The media chatter last week was zeroed in on the animal abuse that occurred at Fair Oaks in Indiana, which was video recorded and later released by an animal rights activist group.
Even as the scandal unfolded, I was in awe of the agricultural community and how producers from every industry, as well as consumers, banded together to collectively talk about animal welfare, activist agendas and what we need to do to avoid abuse from happening on farms in the future.
Of course, there were many viewpoints to consider, as well as differing strategies on best ways to respond to this situation. However, it was great to see so much engagement that resulted in truly valuable conversations with consumers and producers.
In case you missed it, read: "What we can learn from the undercover video taken at Fair Oaks Farms"
In recent weeks, I’ve received some pretty hateful feedback about my approach to handling some hot topics in agriculture. While strategies may differ from one advocate to another, I contend that one can truly and only approach these topics from an authentic, true-to-you place.
If we do that, we will be impactful and make a difference. Even if that means approaching something from a different vantage point as someone else.
One way I approach advocacy, that I think is a sure bet to be a positive experience every time, is through promoting agricultural literacy in schools.
To kick off the summer, I recently read my children’s books, “Levi’s Lost Calf” and “Can-Do Cowkids” at a couple of local libraries and 4-H workshops. Through these experiences, I have had the opportunity to share the beef production story with daycare kids, preschoolers, elementary and middle school students, parents, faculty, volunteers and more.
Now maybe there are haters who could somehow find fault with me taking the time to read cute stories to kids. But at the end of the day, it’s a feel-good experience that engages producers with consumers. To me, that’s the goal of creating a positive and memorable experience that truly connects the dots from the grocery store to the pasture.
And you may never quite realize the positive impact you have on a child when you take the time out of your day to read a story, teach a lesson or simply spend time with a kid. It’s a rewarding experience that has really enriched my career and brought joy to my life.
To date, one of my most popular blogs of all time is titled, “Ag education is desperately needed in schools.”
I think because it’s been so widely read, it highlights your interest in wanting to connect with young people in your communities.
Today, I want to highlight some of the programs that readers have shared with me via email. Perhaps these outreach efforts might inspire you to connect with schools, libraries or 4-H events in your area.
1. "Students come together for ag education” by Jessica Walker Boehm for FFA New Horizons
High school students in the Agriculture Production Technology program at Massanutten Technical Center (MTC) in Harrisonburg, Va., have the opportunity to get hands-on experience on a farm. It’s all thanks to a local couple who have welcomed them to their operation, Valley View Farms, with open arms.
2. Marilyn Schmidt Ag Outreach Program provides ag experience for kids
An email I received from educators, Chad and Ty Schmidt, reads, “My brother and I began the Marilyn Schmidt Ag Outreach Program (501c3) this last year with a focus of bringing quality ag experiences with livestock projects and partnerships with urban chapters to positively impact students and to help struggling chapters.
“We sponsor students in urban and suburban Houston (Spring ISD, Klein ISD, and Tomball ISD) so the financial burdens do not limit their opportunity to participate and to succeed. We found that if you can get students with the animals, support them the right way with their feeding and showmanship, you will positively change their lives!
“The impact has been so much more than we ever expected in the first year. One student told us that his pig was the only reason he did not drop out of high school. Another student found incredible success winning every show he showed at and became a leader of his chapter as a freshman, teaching and training the other students on all he was learning as we worked with him. He had never even seen a pig before he got Bella.
“Every student we sponsored found a level of success and achievement that they had never experienced before, and it galvanized our resolve to not only continue this work but to work to expand and sponsor more students. We have seen the life lessons learned in livestock projects light fires in students as they realize talents and skills they never knew they had.
“Providing support and opportunities for students in urban areas to truly experience agriculture and hands-on livestock projects is powerful in revitalizing chapters and showing entire school districts and communities the value of agriculture education.”
The Schmidts are currently looking for sponsors to continue and expand their program model to reach more kids. You can email Ty at [email protected] or Chad at [email protected] to learn how to support this great youth-in-ag program!
3. FaceTime a Farmer reaches 7,500 students in the UK
In the UK, LEAF Education and Village Farm's free FaceTime a Farmer initiative is transforming how farmers connect children with their food and where it comes from. FaceTime a Farmer is all about harnessing the power of digital communications to inspire, engage and educate young people about not only the journey from farm to fork but also the ever changing, diverse agricultural industry.
Children regularly chat live with their matched farmer from their classrooms through FaceTime or Skype, discuss ideas, ask questions, share knowledge and gain a ‘real-time’ understanding of the issues farmers face every day.
In three years, FaceTime a Farmer has reached 7,500 students via video phone conferencing, allowing young people an inside look at the farm or ranch without ever leaving the classroom. How cool is that?
These are just a few of many ways producers are engaging with kids to educate them about where their food comes from while building trusting relationships with our future consumers.
Yes, there’s a lot of negative press out there. Yes, there will always be haters, in and out of our own agricultural circles. And yes, there will always be differing opinions and strategies for the best ways to make connections and bridge the gap.
But at the end of the day, the best thing you can do is put yourself out there in an authentic way that reflects your talents and strengths. By doing so, your passion, knowledge and abilities will shine through and resonate with your intended audience.
So don’t despair — even on the tough days when your critics seem the loudest — keep sharing your story and being yourself. The rewards will be worth it and will always outweigh the negatives.
Do you have an agricultural outreach program you would like to share with BEEF readers? Email me at [email protected] and your story may be featured on a future blog!
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.