regardless of the size of the farm, animal care is going to be our top priority.

Do you see whfamily-farms-for-blogy life on the dairy farm has meant so much to me? I would not be the person I am today without the life lessons learned and the family who helped to raise me on the farm. I can assure you that I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. People all across the country are thankful to have been raised in agriculture and are passionate about producing our world’s food and fiber. Being an actual farmer may not be in my career aspirations, but I know that agriculture will be in my future. After all, I will always be the farmer’s daughter. 


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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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Taking Opportunities from the Cattle Pasture to Capitol Hill

Coming from a small, rural town in east-central Missouri, I never would have imaged myself interning in an office near the nation’s Capitol. Yet, growing up on my family’s large, commercial cattle farm has given numerous opportunities that have led me to where I am today. So, how could a small-town farm kid end up here?

The Beginning

If I were asked what my favorite animal was when I was younger, I would have answered “cows!” without hesitation. I knew I lived on a farm with cows, pigs and chickens, but I never realized the importance of agriculture and farming until I was older.

In grade school and high school I was known as the “farm kid”. I could be found wearing my boots almost every day and sporting a shirt from my FFA chapter or 4-H club. I raised and showed beef breeding heifers, breeding gilts and market hogs during my time as a member. (A breeding heifer is a young female cow shown at a fair to exhibit her qualities, a breeding gilt is a young female pig also shown for her qualities, a market hog is a pig grown and showed for his/her qualities and auctioned off during the fair.)

cow calf

Getting on the Right Road

When it came time to choose a college and major, unlike most people I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I was exposed to the agricultural communications field when I visited Kansas State University in the fall of 2011, due to my participation in the National 4-H Meat Judging competition. After that visit, I knew I wanted to be an advocate for the agricultural industry. I had my heart set on going to K-State and being a Wildcat. Yet, the University of Missouri was where I knew I belonged, mostly because it was closer to home and I had some family ties there. At MU there is not an agricultural communications major, instead there is a science and agricultural journalism program, which is where I found my passion.

How I got Here

I was a very active member of 4-H growing up and I served on the Missouri State 4-H Council for three years before retiring in early June. As a 4-H member, I had countless opportunities to minimize my comfort zone and maximize my leadership potential. One opportunity that took me above and beyond my comfort zone was being a participant in Missouri 4-H’s 2015 Legislative Academy. I was not interested in politics, I dreaded American Government class, yet with a smile on my face and a leap of faith I went to the state’s capital. I shadowed my hometown representative and as a savvy college kid, I left my business card and resume “just because”. The very next day I received an email asking me to return to the capital as an intern the following week. I was eager and excited, I accepted the position and caught the “political bug” while interning at the Missouri House of Representatives.

AGJAs the saying goes, “It’s a small world.” You never realize how small of a world it is until you talk to one person and the next thing you know you are interviewing for an internship halfway across the country. I was a participant in the 2015 Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leader’s Conference, where I was sponsored by Farm Credit. As I was thanking one of the ladies from Farm Credit, I happened to give her my introductory elevator speech. The next thing I know, she is giving me a recommendation for an internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. A couple of emails and phone calls later, I was offered the position and decided I was moving to the East Coast for the summer.

Now Here I Am

As a 20 year-old, junior in college, my parents were not too keen of the idea of their youngest child living half way across the country. Yet, with some persuasion I was able to convince them this is what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. As I carry on in life, no matter where connections take me, I will remain a passionate advocate for American agriculture. With an industry that fuels the globe, agriculture is indeed a very “small world”, you never know who you will meet next.


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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.


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A farmer’s extraordinary passion

I had never met a person so passionate, dedicated and proud of what they do until I met a farmer. I grew up 25 miles southwest of the White House in the suburbs of Centreville, Va., removed from the farm like many people today. My passions for science and animals led me 705 miles south to Auburn University where I quickly realized another passion – helping farmers tell their story.

Me sitting by the Auburn sign before graduation.

Me sitting by the Auburn sign before graduation.

When I met a farmer for the first time I knew I had to change my major. I wanted to help the people that showed me what it truly meant to be a hard worker. I switched my major from animal science pre-vet to agricultural communications after my first year.

With every farmer that I met, one value in particular stood out from the rest – the importance of animal care. Farmers put the well-being of their animals before themselves. I met one dairy farmer who said he would stand in front of a train before he let anything happen to his cows.

