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We All Have a Voice for Agriculture

“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?

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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.

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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.

pexels-photo-95425So, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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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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.)

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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.