Tag Archives: challenges

Missing a friend and a great teacher

Growing up as a teachers’ kid, you quickly learn what makes a good teacher. A good teacher encourages you to think, challenges your beliefs and opinions and helps you gain more knowledge than you ever thought possible.

Chris Raines was a good teacher.

Dr. Chris Raines, 1981-2011

Now, I never sat in Chris’s classroom, but I know this is true. See, like so many others, I met Chris online through his Twitter “handle”  @iTweetMeat. From the get-go, I knew this guy was smart and witty. On so many occasions, he challenged my comments when he could have so easily passed them by. One of the first interactions I remember was when I made a comment about how farmers shoudn’t be held responsible for people who get sick from raw milk, because they knew that danger was there. Chris automatically came back at me, asking if that meant meat processors shouldn’t be held responsible for food poisoning because people should just cook it all the way? It was instances like this where he forced me to re-examine my beliefs, look at them from another angle, and learn something along the way. That’s why I know Chris was a good teacher in his “real life” job as a meat science professor at Penn State. I think he did things like that with his students every day.

Last night, Chris lost his life in a car accident and the online community of “AgChatters” and “Agvocates” lost a great friend. It’s amazing how close of a relationship you can form with someone in the digital space. I’ve spent my day randomly bursting into tears, despite the fact that my actual, in-person interactions with Chris were few. That doesn’t matter, though, because I will always remember his ability to teach us all, while making us smile at the same time. He will be sorely missed.


How much of a dialogue was it?

Like what seemed like everyone else in the agriculture world, I watched the Food Dialogues conversations both online and in person last Thursday. In addition to tuning in for the Washington DC panel, I was on the St. Paul campus at the University of Minnesota for a viewing party. I’m not sure whether my expectations for the event/day were high or low. The only thing I knew was that the day would pave a path for the future of USFRA (who organized Food Dialogues) — whether that path was challenging or smooth was what needed to be determined.

I’m not going to recap the whole conversation, because I think that’s been done and you can find recap videos on FoodDialogues.com. What I will do is add to the collection of observations, hoping that input from throughout the farming and non-farming community will continue to stretch our ability to interact.

Words matter. If we’re not using the right ones, we’re not having an inclusive dialogue.

I had a friend once tell me that they hated the phrase “need to be educated.” To her, educating someone is a one-way street. You don’t know something, and by darn, the other person is going to tell you exactly what you should think. It’s not interactive.

On the same token, the term “consumer” is one that automatically separates groups into an “us versus them” mentality. This is especially true in agriculture. Consumers are “those people” who consume goods (in our case, food products) without knowing or caring where they came from. “They” know nothing about farming.

Throughout the entire Food Dialogues conversation – both across the country and in the room where I sat in St. Paul – these words and phrases were abundant. We need to educate consumers. The answer to our problems is consumer education about modern farming methods. If we just talk with consumers and share our stories, we can educate consumers about what they don’t understand.

This drives me nuts.

If we don’t place priorities on using language that is interactive and inclusive, we’ve missed the whole point of a dialogue. We haven’t listened. We haven’t learned from each other. And we won’t change anything. Words matter. As the Food Dialogues movement moves on, we have to remember that or we’re wasting our time.

Reach beyond the choir. Did we do it?

There was a great push to have farmer involvement in the USFRA dialogues, both online and in person. I think this is great. However, from my observations, what was missing throughout the entire day was those on the other side of the conversation. Farmers were in abundance both in the audience, online and on panels, but I feel like the voice of the typical, everyday food purchaser was missing. Where’s the college student who has no money, but is trying to eat more than mac and cheese? Where’s the mom who dreads taking three kids into the grocery store, but knows it needs to be done? While we had a panel of experts who were friendly to agriculture, there was a noticeably absent voice from everyday America. In my opinion, if we just continue to talk to ourselves, this “movement” is not a movement at all. Rather, it’s just us taking four hours out of our day to make ourselves feel better.

A step in the right direction, but miles to go.

