Advice from the best agriculture advocates

As part of the Alliance’s College Aggies Online Scholarship Competition that kicks off on September 16th, I asked the program mentors to share their #1 piece of advice they’d like to share with aspiring agriculture advocates. Here are a few of my favorites…

Listen

Lukas Fricke, Hog Farmer, ChorChek, Inc.: “We’re all people. I know it sounds far out and kinda “yuppie-ish” but we all share the same similar anatomy inside of us and all want to be heard. Listening to the human in a person and not the “conflict creating issues” is how we can make an impact. Now, I’ve made my fair share of quick judgments and fast comments but it takes time to break the feeling of being hurt right off the bat and making the commitment to truly listening and connecting with people. Everyone is scared to make the “right” decision, know that you play an important part in helping talk through those fears.” Follow Luckas!

Lukas Fricke

Don Schindler, Senior Vice President of Digital Innovations, Dairy Management Inc.: “I believe the smartest thing to do is to understand who you are talking to and how you would persuade them to trust agriculture. If you like them, want to entertain them and teach them with the upmost respect, you will succeed. Ignoring their desires, misunderstanding where they come from and forcing education on them is not the way to go.” Follow Don!

Don Schindler

Beth Breeding, Vice President of Communications and Marketing, National Turkey Federation: “Keep it simple and tell a good story – most Americans don’t understand agriculture, so we have to make sure our message gets across in the clearest way possible.” Follow Beth!

Keep an open mind

Cara Harbstreet, RD, Street Smart Nutrition: “Keep an open mind. Although you may be an expert in one area or have a particular set of skills, that doesn’t discount that someone else carries their own expertise in another area. They may seem like opposing sides of a topic but this is a great opportunity to learn and see things through another perspective. It opens the floor for a dialogue and conversation, versus an argument or shutting down. It’s important to avoid the echo chamber effect, especially with tough topics or controversial issues, so I believe in keeping an open mind before drawing assumptions about someone’s message or the reason behind their actions.” Follow Cara!

Cara Harbstreet

Tim Hammerich, AgGrad: “It’s impossible to be both curious and angry at the same time. Stay genuinely curious and you will avoid getting angry.” Follow Tim!

Focus on relationships

Jessica Peters, Dairy Farmer, Spruce Row Farm: “You can’t approach advocating like you’re educating consumers, nobody wants to be preached to. We need to focus on sharing our lives with consumers. We all want our advice and information from people we trust, if we work on creating relationships, trust will come with it.” Follow Jessica!

Jessica Peters

Lauren Arbogast, Chicken Farmer, Paint The Town Ag: “Don’t pursue people for the sake of “education.’ Pursue them for relationships, and the conversations about agriculture will happen.” Follow Lauren!

Rebecca Hilby, Dairy Farmer, Weigel Dairy/Hilby Family Farm: “BE YOURSELF. Once you start having fun on social media and show that you’re human just like your consumers, you’ll be able to relate to them and engage so much more!” Follow Rebecca!

Rebecca Hilby

Jennifer Osterholt, Strategic Marketing Consultant and Farmer, Osterholt Marketing & Communications LLC: “To connect with people we have to reach out. There is great opportunity for those of us in agriculture to learn what people care about and focus on communicating in those terms. I began sharing stories about farming and people in my personal circles read and followed me. When I transitioned to sharing recipes my traffic began growing in very noticeable ways. About 100,000 people click on my website each month looking for a great recipe. I gently weave stories about modern food production into my recipe posts. I would love to see others communicate with large volumes of people and help generate income for themselves in the process.” Follow Jennifer!

Jennifer Osterholt

Be honest

Allison Devitre, Regulatory Scientific Affairs, Bayer Crop Science: “Open, read and verify the information prior to sharing online. People that look to you as a credible source of information will find you a valuable resource if they can count on you for accuracy!” Follow Allison!

Allison Devitre

Karoline Rose, KRose Marketing and KRose Cattle Company: “Honesty and consistency. People want to hear the truth and hear it often.” Follow Karoline!

