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5 reasons why college students should do College Aggies Online!

Untitled design (16)Topanga McBride, a student at Kansas State University studying Ag Communications and Ag Economics and the 2016 individual winner for College Aggies Online shares why college students should sign up for this year’s program!

Back in June of 2016, I was sitting at my internship finding as many different agricultural organizations as I could. In my searching, I stumbled upon the Animal Agriculture Alliance and their College Aggies Online contest. Always one for a good newsletter, I signed up, not realizing I had just put my name in the hat for a 9-week challenge to tell my story. It didn’t hit me until I started getting emails and even a tweet from College Aggies Online saying they were glad I had signed up. I scrambled to figure out what I had just gotten myself into, to conclude that this was a great opportunity. One competition, a trip to the Animal Ag Alliance Summit, countless connections, and one scholarship later, I’m so glad I mistakenly signed up for the contest. If you’re still not sold, here’s five reasons to get yourself involved in the College Aggies Online contest.

1. Do it for the vine (or the followers).
Old reference, right idea. This contest allowed me to make all sorts of connections on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I interacted with the hundreds of other college students in the contest, discussing strategy and learning each other’s experiences. On top of that, the contestants had a mentor each week who was a communicator in the industry we were focusing on. They gave us insight on their experience and advice both through presentations and personal conversations. Because of all this networking, I not only gained hundreds of followers and friends, but also valuable network connections as I pursue a career in the industry.

2. If you’re into strategy and competition, this contest is full of it.
There is not another competition that compares to College Aggies Online. Strategy is one of my top strengths and this competition gave me the opportunity to exercise it. The contest runs on a points system – whoever has the most points wins. While placing the top posts and entries is up to the judges, simply completing all the tasks is half of the battle. Each week, I’d scan over the score sheet to see who was leading and took the time to learn from their entries to understand what was successful. If you like some healthy competition, College Aggies Online has it.

3. Give your social media some purpose.
We all use our social media differently. This contest helped me understand how I wanted to use each platform with the audiences I already had. My tweets were no longer just about whatever funny hashtag was trending, my Instagram featured less pointless selfies, and my Facebook allowed me to feature stories of my friends instead of just me. I see my social media very differently, and continue to use these platforms more as a tool and less as an online journal and photo album.

4. Meet #AgChat celebrities in real life at Animal Ag Alliance Summit.
The top three finalists and a representative from the top club get to attend the Summit, wherever it may be. This was the first conference I went to where I recognized people all over the room because I’ve interacted with them on #AgChat, or read their blog. Everyone came from different industries and it was exciting to see poultry farmers and beef producers work together over the challenges that face them. I walked away from the Summit abuzz with all sorts of new information and a motivation to keep working towards my career in this industry.

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5. Agriculture needs more voices. It needs your voice.
You’ve heard before that agriculture is a small industry, an aging industry, a necessary industry, etc. You may not think you as a college student have something to offer. That’s where you’re wrong. We each have unique networks we are a part of and unique stories of our experiences in this industry. I can tell you a lot more about how a cow gets milked than I can tell you about row crops and the seasons. I have great reach in Northern Colorado with my environmentally-conscious peers, but I don’t have any connections to comfort food lovers in the South. For people outside of agriculture to feel comfortable with the food that they eat and the practices that make it possible, they need to be able to find a person in this industry they identify with. By telling your story, there is someone out there that will see part of themselves in you that they will never see in me. This contest trains you how to best tell your story in the most personal way possible to make the biggest impact.

If you’re still not convinced, reach out to the Animal Ag Alliance, another previous contestant, or myself. We all can help you understand if this contest is an opportunity for you. Hopefully you’ll get involved by choice instead of by accident, but I’m sure glad I did. Thank you for the opportunities and the experiences, Animal Ag Alliance. I cannot wait to see what stories are shared this coming fall.


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“This is My First Summit!”

Over the course of my semester interning with the Animal Ag Alliance, preparation for the 2017 Stakeholders Summit was the main focus. I had witnessed how much work each member of the Alliance team had put into this event, listened to them discuss new ways to ensure every attendee was engaged, and strategize how they would make this year’s Summit the best one yet. Needless to say, I had pretty high expectation for the annual event.

Myself at the Alliance photo booth at Summit.

