Blue and Gold Pride

In the Spring of 2004, I was signing up for high school classes with my counselor. The normal classes were all there – geometry, English, Spanish, theater. When it came time to pick a science class, I told my counselor I wanted to take ag biology – I had heard being in an ag science class was a requirement to be in FFA, and I wanted to raise market animals for the county fair like I did in 4-H. My counselor proceeded to tell me that if I wanted to go to college, I should take regular biology. Not even knowing what I was fighting for, I told her I would get into college just fine in four years, and insisted on taking the ag science class. And thank God I did. Image

Getting myself involved in the National FFA Organization was the best decision I have made thus far in my life. It wasn’t just biology from an agricultural standpoint and raising calves for fair. Suddenly, I found myself in an organization dedicated at every level to my success in school and life. I had a team of ag teachers who dedicated their lives to helping students like me and thousands of others reach their full potential in whatever field we chose.

My freshman year, my ag biology teacher encouraged me to sign-up for the California State FFA Conference, which was a pivotal moment for me. Attending that conference truly opened my eyes to all the opportunities FFA could provide and how far the organization could take me. The next four years found me competing in public speaking contests at various levels, participating in career development events across the state, traveling across the country to meet with other FFA members and pushing myself to run for leadership positions, all of which helped me develop those crucial professional skills I use every day in my career.

Being in FFA helped me find my passion – sharing agriculture’s story with others. Despite what my high school counselor told me as a 14-year-old, I knew I was always going to go to college, but FFA helped me personally figure out what I would do in life. In fact, my journey to college would have been much more difficult without ag education – my FFA participation qualified me for scholarships that basically paid for my first year of college. It still makes me upset when I think about my counselor discouraging me from taking ag biology, and wonder how many students she did talk out of it, denying them the opportunity to get involved in such a positive organization.

If I had not participated in FFA, I have no idea where life would have taken me. I can’t imagine my time in high school without FFA, and can’t imagine what would happen if the Ag Incentive Grant is cut from the California state budget, threatening ag education programs throughout the state. FFA helps students find their passion and potential, from agricultural communications to welding. I constantly thank the National FFA Organization and my team of high school ag teachers for getting me to where I am today. I am one of millions of students the organization will affect over its time, but it have the same positive effect on every single one of us. So thank you, FFA. I owe you. Happy FFA Week!

Hey Girl, Ryan Gosling Supports PETA Now

Ryan Gosling, breaking the hearts of countless agriculturally-inclined young women throughout the world, has partnered with PETA in urging the National Milk Producer’s Federation to lead the phase out of dehorning in dairy cattle. I’m going to be up front: I LOVE Ryan Gosling and am NOT happy about his new friendship with PETA.

But hey, at least he is taking an actual interest in agricultural practices, not just supporting PETA because it is en vogue.  I mean, he hasn’t been properly educated on the process of dehorning dairy cattle. We dehorn young calves on dairies to prevent the cows from gouging each other and dairy workers later in life, and it is done in a controlled environment. By removing the horn “nubs” from new born calves, dairy producers can minimize the pain through best practices procedures, and apply numbing agents and pain control products, as well as prevent possible infection. By dehorning the calves in a controlled environment at a young age, producers can prevent the cows injuring each other farther down the road when the calves are in pastures, and not in an environment that lends itself to minimal pain and infection. Dehorning now means preventing serious injury later in life.

He hasn’t been educated, but Ryan Gosling has taken an interest. Countless celebrity PETA supporters tout vegetarianism and pose naked, which somehow tells us not to wear fur. Ryan Gosling has found a real part of dairy production, and has shown an inclination for agricultural practices. What if we all write a letter to Ryan Gosling, and outline why we dehorn dairy calves. Maybe, we can change his mind, or at least make him realize that he needs to explore both sides of an argument before heading to E! Channel. 

One Evening, Two Aggie Gals and Eight TED Ideas Worth Spreading

Last night I had the opportunity to attend TEDxTC, an independently organized TED event (for more information on TED, click here.) with fellow agriculturalist, Elizabeth Olson. TED is all about ideas worth spreading. Presenters have 18 minutes to share their idea worth spreading with the audience, resulting in high level and to the point lectures. For those looking to be exposed to new ideas and perspectives, I recommend seeking out a TED event.