Marissa Hake, DVM, Veterinarian, Midwest Veal, LLC/ Strauss Feeds: “Be authentic and always fact check. Remember that it takes “all kinds of kinds” and we should be supporting all types of agriculture.” Follow Marissa!

Marissa Hake

Michelle Jones, Grain Farmer, BigSkyFarmher: “Find your passion. What are you the most passionate about? Crops? Agronomy? Animal Science? Ranching? Policy? Once you find your passion, simply start. Start talking. Start posting. Start telling your story and how your life is impacted by agriculture. It is as simple as taking the first step in what often seems to be an overwhelming and monumental undertaking.” Follow Michelle!

Students signed up for this year’s College Aggies Online Scholarship Competition will have the opportunity to network and learn these amazing people. If you are interested in participating, visit https://collegeaggies.animalagalliance.org. To follow along with this year’s competition, search #CAO19 on social media!

The Case for Really Reliable Research

Did you know that the divorce rate in Maine has a 99.2% correlation with the amount of margarine consumed in the state, and that the revenue generated by arcade games has a 98.5% correlation with the amount of computer science doctorates awarded in the US?

correlation between margarine and divorce in Maine
Data sources: National Vital Statistics Reports and U.S. Department of Agriculture

Correlation does not equal causation. Margarine doesn’t cause divorce in Maine, and arcade revenue has very little to do with computer science degrees in the US. These are all examples of why researchers shouldn’t use correlation to determine causation.

Research

When I was in high school, my English teacher assigned our class an argumentative research paper. These were usually our biggest assignments of the year. We had to take a stance on a topic and defend it with sources.

The first step to a research paper is the actual research. So, the school library directed me to a few databases they said would lead me to “reliable sources” for any topic. Naturally, I wanted to write about agriculture.

When I logged on to the database, I was appalled to find that the top result in all of my searches was not from a “reliable source” but from PETA, a known animal activist group with the goal of destroying all animal agriculture. How could this be the case? How could this false and biased information be on a database referred to as “reputable” and “reliable”?

Unreliable Resources

Although I found reliable resources for my paper, I dug through several pages of unreliable sources and biased research before I found anything I could use.

Sure, my teacher had discussed how to avoid websites with childish graphics, excess ads and poor design because they were likely unreliable. However, my classmates and I received no information about how to find reliable research as opposed to biased research.

Qualities of Reputable Academic Research

Here are some things to look for that demonstrate high quality, unbiased research:

  1. A clear statement about the methods used to test what is being studied
  2. A clear list of questions the researcher wants to answer
  3. A definition of the subject being studied. Does the definition match what is accepted in general society?
  4. A list of the processes including controls or instruments (like tests or surveys) used to study the subject
  5. The study should be easy to replicate. Research is replicated too demonstrate that the results are more than just outliers.

Additionally, these are some general characteristics of biased, unreliable research:

  1. Research looks for something that is not there
  2. Plagiarism
  3. Falsifying data or misrepresenting data to prove a point (i.e. claiming correlation equals causation)

Research needs to be reliable

If someone told you that Nicolas Cage movies caused people to drown by falling into their pools, you’d tell that person that they were crazy. But when it comes to the food we eat, correlation is often accepted as causation, when in fact, claiming that correlation equals causation in any case, is just as ridiculous as the correlations in this blog post.

correlation between Nicolas Cage movies and Pool Drownings
Data sources: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Internet Movie Database

Why is it so hard to find reliable research for Ag?

We live in the information age. Most people can become partially educated on any subject through a quick Google search and 10-12 minutes of scrolling. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to get accurate information about agriculture on the internet.

This may seem strange, but think of it this way: less than two percent of the population in the US are directly involved with agriculture, and less than one percent are involved with animal agriculture. That’s less than 3,272,000 people who are responsible for feeding 100% of the population. That’s the equivalent of Los Angeles being responsible for producing food for our country and the world. So, it makes sense that it can be difficult to get accurate information out there, especially while most of that small percentage of people are busy producing food 365 days a year.

