The Importance of Agriculture Education

I’m going to take this time to talk about the importance of agriculture education. When I say “agriculture education,” I don’t mean “study of agriculture” in a literal sense. My experiences with programs such as 4-H and FFA have cultivated me as an individual.

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I’m an advocate for organizations such as the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H. I was an active member and serving officer in both and I feel very loyal to each of them. These organizations taught me leadership skills, responsibility, diligence, and allowed me to build life-long friendships. I learned personal values along with learning the importance of agriculture. Every student should know where their food comes from. Even a small foundation of knowledge would be helpful.

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Of course, I learned much about the industry also, but my education about agriculture did not come solely from the classroom. In fact, quite the opposite. Through FFA, 4-H and interactive classes, I became an agriculture enthusiast. My passion for this industry stems from the education I received at a young age.

At my high school, we have a strong Agriculture Department. I had the best teachers who taught me nearly everything I know about the agriculture industry. The difference between an agriculture class and a regular class is the amount of time students get to spend outside of the classroom (or just away from their desk).

For example, in my Agricultural Biology class, we got to dissect a real calf heart. A few of my friends who were taking a regular biology class were reading about the circulatory system in a textbook. I got to experience the circulatory system.

Instead of learning about one digestive system, I got to learn about four: polygastric, monogastric, avian and equine.

I learned how to become a comfortable public speaker by having to present in each agriculture class I have ever taken.

I learned about each of the main commodities that the nation, state (California) and county (Humboldt) that I am from produces.

The things I learned from those classes were invaluable. I took various other agriculture classes throughout high school and college and can say one thing: I learned the most about life in those classes.

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Agriculture education should be a requirement in the public school system to give kids a little bit of background knowledge on the world’s largest and most important industry. The programs encourage individual growth and leadership in teens. Going to school isn’t just about learning what is in textbooks; it’s about finding yourself as an individual. I believe the agriculture program at my high school including FFA and 4-H helped me find myself, and believe that every student can benefit from an education in agriculture.

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https://www.ffa.org/about/whoweare/Pages/default.aspx

http://www.4-h.org/about/leadership/

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Inside the Farming Industry

Coming from somewhat of an agricultural background, I know a bit more about the industry than the average joe. My small bit of agricultural knowledge gives me a little bit of insight to what farmers go through to produce the food that we so easily take for granted.

Fun fact: produce doesn’t magically appear on Safeway’s shelfs.

For some reason, we as a society tend to doubt where our food comes from. Some of these doubts are warranted by the horror stories we see on the news and certain documentaries. Others are simply a result of no or little education.

I found an article on buzzfeed.com titled “10 Things Farmers Are Tired Of Hearing.” The article lists facts about the agriculture industry educating the average consumer a little bit about their view of the world. Of course, Buzzfeed adds humor as well. Here are the farming rumors that farmers are tired of hearing:

  1. Food at the grocery store isn’t safe.
  2. Organic is healthier than conventional produce.
  3. Conventional produce is saturated in pesticides.
  4. All farmers are evil corporations. What happened the family farmer?
  5. GMOs are the devil. The Voldemort of our world.
  6. Illegal farm labor is taking jobs away from Americans.
  7. Farmers care only about making a profit; nothing else.
  8. Farmers are uneducated country bumpkins.
  9. I searched ____ on the internet and read that…
  10. We’re tired of, for lack of a better word, your being mean.

I’m not going to get into every one of these topics. I think Buzzfeed did a pretty good job with that. I just want to touch on a couple items.

3.  Conventional produce is saturated in pesticides.

Americans are famous for wanting to have our cake and eat it too. We want to have organic produce but get grossed out when we find an earwig in our corn. Pesticides are used to keep those nasty bugs out of our fresh food. If we want bug-free produce, then we will have to accept the fact that pesticides will be used. It’s not a fun fact to face, but it’s reality.