Last night’s event featured eight women, four presenting from Washington, D.C. and four presenting at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. The Washington, D.C. women were first up, and their presentations were called “The Rising,” and explored a variety of women’s issues through both tears and laughter.

While the Washington, D.C. women were beyond inspiring, the four women in St. Paul were phenomenal. Dori Moliter, Janis LaDouceur, Cecily Sommers and Peg Chemberlin all provided unique world views and ideas on women’s roles in business and the world. It was a thought provoking evening, and both Elizabeth and I left feeling intelligent and cultured.

There was one gaping hole in the program, however. Except for one of the women mentioning growing up on a Minnesota dairy farm, agriculture didn’t come up once, neither positively or negatively. For an evening focusing on forward thinking, I was disappointed that a women representing the agriculture industry wasn’t included to share an idea worth spreading. To me, this seems like a natural component. But if it wasn’t a given to include agriculture in the evening, perhaps that is even more reason to get an agriculturalist on stage at a TED event.

Shifting Strategies

I have spent the last four years learning how to effectively tell agriculture’s story, with a special concentration on the animal agriculture industry. During these four years, I have witnessed the passing of Prop 2 in California, the introduction of HR 3798 which would make Prop 2 federal, the rise of HSUS and a gradual loss of consumer trust in the animal agriculture industry. At times, I wondered if my plan to educate the public on the animal agriculture industry would even be an option when I graduated, or if agricultural communicators would have moved on by this point. Fortunately, agricultural communicators haven’t given up, and neither have I.

These past couple of months, I have begun to realize that we need to utilize more tactics when sharing our message with consumers. When farmers and ranchers are asked why they raise their animals or produce their crops the way they do, they tend to get defensive and respond with statements beginning with “The science says” or “This method is proven.” We will talk for hours about how the methods we use are the best because of the research behind them, assuming the public will respect the science because it is proven. But, as Theodore Roosevelt once stated, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

All the consumer really wants to know is that the way the products they are buying in the store was actually safe and, in the case of animal agriculture, that the animal was not treated poorly at any point throughout its life. As agriculturalists, we know that the majority of producers are good people and that their personal values would not allow them to do anything unsafe or abusive. We know this to be true, but organizations such as HSUS and PETA have convinced the public that all American agriculturalists are trying to do is make a quick dollar without an regard for the safety of the product or the consumers.

How do we fix this huge misconception? We let the public know how much we care.

Instead of farmers and ranchers throwing the science to the public, we need to convince them to share their values and their personal stories. Values drive every decision agriculturalists make each day and if the public understood this, their decisions at the grocery store and voting booths might be different. Consumers tend to forget that farmers and ranchers are feeding their families the same food they are producing for the consumer. If we can simply remind the public of these values, they will be able to put their trust back in American Agriculture.

Learning How to Affect Change

Just when you think you have “agvocacy” figured out, you go on a trip to Sacramento and your mind is blown.

During my last quarter here at Cal Poly, I have been lucky enough to take an agricultural public policy class. All quarter, movers and shakers in California Agriculture have come into our class and hashed out the issues affecting our industry. Over the past eight weeks, my classmates and my knowledge on labor, immigration, air quality, invasive pasts and communicating the agricultural message has grown exponentially. For two hours twice a week, I got to sit down and learn about the industry I love. It has been fantastic.

The capstone to the class was a trip to Sacramento. The trip was organized by Cal Poly alum, George Soares, whose law firm, Kahn, Soares and Conway, represents the majority of the California agriculture industry. There is no better workhorse for agriculture than Mr. Soares. Mr. Soares is proactive in educating people on agriculture issues and making sure that agriculture is always fairly represented. Simply getting to spend time with Mr. Soares is an inspiration.

From Sunday night to Tuesday morning, we visited with lobbyists, legislators, the head of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and many more important people. I feel so lucky that these important people took time out of their very busy days to speak with us, all with the belief that we too would be working for the agriculture industry very soon.

Of course, we had to prove that we had been absorbing the information all quarter. Monday night we visited the California Farm Bureau Federation, where we gave group presentations on issues affecting California agriculture to Cal Poly alumni and more than a few parents of myself and my classmates (I got to see my parents for the first time since March! It was great!). My group was charged with educating the group on issues in the California dairy and poultry industries. We approached the issue from a values standpoint- we explained both the scientific and values reasons behind decisions made every day in animal agriculture. If we can convince the public that we all have the same values when it comes to animal welfare, the public will respect the practices in place in the animal agriculture industry (I have a feeling I will be writing an entire blog on this topic this weekend :)).