So, next time you see a statistic or a claim, look into how the research was done before you make conclusions based on numbers. And if you have specific questions about agriculture, consider asking a farmer before you start Googling!

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

Tips for effective agriculture advocacy

Today, information is everywhere, and not to mention easily accessible. Maybe a little too easily accessible–a quick Google search is all it takes for me to learn the random fact that Amy Poehler’s favorite TV show is Judge Judy. Now you know, too. What does this mean for agriculture advocacy?

It’s not just celebrities that can find their lives invaded by society’s constant need for news. As more people become interested in learning about the food they eat, farmers and everyone involved in food production are seeing an increased interest in their professions. This interest can drive important conversations about modern agricultural practices. Everyone deserves to understand where their food comes from.

Sources

However, we know that there are non-credible sources that exist for nearly every topic. Farming is no different. A ‘crowd’ of information can come from sources that are misinformed, misdirected, or even just outdated. It’s up to agriculturalists to be the loud voices for current, factual representations of what food production looks like.

I say this knowing that it’s not always easy to know how to advocate for your beliefs. In this sense, you can let the job advocate for itself! How can it be that easy? Consider that we know less than 2% of Americans are directly involved in production agriculture. That leaves 98% of the country with little to no exposure to farming, which could make information about agriculture from an outdated source seem realistic. Instead, we can share real farming transparently to answer many of the questions today’s consumer might have.

It might hurt but it’s still true!

Being Loud Among the Crowd

One of the easiest ways to promote agriculture to those around you is to use today’s newspaper: social media. Farm Facebook pages, blogs, Instagram accounts, and even ag podcasts are excellent resources to show the world how your farm or ranch helps provide for the world. As you start your agriculture advocacy, here are a few tips:

1. Pick a platform

It can be exciting to get to share your passion! You want to start strong, but burnout is a real thing. Try choosing one platform to focus on at first. Facebook is often a good choice because it’s usually familiar to a wide range of people and you can easily share posts with your personal friends to gain a following. Also, be sure to use a site that matches the content you want to share. Cute farm pics? Try Instagram. More writing and stories? A blog might be a good fit.

Agriculture Advocacy
Using Instagram to share a picture and a point.

2. Stick to a schedule

So you have the page–now what? You’ll gain a community by interacting with the website, and that means posting! To keep yourself accountable, set a schedule of when you’ll always post. This can be every day or just a couple times each week. You can share about farming practices, a favorite cow, or even just a quick picture of what you did that day. Real, informational captions are worth their weight in gold. Check out one of my favorite farmer pages to get some content ideas.

3. Engage actively

Posting is awesome, but we can dive even deeper to share about agriculture. Effective communication is a two-way street. For social media, that means taking the time to respond to questions and comments from our followers, sharing ideas with other ag advocates, and supporting all aspects of our agricultural industries. It means being a human, even if that’s just sharing someone else’s post that you enjoy! Your page can be a great way to connect with farming and non-farming friends alike.

4. Don’t get discouraged

Explaining your way of life on social media makes you very vulnerable, and it can be scary. There are sure to be some folks that disagree with what you share, and that’s okay. Remember that the point of sharing what you do is to create (respectful) conversation that both parties can grow from. You can use industry resources to build that dialogue: check out Chicken Check In, American Dairy Association, Beef Checkoff, Poultry Feeds America, and Pork Checkoff, just to name a few. Still, just as in life, sometimes it’s necessary to walk away from a conversation. It’s the positive interactions that will make a difference for your industry.

Chicken agriculture advocacy
One-stop shop for eveything about broiler chickens.

With these tips in mind, we can all be more prepared to share what we love. We’ve heard time and time again that farmers need to share their story–it’s true, in order to put out reliable, real food information to everyone looking for it. Instead of letting others write that story, let’s write it ourselves!