Board of Directors Meeting

The day before the official start of Summit was the Alliance’s spring Board of Directors meeting. With their strong connections to major industry organizations, the Alliance’s Board is filled with individuals who I am completely in awe of. Surrounded by and having the opportunity to mingle with representatives from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, etc. was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. Stepping into my first “real” job, it was incredible having the opportunity to spend the day alongside so many people in positions that I aspire to be in.

Connect, Engage, Protect

Once Summit officially kicked off, each morning and afternoon focused on one core aspect of the Alliance’s work: connect, engage, and protect. The connect segment focused on misconceptions related to food. The Alliance team was able to provide a consumer focus group comprised of people that ate out at least 4 times a week. Attendees were able to hear why they choose the foods that they do related to labeling and what they associate those labels with.

Casey, Alliance communications manager and I having fun at one of the receptions.

The engage portion of the day was headlined by author Nina Teicholz, who spoke the importance of animal products in a healthy diet. It was great hearing from someone who was not biased related to this issue. She admitted that previously she was a believer that animal products were not good for your health, leading her to follow a vegetarian diet. She eventually discovered that this was not true and noted that she actually lost weight after introducing animal products back into her diet. The remainder of the day was broken into two breakout tracks: engaging with consumers, and engaging with the media to ensure the public has accurate information related to animal agriculture. I sat in on the media portion and was able to gain a better understanding of how to work with biased media.

Thursday morning was focused on protecting animal agriculture from people and organizations that are working tirelessly to end it. This was probably my favorite part of the event! Part of my responsibility with the Alliance was to monitor the news every morning for issues related to animal welfare and animal rights, and it was so cool to hear from experts on these issues in their fields. Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate, closed the conference and was absolutely great to listen to. She brought up an important food topic, but one that I do not think of often. She shared her personal story and the hardships she’s faced securing food for her family. She was a great choice to wrap up Summit!

Two of the College Aggies winners and I showing people how to use the photo booth props!

College Aggies

I was fortunate enough to spend a good bit of time with the College Aggies Online winners during Summit. These winners are peers that I look up to and were absolutely deserving of the recognition they received. It was so cool meeting students from across the country and hearing about their campus experiences at their perspective schools. Hearing about how much they enjoyed participating in the College Aggies Online program has inspired me to participate in the contest this fall. I can’t wait to signup! 

Attending the 2017 Stakeholders Summit was an incredible experience and I am so thankful for having had the opportunity to attend! The event provided so many networking and learning opportunities which is super important for a college student like me! If you were not able to attend this year, I highly encourage you to signup for next year!

 


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I am a voice for agriculture and I am learning to speak up

Dallas Dooley is a 2016 College Aggies Online competitor from New Mexico State University and winner of the week three challenge: Introduction Blog Post. Visit her blog to read more.

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” I have never been one to stand around and watch idly as my dreams surpass me, so naturally it made sense for me to join College Aggies Online and seize this amazing opportunity to spread truth about the industry that I love. You may have seen me posting more than usual on social media. I have started using hashtags, cool graphics and facts about livestock. But what is this #CAO16, and why do I use it so much?

transparent-caoWhat does CAO stand for?

First off, CAO is short for College Aggies Online. We are a bunch of passionate agriculture students and groups from across the U.S. Though we may not always be on the same side of the stadium come Saturday, we stand hand in hand when it comes to loving agriculture.

What is my role in #CAO16?

As a 2016 competitor, my role in College Aggies Online is to create social media posts that reflect common misconceptions in the agricultural industries. Some of these hot topics include hormones, antibiotic use and animal welfare. Each week for 9 weeks, there is a different animal theme. Via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and my blog, I tell Ag’s story one post at a time.

Who am I?

Who am I? Who am I? *begin terrible Eddy Murphy impression of Mushu from Mulan* I am the generous, the gregarious, the indispensable Dallas Dooley. I grew up on a small family farm where we raised everything but wages. After I left for college at New Mexico State University, my mom started a horse rescue called Phoenix Equine. She is a firm believer that bad things happen to good people, and she gives all horses a second chance at life and service. If you ask me, her compassion extends to more than just horses which is why our farm looks more like a petting zoo than a business. However, my mother’s compassion is the trait I am most proud to have inherited. It allows me to step back and gives me time to try and understand when someone shares an opinion different than my own.