Overall, I thought the Food Dialogues were a step in the right direction. The agricultural community opened themselves up to a wider audience and, I think, genuinely wants to be a part of the conversation. However, if we don’t open ourselves up to the hard topics and genuinely have a dialogue about those, we’re not going to build any bridges. Someone described coverage of controversial topics on Thursday as infomercial-like. I’d say that’s pretty accurate. The same old talking points were covered multiple times. Only once did I hear someone say, “I’m going to talk about this on a personal level…”. I’m not saying we have to have an “I’m right in using _______ (fill in the blank with pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, etc.)” answer – in fact, I’d rather we didn’t. I’m saying that we need to be able to to converse about those issues without throwing up the defensive wall and genuinely ask people why they hold the beliefs they do.

In order to continue having successful dialogues, conversations need to be filled with inclusive language and people on all sides of the food system. We also all need to have the understanding that every single one of us won’t have the same opinion — two small farmers have different ideas, two large farmers, two organic farmers, two butchers, two professors, two moms. We all come to the table with different beliefs and experiences. That’s why the root of conversations needs to be, “Why to you believe that _________?” and the question needs to be followed by genuine listening from all participants.

These are just my thoughts, though, and I know lots of people have already blogged about their feelings. Check out Michele’s and Jeff’s posts for some different opinions. What did you think about the Food Dialogues? Was it a step in the right direction? Was it the same old, same old? I’d love to hear others thoughts and keep the conversation flowing.

A world of opportunities

I know I’ve been rather absent from the blog these past few weeks, but it has been absolutely crazy. This week, I will be making one of the most important decisions of my career — selecting my first job.

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Flooding and agriculture – Can't even imagine

My friend Janice has been using her blog to keep us up-to-date on the flooding of the Mississippi River over the past couple of weeks as its been affecting Memphis, where she lives. Thankfully, all of her family is alright and none of her possessions have been damaged. She’s been one of the lucky ones, though, and I’m keeping in my thoughts all of those people who have no home to go to now and are trying to figure out where to go next. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to be in that situation and hope everything turns out alright in the end.

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It looks…kind of like…a light up ahead!

So, looking back on my last post, I realize how scared I was just a week ago looking forward at what my future might look like without student teaching the picture. “Dark twisty path” I think is how I phrased it. Well, now I can confidently say a week later, there is definitely a light up ahead!

I cannot adequately describe how thankful I am for my great friends and network, in person and online. When I said I was switching gears, every single person around me was supportive and willing to lend a helping hand. Professionals in the industry who have only ever met me through the #agchat community were willing to read over my resume and cover letter to offer their advice. My friends in East Lansing helped me set up job shadow visits to get a feel for what working in agricultural marketing and public relations might be like. Everyone was there at exactly the moment I needed them the most. How amazing is that?

For those who are curious, I’ve started applying for positions and have even heard back from one to learn more about me. I’m excited to see where the next few months will take me and I finally understand that things happen the way they should, even if it’s scary when that shift first happens.

BONUS: I was so glad to read this post and know that I’m not the only person who crazily changes gears at the last minute!

An early life crisis and the stress that ensues

To say something hasn’t been nagging at me for a while would be complete denial. The fact of the matter is, though, I have been really fearful to say anything for worry that people or — let’s face it — I would be disappointed in me. Well, I’ve said it out loud to a few people so I guess I’ve reached the point where I can say it online.

I’m not sure that I want to student teach.

Even considering not student teaching makes me feel guilty, like it’s somehow saying I don’t think being an ag teacher is a good job. That’s not the case at all. How could it be? My dad is an ag teacher; many of my mentors and friends are ag teachers. It’s an amazing job to have. Just maybe not the right job for me.

Now, none of this is to say that I won’t change my mind tomorrow or in a year or in five years. However, today and yesterday and for the last few months, I have felt as though life wants me to take another path.

For the past year (as many of you know), I’ve taken on several jobs/internships. Two of them have been very communications focused. I’ve also been doing some freelance writing work that I have really loved and, for the past three years, I’ve been involved in the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA). All of these areas are things that, when I think about turning them into a career in communications, I get excited about. I wish that same thing were true of teaching.