4. All farmers are evil corporations. What happened to the family farmer?

Corporations like Monsanto and Foster Farms are all we hear about the agriculture on the news. We rarely hear about the large production family farm in Nebraska (or where ever). Here’s a couple of information nuggets:

  • Family owned farms account for over 96% of the crop-producing operations in the U.S.
  • These farms are responsible for generating 87% of all agricultural revenues.

Corporations may have questionable practices at times, but they definitely haven’t overtaken the industry. Family farms are alive and well.

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   8.  Farmers are uneducated country bumpkins.

Ok, this one is just wrong. There is a big difference between an uneducated hick and a farmer. Farmers are responsible for feeding the vast majority of the planet. Just because their field of knowledge differs from that of a metropolitan scholar does not mean they are stupid. They know what they are doing, and they deserve respect. The work they are doing is not easy.

This ad put together by Dodge says it best:

Sources:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/apipkin/10-things-farmers-are-tired-of-hearing-131ey

http://www.nifa.usda.gov/nea/ag_systems/in_focus/familyfarm_if_overview.html

http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/demographics.html

http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/corporate-farms/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMpZ0TGjbWE

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Top 5 tips to create a killer infographic

Infographics are a great way to communicate statistics and make a solid argument using numbers without making your readers’ eyes glaze over. They use design elements to better communicate with an audience. Although some infographics seem rather simple, there is quite a bit of planning and strategy that goes into design. Here are my top 5 tips for creating an effective infographic:

  1. Balance- Your infographic should be well balanced with text and images. For example, you shouldn’t put all images on one side of the page and all your text on the other. It creates an imbalance and just frustrates your reader.
  2. Emphasis- You should pick one main image or point of interest to highlight. This immediately attracts your reader’s eye and lures them in to the rest of the infographic.
  3. Simplicity- So many infographics out there are just jam-packed with confusing elements that lose our interest. The key to a killer infographic is simplicity. Don’t pack every possible fact you can find about an issue into one graphic. Pick the major ones to effectively communicate your message. This includes the use of white space. Leave some breathing room for the eyes.
  4. Contrast- Choose fonts that compliment each other. Most serif and sans serif fonts pair nicely since they contrast each other. This is pleasing to the eye and adds a nice element to the infographic.
  5. Grid- Divide your page into 2, 3, 4, or 6 segments vertically. This will compartmentalize your infographic. Organization is tightly connected with simplicity. Check out http://www.thegreatamericangrid.com/infographics for more information on the grid.

Here is an example my own work:

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GMO Labelling

The labeling of genetically modified foods has been a topic of debate for many years. In Oregon, Measure 92 was not passed in the recent midterm election. This means GMO foods are not required to be labelled as such. In Lane County, however, the measure passed. What this means for Lane County, I’m not quite sure.

In an article from the Register Guard, it was said that Measure 92 was the most expensive measure in Oregon history. Supporters of 92 raised over $8 million, while critics such as Monsanto, General Mills and Kraft Foods raised over $20 million.

Before going too deep into this issue, we should understand a few things about GMOs. Corn is the most common genetically modified food, so I’ll use it as an example.

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Scientists extract ideal genes from one variety of corn and combine them with other ideal genes from other varieties, eventually creating a new breed. It’s like taking desired features from different people and combining them to create the most ideal person ever. It doesn’t necessarily mean that chemicals are used in the production process, although GMOs have made it possible for farmers to use pesticides more without damaging the crop.

I’m not for or against this issue, but it exists and people should be educated on it.

Yes, people should have the right to know what exactly they are eating. Yes, GMO is frowned upon. I don’t believe it is healthy for us to ingest genetically modified foods long term.

However, I see the other side to the story as well. It is nearly impossible to find a single kernel of corn in the U.S. that has not been genetically modified. Even the seeds that farmers plant have been modified. The world’s largest seed producer, Monsanto, uses genetic modification.

What the public should understand is that if it became mandatory to label all GMOs, cost of production would increase for food manufacturers. This would ultimately result in an increase in food prices. People that can afford these increased food prices can probably already afford to buy foods voluntarily labeled as GMO-free.