Growing up on a farm taught me how to love and care for animals, though I was not always so good with the ones that could talk back (aka humans). After leaving the farm and going to a university that was several hours removed from my friends, family and animals, I started to get really involved to fill the void of farm chores. As a result, my social skills began to blossom. Years later, I am able to carry on a conversation with a brick wall if necessary, but I can still sympathize with agriculturalists who struggle with talking to people not directly related to the farm. I am a voice for agriculture and through College Aggies Online, I am learning to speak up.

Time flies when you are having fun. Being a competitor in #CAO16 is no different. We are already at the end of week 5! If you are having a great time keeping up with all of our posts, don’t fret because we still have four weeks to go. Don’t forget to check back in with me for next week’s theme: Dairy Cows.

Follow Dallas on Twitter and Instagram!

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A Flashback to ’15 – College Aggies, Activists and Online Engagement

Jennifer Weinberg, 2015 College Aggies Online (CAO) second place individual winner, grew up on a beef cattle ranch in New Jersey. In 2015, she graduated from George Washington University with a degree in Political Communications. Her goal is to defend the rights of farmers in the court of law and public opinion by fusing together her love for agriculture with her current and future knowledge of law. 

Beef CattleBeing a part of the College Aggies Online program provided me the opportunity to do exactly what I love to do more than most everything else- talk about cattle and agriculture. Entering the competition taught me one thing- engagement defending agriculture on social media has never been needed more, or in higher demand. Opponents of agriculture have taken to the seas of social media in their attempts to end meat consumption. To their credit- they are good at it – “it” being using vast emotionally-engaging propaganda to drive a wedge of mistrust between shoppers and farmers. It’s time that the agricultural community mounts a force online to disrupt this and the CAO program was exactly that driving force for me.

Growing up on a small family-owned beef cattle farm gives me something in common with many other farmers, as 97 percent of U.S. farms are family owned, and I got to share my reality through creating various graphics and posts that I shared on social media platforms. Without the CAO program, activists would be able to continue telling their completely one-sided story of agriculture. Through the various seminars and tasks handed to us in each of the nine weeks of the program, we gained knowledge and encouragement that helped us learn to be heard.

In this however, being heard is not simply enough. The College Aggies program helped me see that not only was it important to be engaged with the PQA Plusonline world, but sharing my story had to do more than simply show a glimpse into my life; it had to do its part to combat the very negative framing that has been pushed forth about agriculture in America. Due to the changing tides of technology, it is no secret that information is spread almost instantly online. Not only is it a quick mode of information transfer, it’s efficient in changing how people form opinions and adapt behaviors. For instance, a Facebook post by an activist group that contorts the pig-preferred, safe usage of gestation crates for sows into an evil tortuous prison cell degrading the value of life, if seen by an individual who unknowingly takes it to be an expression of reality, can cause such an emotionally-formed opinion that they decide to stop eating pork products or even, stop eating meat all together. This decision has a significant effect on the market of supply and demand for pig farmers. This effect grows as more people change their eating and consumption habits, and activist engagement on social media is designed to do exactly that. One of the best parts of the CAO program was that learning how to combat this while avoiding the negativity of anti-agriculturalists.

450 poundsAvoiding this negativity was not hard because I drew on the experiences I have with agriculture. I was not aware before the program to the degree in which in both central New Jersey, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, and in the nation’s capital where I went to college, the average person’s conception of American agriculture is plagued with illusions of animals in pain and suffering by the hand of “heartless farmers”. This simply is not true, but before CAO I did not know what I could do about it.

By being a part of the College Aggies Online program I was able to learn how to effectively combat this online by balancing my conveyance of the facts with emotionally salient materials that shoppers want to see. In other words, I got to share my story of what farming ACTUALLY looks like through informative posts that show the lighter, meaningful relationship that farmers share with their livestock. I am forever grateful for the Animal Agriculture Alliance for providing me the opportunity to learn how to express my story through social media and other mediums like on the “Future Problem Solvers” Panel at the 2016 Summit that allowed my voice to be heard. That’s what needs to happen more and more from all of us, both young and old –  if we want to preserve the industries that feed us and have fed us since even before we called ourselves “Americans.”  Luckily, the CAO program is here to teach us all how to be heard, and be heard effectively.