So it sounds like I’ve got it together, right? Wrong. It’s two weeks from graduation and I’m hurtling myself into the great unknown of job-hunting. I’m still keeping student teaching as an option, but – finally – I’m going to start seriously considering some positions with different groups in and out of the state. I want to look at for-profits and non-profits, corporate businesses and marketing/PR agencies. I’m going to keep my options wide open and try to figure out what’s best for me in the long run.

Unfortunately during this same time period, I have a ton of work due for school and projects for my various jobs going on everywhere. Just last night I ended up in tears, mainly from the stress of everything culminating at once. I’m definitely going to be relying on friends and family to talk me through all of this and reassure me that it’s going to be alright. I’ve got a long few months ahead of me and right now the path through the woods looks pretty dark and twisty. Here’s to hoping, though, that there’s light on the other side.

My life, as shaped by agricultural education

In honor of National Teach Ag Day, I wanted to share my vision of the power of agricultural educators. As the daughter of an ag teacher, I was practically born in a blue, corduroy FFA jacket and had Ag Sales CDE practicums memorized better than the high school kids when I was 10. To this day, it catches me off guard when someone has never heard of high school agricultural education, since I was raised with it from day 1 – my dad’s first year teaching was the year I was born.

Growing up in the classroom, it was really easy to see the impact a single teacher can make on so  many students. When I was 5, I was at the meeting where my dad announced to his chapter officers that he would be leaving the school to take a new position. There were lots of tears and sadness — he had made such a difference in a few short years that these students obviously had formed a connection and did not want him to leave. In the years after we moved, I got to watch as he mentored students who went on to become USDA meat inspectors, agronomy researchers, 4-H leaders, and – like him – ag teachers. I also got to see his former students go on to become more important things, like husbands and wives, moms and dads, and friends. I like to think that, even though not solely responsible, ag teachers do play a role in developing youth so they can be the most successful in the latter roles.

I’m now a senior at Michigan State University and, like my dad, I am majoring in Agriscience Education. Next year, I will student teach with another great ag teacher and work to learn as much as I can about youth, education and agriculture. I’ll admit, I have my moments when I don’t know if being an agriculture teacher is the right career choice for me. Who knows, life may throw a curve ball my way and take me down another path. For the meantime, however, whenever I have one those ‘moments’ I think about my life with agricultural education and the difference ag teachers – including my dad – have made for me. It would be my greatest hope to make that difference for others.

Cheering a losing team…now that's dedication!

When my boyfriend and I watch our beloved Spartans play, we tend to have different attitudes when they’re losing. Yesterday, we got to experience this difference full force when the guys went down (rather painfully) to Alabama 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl.

See, when our team is losing by a lot, Mitch tends to want to turn the TV off and find something else to do. His point is ‘Why do you want to put yourself through this? It’s not going to get any better!’. I, however, tend to leave the television on and watch until the end. Yes, it’s probably just masochism where football is involved, but that dedication is kind of part of my personality.

When I start something, I can’t help but follow through until it’s completed. That was instilled in me by my dad when I was little. Even if we started a sport or project that we ended up not liking or wasn’t going well, we didn’t get to stop in the middle of a season or leave our teammates hanging. Today, even when I take on too much, I feel a sense of responsibility to keep pushing until I’ve finished what I committed to doing.

I think that’s a trait that’s heavy in agriculture (even if Mitch doesn’t like it where it’s related to the Spartans!). Farmers and other agriculturalists stick through weather, tough markets, family challenges and more – no matter what it takes, because they’ve made a commitment to providing Americans with a safe and consistent food supply. I hope that a new generation of agriculturalists, including young farmers, gardeners and those joining the local food movement, carry this characteristic with them as they face struggles to reach success.

Now, I shouldn’t beat Mitch up too bad. There is also something to be said for people who recognize something is not working, ditch it and move on to the next thing that could be a success. I actually think there’s a little of both personalities in most of us. What about you? Are you one to cheer on your team even though they’re dying a slow, painful death? Or do you realize that your time could be better spent by moving on?