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

My favorite season: farmers’ market season

Everyone has a favorite season. Some love summer with sandy floorboards while others opt for fall with a pumpkin spice latte in hand. My favorite season is April – November…farmers’ market season.

My weekly farmers’ market trip

Every Friday and Saturday I go to the farmers’ market with my husband. One is just down the street from where we live in a shopping center parking lot and the other is only a few miles away in the local mall parking lot. I love getting a week’s worth of crisp apples, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, yellow squash, purple potatoes and juicy nectarines. I even came home with a slab of bacon after our last trip!

Apples, nectarines, potatoes, onion and grape tomatoes from the farmers’ market.

Although the delicious fruits, vegetables and meats are more than enough reason to keep going back, my favorite part is getting to meet and talk to farmers. Many of them are with their children, teaching them to run the register, help customers pick out the best tomato and answer questions about how their food is grown. It’s great to see my urban neighbors taking the opportunity to talk about where their food comes from.

Farmers’ markets connect the public to agriculture

Farmers load up their vehicles, hauling crates and coolers of food to nearby cities and towns. The white-topped tents go up and the fun begins! I walk around to every booth with my neon teal, reusable shopping bags (when I remember them!) deciding what to cook for the week based on what I see. One of the farmers I visit every Saturday is from Fredrick, Maryland and he always has the best honeynut squash. He also sells sweet potatoes, so I’ve been baking homemade sweet potato muffins every week. They make the perfect breakfast on the go! Another farmer is from West Virginia and I always make sure to go by his booth to get the sweetest peaches.

muffins
Homemade sweet potato muffins.

With not many people being raised on a farm anymore, farmers’ markets are a great opportunity to connect with farmers and agriculture. This is especially true if you can’t fit a farm tour into your busy schedule.

There are a lot of food myths out there, so it’s nice to get information straight from the source. While some farmers prefer to grow their vegetables or raise their pigs a certain way, they all care about agriculture and want to provide the best food they can to the public. Farmers are constantly thinking about environmental stewardship and animal welfare. It’s how they ensure their farm stays successful for years to come.

From the farmers’ market to the grocery store

market 2
My farmers’ market picks and bananas from the store!

Afterwards my husband and I head to the grocery store to get things like bananas, milk, bread, yogurt and other foods we consider weekly staples to go along with our farmers’ market picks.

Grocery and meal kit delivery are becoming increasingly popular, but I prefer venturing out myself. I love going up and down each and every aisle, even if I only have three items on my list. My husband hates this, but there’s just something about looking at all the different types of food that captivates me. I will definitely miss going to the farmers’ market every weekend once November is here, but I know my food is safe, nutritious and supporting farmers wherever I buy it.

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Worried about the future of animal ag? Read this.

When it comes to podcasts, I’m a novice. Most times, I turn on some George Jones or Journey while I’m working, but recently I have warmed up to the idea of listening to podcasts because of one show in particular: The Shark Farmer Podcast.  Admittedly, this show has made me cry, laugh and fall into deep reflection all at my desk here at the Alliance office.

During one of my many binges of the podcast, I came across an episode with a quick discussion about the millennial generation that grabbed my attention. Unexpectedly, the guest on the show praised the individuals who belong to this generation.  This came as a shock to me as I hardly like to associate myself with my generation, but that quick conversation triggered a different thought process.  I took a long look at this generation, and it wasn’t all that bad. With this idea in mind, I decided to reach coast to coast and find some of the brightest minds of my generation and see what they have to say about animal agriculture. I was by no means disappointed, and I don’t think you will be either.

Lauren Heberling, Agribusiness Management Student at Michigan State University

I met Lauren as a state FFA officer, and she and her team taught me two things:

  1. (Ag)riculture is actually pronounced (egg)riculuture (at least in the Midwest), and
  2. the dairy industry is kind of a big deal.

