An attack on agriculture happened in, what seemed, the unlikeliest of places recently. The place was one of the most heralded agricultural institutions in the country, and the response of its students was rapid, passionate, and undoubtedly heard not only on campus, but across the nation.
Mason Parish, Texas A&M University freshman, noticed activists on campus passing out pamphlets about the so called “dangers” of eating meat. At the same time he saw that local media had run an article that was critical of agriculture. This ignited a fire in Parish to reach out to the students at A&M and the local community about agriculture.
He decided to join up with his friends in the Ag fraternity at A&M, Alpha Gamma Rho; they would found a group that would promote agriculture. The result was that 22 student organizations and 250 students from the school of agriculture joined Alpha Gamma Rho to join the movement promoting agriculture.
The movement turned into Farmers Fight, a student led day of promoting agriculture across the A&M campus and the community. Its name was adopted from a traditional yell that is a favorite of Aggies at football games. The goal of Farmers Fight was to make agriculture an Aggie tradition again. Before the organization could promote this day, Parish understood that he and all the students involved would need proper training to accomplish the goals of Farmers Fight.
Soon leaders of agriculture advocacy stepped up to the plate. Anne Kimmey, President of Cultivate Marketing Agency, Gene Hall, Director of Public Relations for Texas Farm Bureau, and Misty Martin, Ag Communications Manager for Texas Beef Council, all volunteered their time and service to Farmers Fight.
An ag advocate training conference was held for all students who were interested in being part of Farmers Fight. There was an impressive turnout of students who participated, and they were there for more than just the free pizza and shirts according to Parish. “It was their passion for agriculture that gave them the desire to be a part of this.” The students were trained on how to promote agriculture to the public. They learned the importance of telling their own personal story in agriculture in order to provide a personal connection. The participants were told to answer the questions that people have about agriculture or to direct them somewhere where they could find the answer.
It was about this time that Parish approached Jasmine Dillon about doing a video for Youtube for Farmers Fight. She was more than excited about the opportunity and wrote a poem to accompany the video. She saw it as a platform to spread agriculture advocacy. Dillon’s poem can be seen on Youtube, and she also presented it at the training.
On April 12, at eight in the morning, it was Farmers Fight’s time. It all started with a rally at the Academic Plaza where Yell Leaders led students in the traditional Farmers Fight yell. Afterwards, students spread out across campus and set-up booths representing diverse sectors of agriculture.
Throughout the day these students told their story of agriculture to their peers and showed them the many different ways that every person is connected to agriculture. It generated such excitement that the President of A&M, R. Bowen Loftin, even came down to speak with the ag advocates.
Perhaps the most popular exhibit that day was a mobile dairy with a live cow that showed the milking process. “Some students had never seen a cow before and now they were getting to see one get milked first-hand,” Parish observed.
Even before the day on campus the Farmers Fight group was working in the community to spread the message of agriculture. They went to many first grade classes to pass out agriculture related coloring books and talk about agriculture.
In the end Farmer’s Fight was a huge success. Many students expressed interest in the booths that were set up across campus. The Battalion, the A&M newspaper, ran a story about it on the front page.
“The students trusted us to tell them about the importance of agriculture,” Parish commented.
The students involved with Farmers Fight understood the importance of young people stepping up to present agriculture in a positive light. Today, more than ever, agriculture is in need of as many voices as it can find advocating agriculture. “Herein lies a great opportunity for young people involved in livestock exhibition and the TJLA.” .
Livestock exhibition is one of the most public forms of agriculture. “ This means that people are always watching what is happening with animals in the show barn,” Kimmey advises. This should not be looked at as a negative, but rather as a great opportunity to promote and inform the public about agriculture.
There are a few simple things that should be remembered when involved with livestock exhibition or a show barn: Be kind and caring to the animal. Something that seems normal to an exhibitor may cause a misunderstanding to the public who is ignorant about what is going on; it is vital to avoid these situations.
This is also a chance to embrace the public. There is no need to be bashful about telling them what you do; it is a great opportunity to start dialogue according to Martin. “This can be very difficult and it is important to be patient with people you speak to,” says Hall.
“To be able to talk to the people in the public it is a must to be well informed. People will ask questions, and may in fact try to embarrass you,” Hall advises. There is plenty of information out there like the Texas Farm Bureau website or explorebeef.org.
When speaking with people about agriculture it is also important to tell your story, Kimmey stresses. “Your story is how you are connected to agriculture. Every livestock exhibitor is obviously connected to agriculture, so go ahead and share the experience with other people.”
This story can be shared more than just in the show barn. One of the easiest and most effective ways to spread your story and promote agriculture is through social media, Kimmey, Hall and Martin all agree. Use facebook, Twitter, blogs, or things like AgChat and texasfarmbureau.org. Each of these provides great mediums for agricultural advocates to be heard.
It is as simple as taking 30 minutes at the computer once a week to respond to negative agricultural articles and promote agriculture, “This will make a difference,” Martin explains.
“Within the community, media and local clubs are always interested in hearing about what youth are involved in. Reach out to these people and offer to do presentations at monthly meetings or write to the editor of the local paper, “ Hall says.
The easiest of all things to do is to just talk to your friends about agriculture and how we are all connected. Even a simple conversation with a friend can spark the fire in them to become an ag advocate.
“We need young people talking to young people about agriculture,” Kimmey says.
While promoting agriculture always remember to keep a cool head. It is very easy to get upset and want to fire back and argue, but staying calm will allow you to send a better message, Martin points out.
You cannot be an ag advocate if you are not doing things right with your show animal. “As a spokesperson you must live the life,” Hall emphasizes.
“It is important to put things in terms that a consumer can understand,” Kimmey adds. In agriculture we are not talking about just products, but “food and fiber.”
“Great words to use are farmer, rancher, comfort, recycle ,and renewable energy, “Martin continues.
There are a great number of resources that can help you become the best ag advocate you can. There are unlimited resources online. There is also the Texas Beef Quality Producer Program that offers training on welfare and advocacy. “ In the summer they offer opportunities to youth to go to camp and get certified. You can also visit texasbeefquality.com and can be certified online,” Martin says.
Everybody can be an agricultural advocate, and a movement has begun. Today is the day for you to become involved. Most people involved in livestock exhibition understand the importance of agriculture, and it is time that they spread this message beyond the show barn.
By Cody Trimble