Monday, February 29, 2016

Ag Cheerleaders--Moving Beyond "Advocacy"

Kelsey Faivre was raised on a farm in northern Illinois, where she learned to love agriculture. She is a senior studying agriculture communications at Iowa State University in Ames, and she is an administrative assistant at CAST. She has written for several ag-related publications. This editorial appeared first in Feedstuffs Foodlink on February 8, 2016.  

Are You an Advocate for Agriculture?

Earlier this year, I was asked an interesting question as part of an interview.

“Do you consider yourself to be an advocate for agriculture?”

My initial thought was that I didn’t want to be called an advocate. Not because I didn’t feel qualified--I was an agriculture literacy intern--or because I hadn’t made any efforts, but because I wanted to do more than advocate.

Advocating and Cheerleading

Sometimes, it seems like advocating is like being a cheerleader for your team. But cheerleading isn’t a conversation. It doesn’t allow for give and take. Simply advocating can be limiting.

I was thinking about a science communication class I took at Iowa State. We had discussed in depth the three roles scientists can take when they communicate with the general public: advocate, arbiter, and adviser. The difference between these roles lies with the intent of the communicating scientist—the expert.

An advocate intends to sway and is the most biased expert. The arbiter is unbiased and serves with the intent of simply responding to questions as an expert. The adviser points out all available options and tends to advise on the best scientific answer. In this way, the adviser role is a blend of that of the advocate and the arbiter.

The advocate role is the most difficult for a scientist to maintain, because nothing in science is certain. To go all out in support of a policy or scientific movement only to find contradicting evidence may create polarization instead of open communication, and tends to damage the credibility of the scientist.

Being an advocate, or cheerleader, for agriculture tends to mean designating teams and picking sides instead of leaving room for more than one way of farming and an open, honest conversation. By simply cheerleading and therefore avoiding conversations about topics of doubt and uncertainty in agriculture, we lose the important element of transparency. 

At its core, the goal of scientific advocacy is to reduce the scope of available choice: in the case of agriculture this means choice of production methods and choices of food in the grocery store. I firmly believe we need to showcase the available choices and create an environment where consumers can join the conversation.
Put simply, being a cheerleader for agriculture can create distrust and be damaging to credibility. Cheerleaders don’t listen; they just keep cheering. That’s fine at a football game, but when it comes to agriculture, people can see through this one-sided championing and wonder what we’re hiding.

It Is Time to Move Beyond

I believe it is time to move beyond advocacy to ensure we are celebrating the strengths of our industry as well as listening, learning, and responding to the concerns of the public.

If I was asked that question again, I would say yes, I’m an advocate—but I want to be more than that.

I want to be a source of high quality, trustworthy information. I want to be positive while being able to see my industry with a critical eye. I want to be forward thinking, willing to adapt and change with the concerns and demands of the public without sacrificing best practices based on science. I want to be one of many informed participants in a conversation about food that is more than just a polarized argument.

by Kelsey Faivre 
(pic of sign from miller-mccune.jpg)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Painting My Passion

Note: This guest blog comes from Hannah Pagel, an Iowa State University sophomore majoring in agriculture and society. This year, Hannah also brings her farm background, her talents, and her enthusiasm to an internship at CAST, where she is a student administrative assistant.

Cow Paintings Portray Stories of Agriculture

This past year I have done a lot of painting, and in particular cow paintings. I started these works of art after my mom asked me to paint her a picture of a cow for a theme she was going with in her new kitchen. Since that request, I have painted more than 10 cow paintings. I thought my paintings could be used to share my stories of agriculture. And so with that, enjoy my paintings and a story of my life to go along with it.

The first cow painting I accomplished was the one my mom requested. It now hangs in our kitchen and fills the room with a splash of color. I decided to name the painting “Dolly,” because this cow painting reminded me of the first cow I showed at the county fair.

Now I’m not saying that my first cow was rainbow colored, but she had some features that reminded me of one—like her colorful personality. When I first showed Dolly I was in the 7th grade, and she wasn't a cow at this time either—she was a heifer, which is a female who has not given birth to a baby calf. After they have given birth to a calf they then become a cow.

You Can Learn a Lot from a Cow

Dolly was one of my favorite animals I ever showed; she was a black-bodied beauty with a white head, white tail, and four white socks from her ankles down. Every time I scratched behind her ears they would start to flap, kind of like Dumbo's ears when he would fly. I learned a lot from Dolly that year—how to provide her with new fresh feed and clean water, how to wash her and keep that black coat of hers shiny, and how to keep her comfortable in the hot July weather. There were times when Dolly had three fans directly on her to keep her cool.

All of these lessons are a part of showing cattle at county fairs and learning how to properly take care of an animal. That summer I learned the true meaning of hard work and the dedication it takes to raise an animal. I mean who wouldn't want to spend their summer in a smelly barn cleaning out dirty bedding and replacing it with fresh wood shavings on the daily? To me it was all part of the experience—catching my glimpse of what farmers and ranchers go through every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Being able to take part in this experience, I have been able to grow as an individual and I have learned life lessons—hard work, dedication, and compassion—all from caring for a cow.

The lessons I learned in the 7th grade have stuck with me today and have helped me develop a strong work ethic. Even though I may be too old to show now, I still have the memories and experiences sticking with me of those hot summers working with my cattle. I may have moved on to painting cows instead of showing cows, but if you can find a way to paint your passion then nothing can stop you from working to achieve your goals in life.

by Hannah Pagel, Iowa State University sophomore and student administrative assistant at CAST (pictured above with her dad and brother)