Lauren Heberling

Lauren and I kept up with each other after our year of service and I have always been impressed by her unfailing motivation to make herself and the world around her better. During the school year, she works for the Michigan FFA Association as editor of the Michigan FFA publication, The Creed, trains current state FFA officers for their state FFA convention and works with media for Michigan FFA Association. In addition to her schooling, she is involved in the Michigan State Dairy Club, Sigma Alpha, Collegiate Farm Bureau and is finishing up her last year as a 4-H member. This summer she is interning for the Michigan Milk Producers Association. MMPA is a milk cooperative comprised of nearly 1,100 farms in the Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. This opportunity has allowed Lauren to strengthen her passion and understanding of the animal agriculture industry as well as be on a team solely devoted to making sure their dairy farmer members receive the most profit possible for their hard work.

And what does Lauren have to say about animal ag?

“Those who raise the animals for food and fiber take the skepticism around what comprises their livelihood and turn it into transparency and innovation. The values and integrity of our American farmers are next to none and the raising of our food and fiber through animals pushes scientific advancement, raises ethical standards and holds the ideals of hard work high. The single-most reason animal agriculture is so vital to our society is because it produces the food – a burger, a cold glass of milk, an ice-cream cone in the middle of summer- while also providing a model of what every industry should look like. Animal agriculture makes a living for families, is honest in the face of controversy, works non-stop to provide for America in the safest manner for both humans and animals and above all else, does it with an honest pride.”

I could really stop right here and my point be made, but there a few more people you should meet.

Omar Raymundo, Biomedical Engineering Student at Duke University

Omar Raymundo

This kid is a GENIUS. Ask him anything about anything, and if he doesn’t know the answer, he will figure it out. Better yet, if he isn’t familiar with a subject, he craves to learn about it. Omar grew up in a small, rural town at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. As a child, he had relatively little interaction with the agriculture industry compared to others in his area. His grandfather owned livestock and had a small garden, but Omar was oblivious to the intricacies of agriculture. Since then, he has gained intelligent and passionate mentors to teach him much more about agriculture. As he reflects on the industry, he says,

“I am constantly reminded that animal agriculture is not simply ‘slopping the hogs.’ It is a complex mix of genetics, engineering and advocacy.”

I would like to give a huge shout out to agriculture teachers every where. As intellectual as they are, not many Ivy League students know the truth and importance of animal agriculture. Thanks to agricultural education, students like Omar will soon not be an anomaly.

John Winkler, Animal Science Student at University of Georgia

John Winkler

You know that FarmersOnly.com commercial with the tag line “city folk just don’t get it”? Well, I beg to differ. They do get it. John is a prime example of this.

John grew up in a city in the outskirts of Atlanta. As you can imagine, he didn’t grow up with an agriculture background or with influence such as FFA, Georgia Cattlemen’s or 4-H, but he knew he wanted to be in the agriculture industry. He began his collegiate career at Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College (Gee Haw, Whoa Back!) where he decided he wanted to go into the animal aspect of agriculture. He learned a lot about the industry through the connections he made and through joining the cattlemen’s club on campus. When asked his thoughts on the industry, he says,

“Animal agriculture plays a big role in our food industry. It is important that the people in this industry know how to raise the animals properly. Many factors go into doing such, in which I am learning throughout the course of my major. Without animal agriculture, just think about how our food industry would look.”

Wise words from a city slicker, huh?

Lizzi Neal, Agricultural Communications & Animal Science Major at Oklahoma State University

Some people think that Oklahoma is God’s country, but they are sadly mistaken. Being from Georgia, I can assure you that the Peach State holds this title. Nevertheless, this girl decided to move Oklahoma to gain a higher education. Again, not really sure why when she could attend the finest institution in the land, the University of Georgia. We still love her, though.

Lizzi Neal

Lizzi Neal is a livestock-showing queen. Her passion for agriculture and more specifically animal agriculture directly relates to her journey as a member of the National FFA Organization. From public speaking to livestock and meats evaluation, each avenue brought forth a new perspective of the industry that she had yet to consider. She began exhibiting livestock at the age of 11, and eventually her single market hog project grew to also include cattle. She later had the unique opportunity to serve as a state officer from 2016-2017. If you ask her, she will tell you that her life has been forever changed by animal agriculture.