Whether their farm is big, small or somewhere in-between, farmers make sure their animals receive the best care. Regular health and wellness visits from veterinarians, 24/7 access to nutritionally-balanced food and water and healthy living conditions are just a few examples that demonstrate this commitment.

The Alliance team meeting with a chicken farmer!

The Alliance team meeting with a chicken farmer!

Farming isn’t a 9-5 job, it’s a 24/7 job – but you’ll never hear a farmer complain because although it is their livelihood, it is also their passion. It was an honor for me to be surrounded by such dedicated people and I developed the utmost respect for farmers and agriculture. Farmers not only changed the way I looked at agriculture, but opened my eyes to a career I had never considered.

Today I am the communications coordinator with the Animal Agriculture Alliance bridging the communication gap between farm and fork every day. Next week marks one year since I was officially brought onto the team and I am grateful of all the opportunities I have had to meet even more farmers.

Farmers are becoming the new celebrity everyone wants to know. If you have the opportunity to meet a farmer, take it because it may change the way you see agriculture. A farmer’s extraordinary passion helped me find mine, and for that I am grateful.

aciton-pleaseOne opportunity to meet and hear from farmers and others involved in animal agriculture is the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2016 Stakeholders Summit. Farmers, ranchers and industry professionals will meet May 5-6 to discuss ways to take action to secure a bright future for animal agriculture. Online registration will be open through Monday, May 2 with on-site registration available during the conference. If you cannot make it, be sure to tune in to the live stream!

About the author:

I didn’t grow up on farm, but as soon as I met a farmer I knew I wanted to help tell their story. I am the communications coordinator at the Animal Agriculture Alliance responsible for social media, website management and member resources, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and telling farmers’ stories every day. 

Roots in Pennsylvania stem a love of agriculture

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The road that takes our food from fields to our plate may never cross the minds of grocery shoppers. Most people are far removed from life on the farm and even I was one of them. I never thought about the farmer when my mom placed down a delicious, golden brown chicken divan casserole on the table. I did not think about the hours a farmer spends tending to his flock of chickens, the laborious work of the dairy farmer to ensure his cows are healthy and cared for, or the farmer in the fields checking on the broccoli plant’s growth. Now that I have got you hankering for some good home cooking, I’ll introduce myself.

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My parents who encouraged me to chase my dreams.

Where I Came From

My name is Abby Laubach and I am in my final semester at the University of Delaware. I am a double major in Animal & Food Science and Agriculture & Natural Resources with a minor in Food and Agribusiness Marketing and Management. I am originally from a small town in eastern Pennsylvania just a little bit south of the Pocono Mountains. I was exposed to agriculture at a young age, even if I didn’t know it. My grandparent’s home sat next to a large field where a retired farmer kept a few head of cattle. I can still remember running to the edge of the field to ‘moo’ at all the cows. My father enjoyed listening from an upstairs window where he would ‘moo’ back to me, only reinforcing my idea that I was going to be the next Dr. Dolittle.

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My first pet, Kiara and I snoozing on the couch.

Since a young age I dreamed of working with animals so I started my journey at Delaware majoring in pre-veterinary medicine. My first semester of my college career, I was exposed to the world of animal agriculture. Within my first year, my eyes were opened to all the opportunities within agriculture and I decided to change my major and pursue a degree in animal science. Since my first days at Delaware, I have dabbled in the various aspects of animal agriculture including animal behavior, nutrition, genetics and physiology. But most of all, learning about agriculture has cultivated pride in our food system.

Where I am Going

Recently, I was forced to look at my future, every college kid’s worst nightmare. I had the assignment of completing a career report, an in-depth explanation of what I planned to do with the rest of my life. After some serious soul-searching, I realized that all my career paths had one underlying commonality; I wanted to help farmers succeed. The passionate individuals who work tirelessly day in and day out to put food on the plates of Americans all across the country; the same individuals047 who were instrumental in the chicken divan casserole that my mom made all through my childhood.

Today, there seems to be a lot of negativity that swirls around the agriculture industry. Documentaries and news articles that falsely demonize some of the hardest working individuals who put the food on your family’s table. Instead of giving in to fear-mongering mass media, ask someone who lives and breathes agriculture. We are right here in plain sight, and we would love to share our passion and knowledge with you! One last thing to remember, if you ever happen to stumbled upon a farmer, say thank you, they deserve it.


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4-H got me started, FFA got me hooked

Jackson

Jackson

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.