During our last meeting today, I began to realize that it is possible to make a difference for agriculture on a public policy level. So often we only hear about the losses agriculture experiences, but in reality, people are working hard everyday to preserve agriculture in many more ways than we realize. It’s true that the majority of votes in the State Senate and House of Representatives come from urban centers who don’t care about agriculture and don’t understand its many facets. But people are working everyday to educate them, and strong relationships are being formed.

Mr. Soares is a great example of a person who is reaching out to the urban decision makers and making a difference. I’m not completely sure how the relationship began, but somehow Mr. Soares formed a strong relationship with Gil Cedillo, the Assemblymember from the 45th District, or downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Cedillo deals with education, gangs, drugs and violence in his district. Mr. Soares reached out to Mr. Cedillo and gained his support on a water bond that was begin put together. Later, Mr. Soares brought Mr. Cedillo out to the Soares Dairy in Hanford, where Mr. Cedillo was able to speak with workers, watch daily operations and drive a corn chopper. Because of Mr. Soares’ effort to make a difference, agriculture gained an ally in Gil Sedillo.

If we work hard enough, we can make a difference. It is possible to affect change for agriculture on a public policy issue, though it doesn’t always seem that way. But if we go beyond the law offices and beyond the Senate floor and get decision makers into the heart of agriculture, we can gain allies and protect agriculture.

US Dairy Farmers Care

I love milk. Just like my mom always told me, milk makes me strong. Milk keeps me healthy. Milk makes me happy.

Apparently, I am not alone in my love of milk- in 2010, each American consumed 72 gallons of milk. That totals out to be 22 billion gallons of milk consumed in the United States alone. Clearly, America likes their dairy products. But do they love their dairy farmers?

Below is a video from Merck Animal Health. The video is all about showing the consumer how much American dairy farmers care for the animals, and how much they do to make sure we can each enjoy out 72 gallons of milk each year. Dairy farmers work 365 days a year to produce a delicious, safe and nutritious product for us. In addition to providing us with dairy products, each time a farmer adds a cow to their operation, $25,000 is added to the local community. This only proves to me how much dairy farmers rock and how much we should appreciate them.

Watch this video and you will see all the other ways dairy farmers take care of us each and every day. Thanks Merck Animal Health for reminding us that dairy farmers do more than just give us a glass of milk- they take care of us.

The Earth Day Food and Wine Festival

Man, what a weekend. My voice has packed up and left and I still don’t think I’m caught up on sleep. Was it worth it? Yes, because I got to be a part of the Earth Day Food and Wine Festival.

Right now, you are probably wondering “what is the Earth Day Food and Wine Festival?” Well, EDFWF is an event put on by the organization I intern for, the Central Coast Vineyard Team. For the past six years, EDFWF has brought together chefs, farmers, wineries and consumers for an afternoon of wine, food, music and conversations about where our food comes from. It is truly an amazing event. This year’s event, held at Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery, had close to 1,500 people in attendance, despite it being the first 90-degree day of the year in Templeton. The event rocked.

As the Central Coast Vineyard Team intern, I spent my time behind the scenes during the event. To put it frankly, the team killed it. When we had issues with tickets and arrival times, we dealt with it. When attendees were reacting poorly to their over-indulgence of wine combined with the 90-degree heat, we handled it. When two sheep got loose and ran through the vineyard, we figured it out. When there were seven of us at the end of the night to clean up the venue, we got it done. Basically, we rocked.

Even if I hadn’t been on staff for this event, I know I would have loved it. I’m all about putting farmers and consumers together to talk about their food, and that is what the Earth Day Food and Wine Festival is all about. As a member of the staff, I was so happy to be a part of it. Since I started my internship in June, I had been hearing about this legendary “Earth Day.” I knew it must be a big deal, since we were already working on it, and I knew it must be cool since everyone kept saying “farmers” and “consumers.” As we got closer to the event, my excitement just kept growing. Finally seeing it and experiencing it over this past week was awesome- it was everything I had imagined and more. I was truly a lucky duck to be involved.

Did all this sound fun to you? Well, save the date for next year! EDFWF will be back at Pomar Junction April 20, 2012 celebrating farmers, food and wine! Visit http://www.earthdayfoodandwine.com for all the information you need!