When I have questions about animal ag, I normally give her a call. This quote shows you why:

“For me, the single most important aspect of animal agriculture at any stage is perception. 962 miles away from the only home I had ever known, individuals carried a much more positive and accepting connotation with the words animal agriculture. Such a way of life traveled back generations through family lines and was almost expected of at least 50 percent of people in a crowded room. Urbanization has stolen valuable farm land and more emphasis lies on research for more efficient yields. Still, as our industry becomes more progressive, the common perception fights against change. From the basic nutrients to total amount of edible product yielded per carcass, by changing perception, animal agriculture can be the driving force for feeding a growing world.”

Whether you’re a Poke or a Dawg, we can all agree that Lizzi makes a good point.

Elisabeth Doody, Plant Sciences and Technology Advancement Management at the University of California- Davis

There are many reasons why my passion runs deep in the agriculture industry. One reason is that this industry brings people together. I met Elisabeth at a reception here in DC. She is interning at the Agricultural Retailers Association where she is being introduced to agriculture policy and exploring how decision makers influence the agriculture industry. Although we are both from completely opposite ends of the country and focus on two separate areas on the industry, we easily found common ground and sparked up a great conversation. Elisabeth prefers to work with plants, but she has some pretty great insight on the animal ag industry and the industry as a whole.

Elisabeth Doody

“I hail from California- the land of star-studded runways, technological innovation, and not to be forgotten, agriculture.  Though perhaps not as illustrious as Google or the Kardashians, California agriculture is extraordinarily productive and innovative. More than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. Here, dwindling resources, evolving consumer demand and growing concern for the environment necessitate that we embrace change and embody adaptability. Agriculture isn’t a popular pursuit among my peers, many of them choose instead to study computer science, engineering or medicine, but I was drawn to the industry at a young age. I discovered agriculture through 4-H – a youth program that manages to promote agriculture even in the suburbs of Southern California. With 4-H, I bred dairy goats, showed horses and raised market lambs. Working with livestock taught me to appreciate environmental, economic and cultural sustainability – a philosophy I hold on to even today. Agriculture exists at the intersection of biology and business, where tradition and technology work together to feed the world. I see in agriculture both a need for problem solvers and an opportunity for young people to affect positive change.”

I’m not crying…you are.

It’s time we as an industry see this generation as the generation who will not only hold on to the roots that run deep in animal agriculture but will make them stronger. Millennials will lead this industry to prosperity, and I am proud to be one of them. The next time you let the mainstream image of my generation float into your head, look around. We may just surprise you.

10 Reasons to Compete in College Aggies Online

Agriculture is one of the most diverse and exciting fields to study. Meat science, horticulture, animal sciences, equine science, agricultural communication, poultry science, and the list goes on! With so many different directions students can take, one thing is key for the success of students and the field as a whole: effective communication with people not actively involved in or familiar with agriculture.

College Aggies Online
Students sharing dairy facts on their college campus.

About College Aggies Online

There is so much misinformation about food and agriculture that its hard to decipher between fact and fiction. When agriculture students spot misinformation they are quick to jump in and share what they know, but it takes strategy and skill to do it effectively.

College Aggies Online (CAO) is an initiative of the Animal Agriculture Alliance that helps to build life-long advocates for agriculture. The nine-week scholarship program connects college students from across the country interested in agriculture. CAO helps students become confident and effective communicators!

LSU Les Voyageurs club hosting a “Newbies on the Farm” tour!