“In no other country do so few people produce so much food, to feed so many, at such reasonable prices.” –


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Without Agriculture, I wouldn’t be an Aggie

Heather Abeita is the 2015 College Aggies Online third place individual winner. She grew up on a small farm and ranch in New Mexico and was actively involved in 4-H and FFA. She is a senior studying Agricultural Biology at New Mexico State University with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. Read Heather’s original post here

“Agriculture: noun; the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.”heather

The definition of Agriculture can easily be looked up, but actually living the life and being able to experience it is a whole different story and telling the other side of the story was exactly what I did in College Aggies Online (CAO). There were so many things I learned during CAO, which ranged from learning about GMOs, how hormones are illegal to use in the poultry and pork industry to why we even have to import beef to the United States. Growing up on a small farm and being active in FFA and 4-H, I thought I knew quite a bit of information of the agriculture industry, but being able to participate in CAO I learned so much more.

My favorite part of CAO was being able to advocate for agriculture and telling the other side of agriculture. There are so many stories making the agriculture industry look like horrible people who want to destroy the land, which is not true at all.

I am a better agvocate today because CAO has taught me so many great points on how to be a great agvocate and how to communicate and fill the gap from the agriculture community to people who may not know much about agriculture. It now makes it easier for me as well and I am more confident in being able to compose an answer to a question whereas before I was not as comfortable answering questions about GMOs and hormone use (or lack thereof) in poultry.

Over the course of the nine weeks, I loved learning how to make an infographic which helps in explaining topics when advocating because there is a visual that people can actually see. I loved every bit of the competition and it was also pretty convenient because everything is mostly online-based and works better for your schedule.

My overall experience of CAO was a very impactful nine weeks of learning about various topics within the agriculture industry. Learning about all the various topics in the agriculture industry will help me in my future career of wanting to be a veterinarian because of the many connections and topics. I stumbled across College Aggies on Facebook and I thought I would give it a go and it was the best decision I made. I’ve also met so many other students and others who are involved in agriculture while attending the Tyson Foods tour as well as Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s Stakeholders Summit in Washington D.C. who want the best for agriculture.

Becoming a CAO individual winner was such an amazing accomplishment because I was not only representing myself but New Mexico State University. I was very excited that over the course of the nine weeks my hard work paid off in being one of the top individual winners. It meant a lot to me placing because there was competition with the other individuals and I was always looking for ideas to step up my game and how I could be a better advocate.

I hope others will take what they learn over the course of the nine weeks and become awesome advocators. I hope that they don’t stop advocating once it is all over but to keep advocating for agriculture because it is so vital, especially right now when there are so many voices who are speaking against the agriculture industry. We are hearing about GMOs and the use of antibiotics that may ultimately lead to bills being passed by lawmakers who have never stepped foot on a farm. So let’s all agvocate and become a stronger voice for agriculture!

The 2016 competition kicks off September 19. Sign up today!

 


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AGGIES are AMAZING

Jessica Miller is the 2015 College Aggies Online first place individual winner. She received her undergraduate degree in animal science and is now a graduate student studying agriculture education at Oklahoma State University. She grew up on a beef farm in Oklahoma and showed cattle, judged horses and livestock and participated in 4-H. Read Jessica’s original post here

Summer is about to end and school is right around the corner. I almost can’t believe it myself. Days pass by so quickly anymore and the things I look forward to now are fairs and fall. However, I am also looking forward to something else that happens in the fall that is much more exciting.

College Aggie’s Online (CAO), an initiative of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, is one of my main highlights that I look forward to now that I was so involved in it last year. I’d have to say the whole entire event was my favorite just because it challenged me to push myself and get things done.

I learned so much in those nine weeks and applied them after the event ended. I learned about the kind of people who tend to “hate” on agriculture as well as how to handle them online and in person. I learned so many ways of how to properly advocate for Ag in order to teach people where their food comes from. I am way better at advocating because of CAO and I help teach visitors at our school dairy farm about where their milk comes from and handle their questions with the confidence I didn’t have before CAO.

Overall, CAO was thrilling, challenging and fun. I first heard about the contest through others who had done it at my school. Our dairy club had recently won the club competition and had gone to the Alliance’s annual Stakeholders Summit, which the president had told me had been a load of fun. Since I loved to compete and loved to advocate for agriculture, I went ahead and joined the competition. I never knew how much fun I would have.

My first post was a dairy show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I made it a point in my schedule to share at least twice a day everyday when I wasn’t busy with school or work. I enjoyed the blogs, AgChat and all of the various assignments we did.

I didn’t really expect to win the CAO competition. I tried my best to do all the assignments and get the points I needed. However, winning the competition meant I had given it my all,  learned how to properly advocate for Ag, had kept pushing myself to do well and get all of the assignments finished. Winning the competition meant everything to me. I also got to experience Washington, D.C. for the first time in my life which was something this country girl was not used to, but I loved every minute of it and the Summit while getting to meet people and see things I had never seen.

I hope others gain the experience and have the fun I had during this competition. It is important we learn the facts about the Ag industry and learn about our detractors as well – because in the end, we have people who don’t support our farmers and ranchers and use what they call “facts” against us. In all honesty, what they use as facts are usually false or taken out of context and we as agriculturalists need to learn how to handle such accusations while maintaining a diplomatic demeanor.

I believe our youth in Ag is the future. If we arm our youth with knowledge of why and how we do things in agriculture, they can use it to defend our way of life against the ones who want to criticize it. Having knowledge that is correct and factual is mightier than the sword and if younger generations defend agriculture, we will have a promising future. I believe that CAO and the Alliance are the best at getting youth involved in advocating for Ag.

Thank you College Aggies and Animal Ag Alliance for everything!

Here is a link to the panel I was on discussing futures in Ag at the Alliance’s annual conference. This was an amazing experience if not a little nerve wracking just because it was my first time, but it was enjoyable and down right fun!

This year’s College Aggies Online scholarship competition kicks off September 19. To sign up, visit the Alliance website!


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A lot to be proud of

The Animal Agriculture Alliance’s College Aggies Online (CAO) Scholarship program is a nationwide initiative aimed at helping college students and collegiate agriculture clubs utilize social media and communications to share agriculture’s story. One of the competitions was to write a blog post introducing themselves and sharing why they are passionate about agriculture. The winner of the blog post competition was Allyson Trimble, a junior studying animal science at the University of Florida. 

Allyson Trimble

Allyson Trimble

Look at a map and find the state of Florida, once you find it locate the blue dot in the center of South Florida; that is the one and only Lake Okeechobee and the place I call home. My name is Allyson Trimble I am 21 years old and an Agricultural enthusiast and this is my story.

I grew up in Okeechobee County in the sunshine state of Florida. It is a relatively large county but most of it is open land, allowing the cattle population to far exceed the number of people.

I was raised on my families’ small cattle farm that has about 40 brood cows. The herd is made up of old show heifers that my sisters and I raised through our time in 4-H and FFA.  I really enjoyed showing cattle and I now enjoy learning about the ins and outs of running a cattle operation as my parents give me more management responsibilities.

Allyson looking over her family's cattle

Allyson looking over her family’s cattle

I started as a member of 4-H when I was 8 years old, I then joined FFA my sixth grade year and continued active membership until my senior year of high school.  Joining the FFA Organization was the greatest thing I did with my time in school. The FFA gave me invaluable leadership and communication skills. I will never be able to replace the memories, the education and the friendships I made during my time as a member.

Allyson with her family

Allyson with her family

I owe all that I am to my family, the agricultural industry of Okeechobee County, and my membership in 4-H and FFA.  Without all of these I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I wouldn’t have developed a passion for the agricultural industry.

I am currently a junior at the University of Florida where I am studying animal science with a focus in beef production. As most college students know, a common question is “What do you want to do?” Honestly, I don’t know the answer to the question; and that used to scare me, but I now realize a lot of people feel the same way. All I know is that I want to do something in the agriculture industry, preferably in the beef cattle segment. I want to give back to an industry that has given so much to me, I also want to love what I get to wake up and do day after day.

Gator Collegiate Cattle Women

Gator Collegiate Cattle Women

My roommate is a College Aggies Online ambassador and she convinced me to participate in this year’s competition, I am glad she did. I am participating with the Gator Collegiate Cattle Women. I have enjoyed being able to advocate for a new sector of the industry each week as well as sharpen my advocating and communication skills. This contest constantly reminds me how diverse the agricultural industry is, and that there are so many things to learn.

As much as I would like to be towards the top in the final placing’s, I mainly hope to make a difference in consumer perception of the agricultural industry. I see so many misconceptions shared through social media, so I hope that my post will make people think about and educate themselves on the things they share.

College Aggies is the reason I am writing to all of you today. One of the mini challenges was to write a blog post telling our stories. I was very excited when I found out that my entry won. I’ve always felt like my story is simple, so it was refreshing to see that someone enjoyed what I had to say.

My story is far from complete, but I can’t wait to see where I end up in this world.

kissing cow