10 reasons to sign up for CAO

  1. This year, farmers and ranchers will help students reach their advocating potential!
  2. Undergraduates and graduates can compete, which means more opportunities to win prizes and scholarships!
  3. The 2018 participants’ social media posts earned 2 million online impressions. This is a great opportunity to grow your social media followers.
  4. Collegiate clubs host interactive events on their campuses and communities to share agriculture with their peers.
  5. Students learn new tools and tricks to create their own social media graphics and content.
  6. Students win mini prizes throughout the competition for excelling in weekly challenges.
  7. Each week an agriculture professional leads a webinar or offers advice to students on how to improve their communication skills. Talk about a great networking opportunity with prospective future employers!
  8. Students learn how to write effective blog posts and design eye-catching infographics.
  9. Students can earn the CAO Excellence Award for earning the most points during the competition! Add this to your resume to impress future employers.
  10. The top clubs and individuals win a trip to attend the Alliance’s 2020 Stakeholders Summit in Arlington, Virginia. This conference brings together farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, animal scientists, retailers and others representing all facets of animal agriculture.
2018 College Aggies Online winners and sponsors at Animal Ag Alliance’s Stakeholders Summit.

Sign up today to compete in the 2019 competition, which kicks off September 16th!

Today’s Family Farms

Being a graduate student in Northern Virginia while working in the communication field for the animal agriculture industry definitely makes for interesting class conversations. At first I tried to keep all my facts, figures and stories in my papers instead of the class discussions to avoid any potential conflict – I was working full time, going to school full time and planning a wedding, so I really didn’t have much energy to talk much less debate. This didn’t last long because whenever agriculture was brought into the conversation I couldn’t help but speak up!

Most of my colleagues from school are interested in energy, climate change, weather and technology. Agriculture is involved in each of these areas, yet like most people, the students are usually generations removed from the farm. So, once I leave the office after a day of brainstorming communication strategies to bridge the gap between farm and fork I get to put my ideas into action in class.

Farming misconceptions

Photo credit: Wanda Patsche, Minnesota pig farmer

The students are not the only ones not familiar with animal agriculture. The professors also have misconceptions. In one of my classes, a professor likes to tailor all her lessons to relate to subjects students are studying which I find beneficial as it makes abstract theories and concepts easier to understand. But when the examples include misinformation I start squirming in my seat. The professor was explaining how agriculture has changed a lot over the years (which I agreed with). Then she said there used to be family farms and farmers who depended on their farm and livestock as their livelihood, but now family farms don’t exist anymore (cue my seat squirming) and it’s all corporate farms. I quickly told her and the rest of the class that there are still family farms and they still make up the vast majority of farms today.

Do family farms have to be small?

All of my research projects revolve around animal agriculture’s communication efforts to build trust with consumers. I was explaining one of my research projects which included interviewing farmers and ranchers about their social media habits to someone and he asked, “did you talk to family farms or big farms?” His question made me tilt my head to the side like a dog hearing a foreign noise. First, I answered his question explaining that all of the farmers I talked to were family farmers, meaning their farm is owned and operated by the family. Then I asked, “why can’t family farmers have big farms?” *crickets*

Photo credit: Rebecca Hilby, Wisconsin dairy farmer

These interactions got me thinking about family farmers, farm size and the public perception of today’s family farms. Why is it that people think family farmers must be small and that big is automatically bad? Farms come in all types and sizes. I’ve talked to family farmers who only sell their eggs, cheeses and meats at farmers’ markets, farmers who raise chickens or pigs for a company that then takes care of the marketing and sales, farmers who have 15 head of cattle and others who have 150. Family farms are all very different, but one thing they have in common…they are all owned and operated by passionate, hardworking families.

Red barn or not, it can still be a family farm

Sure, today’s family farmers aren’t always standing outside that romanticized red barn, but that doesn’t make them any less of a family farm. Why should farmers be punished for growing from a small farm to a medium-sized farm or to a large farm? Why can’t farmers use technology to make their jobs more efficient? Some farmers also have side jobs because that’s what works best for their families, yet they love what they do so they keep showing up at the farmers’ market every Saturday morning at 3 a.m. Other farmers choose to work on the farm full time and have grown their farms to meet the needs of their expanding families – both choices are equally valid.

The farms that aren’t considered “family farms” shouldn’t be demonized either. They are not owned and operated by the family, but they still employ families and are part of communities. Because of their size, they often have enough resources to hire multiple veterinarians and animal care professionals to ensure livestock’s well-being is a priority. Larger farms often have the ability to donate large amounts of protein to local food banks too. Big doesn’t have to mean bad.

I try my best to always embrace farms of all sizes. Sometimes the marketing gimmicks can get annoying, but I know that no matter what kind of meat, milk or eggs I buy at the grocery store or at the farmers’ market, it came from a farm and I’m always happy to support farmers and ranchers.

Farmers to follow on social media

Farmers know people are hungry to know more about how food gets from the farm to the fork. Here are dairy, pig, poultry, sheep and cattle farmers you can follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get an inside look at how livestock and poultry are raised!

Dairy

  1. Modern-day Farm Chick
  2. The Farmer’s Wifee
  3. Farmer Bright
  4. Dairy Carrie
  5. Gilmer Dairy Farm
  6. Hastings Dairy
  7. Eastview Farm Dairy
  8. Matt Nuckols
  9. Jessica Peters
  10. Tillamook Dairy Farmer
  11. Snider’s Dairy

For more information about dairy, check out dairygood.org and search #UndeniablyDairy online!

Pig

  1. Cristen Clark
  2. Brad Greenway & Peggy Greenway 
  3. Minnesota Farm Living
  4. Drew Kuhn
  5. Lauren Schwab
  6. Erin Brenneman
  7. Lukas Fricke
  8. Jennifer Osterholt

Visit realpigfarming.com and search #RealPigFarming on social media for more about pig farming!

Poultry

  1. Jennifer Rhodes
  2. Lauren Arbogast
  3. Matt Lohr
  4. Jennifer Odom
  5. Daniel Hayden
  6. Justin Bowman
  7. Shaunee Cyrus
  8. Jenell Eck
  9. Meschke Poultry
  10. Martin Van Zandwyk 
  11. Jacqueline Gingerich 
  12. Ryan Kuntze
  13. Nicole Stewardson 
  14. Jason DeVet 
  15. Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch

Want to know more about chicken farming? Chicken CheckIn is the place to go! For more about turkey and eggs go to Minnesota Turkey and Incredible Edible Egg.

Sheep

  1. Emily Buck
  2. Brad & Jenny Osguthorpe
  3. Brittany Cole Bush
  4. North Star Sheep Farm
  5. Ryan Mahoney
  6. J12 Ranch and Livestock
  7. Kristen Local-Farm Mom
  8. Farm Babe
  9. Sara Hollenbeck
  10. Cylon Rolling Acres (goats!)

You can find even more information about sheep and lambs at American Lamb!

Beef Cattle

  1. Terryn Drieling
  2. Brandi Buzzard Frobose
  3. Kellie Lasack
  4. Sierra Blachford
  5. Joan Ruskamp
  6. Alison McGrew
  7. Kacy Atkinson
  8. Tierra Kessler
  9. Debbie Lyons-Blyth
  10. Whitney Klasna

For more about everything beef, go to beefitswhatsfordinner.com!

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

CF51E5DC-2469-40D9-B32F-CAF410A672B1

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.

Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg!

Mr. Zuckerberg,

As champions for farmers and ranchers, we know sharing the stories of the people and families who raise and produce our food is key to helping consumers better understand where their food comes from. We are excited to see you joining us as you visit farm families across the country and share their stories on Facebook.

As you know, there is a lot of misinformation being shared online about food and agriculture – often times by people generations removed from agriculture. We appreciate you sharing how much hard work, dedication and passion farmers and ranchers have for raising livestock while feeding families everywhere.

The Alliance is no stranger to receiving negative comments from groups that are opposed to animal agriculture as we work to bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. We’ve noticed that you are now receiving some of the same comments on your posts and standing strong in the face of their tactics is not always easy. The Alliance team and the farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, animal health companies and other farm organizations we represent want you to know how much your recognition and appreciation of the people who grow and raise our food means to each of us.

We sincerely thank you for being a supportive advocate of the agriculture community!