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From a PR point of view, I would like to see food giants such as General Mills and PepsiCo own up to their lack of support for the mandatory labeling of GMOs and explain their reasoning behind it. The reasoning they give should be consumer-related rather than company-related. For example, explain how the consumers would be affected instead of the company.

Like I said before, I am not an advocate for or against the labeling of GMOs. It’s just a reality in our country. I am, however, an advocate for eating local. Local foods are the best of all worlds for these reasons:

  • They are typically GMO-free
  • They are usually organic or all-natural (no harmful chemicals used)
  • They are available in the natural season of the crop
  • They taste so much better
  • They are often cheaper than the grocery store
  • You are supporting your local farmers and community members

Eat local to avert GMOs and support your local economy.

     farmersmkt   farmersmkt2

For more information on Measure 92 and the pros and cons of GMOs:

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09371.html

http://registerguard.com/rg/news/local/32378743-75/voters-defeating-gmo-labelling.html.csp

*Photos courtesy of: myinwood.net, hugsandkeepsakes.blogspot.com, anneberryhill.com and magmire.net

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Pot Legalization = Capitalization?

The 2014 Midterm Election happened yesterday, November 4. On the ballot was whether or not to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. It passed.

I am personally not a user of recreational or medical pot, but I can see pros and cons for the state legalizing it. From a public relations standpoint, however, it’s hard for me to find a concrete stance to have on this issue.

On one hand, the state government is able to tax it now, creating a source of revenue. The state will also be able to regulate the drug to a certain degree, possibly creating a safer experience for users.

In fact, cigarette companies have started purchasing land in areas that they foresee pot being legalized so they can capitalize on the change in policy. I know this is happening in Northern California, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was happening in parts of Oregon as well.

If I worked for one of these cigarette companies as a PR executive, I would inform the public of what the legalization of recreational pot in Oregon means for their company. It’s hard to say what the positive influences on the community would be in this case, but somehow the companies need to create a positive image around the idea instead of a negative one. Perhaps they can use words like “organic” or “natural” to describe pot as opposed to the ones that describe cigarettes such as “chemical” and “addictive.”

There are certain regulations that prohibit cigarette companies from advertising and other public activities, so this case is a toughie. There must be some way that the companies can create a positive image, otherwise they would not be purchasing land before laws are even passed.

On the other hand, I firmly believe that the marijuana black market will not disappear with pot being legal. People will still deal the drug no matte what. The industry isn’t going away any time soon.

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*Photo courtesy of cnn.com

For more information: http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/recreational_marijuana_passes.html

http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/04/politics/marijuana-2014/index.html

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Wine Time

As a true lover of wine, I am excited to talk about new happenings in the industry. I have recently been hired at Oregon Wine Sales as a sales representative, so doing a little bit of research on the industry has been fun for me and useful for my job.

Sineann wine aging in casks

I’m from California, so I’m used to drinking California wines. After moving to Eugene, however, my eyes were opened up to a whole other wine world. The Oregon wine industry is very different from that of California. One huge difference between the two places is weather. Oregonians are well aware that it rains. A lot. Napa Valley doesn’t get near as much rain as Oregon does, but the temperature climate sets it apart from any other place in the world. Grapes thrive in warm temperatures during the day, but they like cooler temperatures in the evenings. Oregon’s weather pattern can be similar to this; plus we get a crazy amount of rain! Wineries from California and even France are taking note of the Willamette Valley’s exceptional grape-growing abilities; some are even buying land to start growing grapes of their own.

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From a PR standpoint, I think that Californian and French wineries should make a point to communicate the new land purchases in Oregon and use it as a marketing strategy. Once they introduce the Oregonian wines to their product list, write up an article announcing the additions and be sure to point out what makes them so special. Describe the wines so that consumers understand flavor differences and can correlate what makes these Oregonian wines so special. I’ve learned that wine enthusiasts love to hear about the background of the wines they drink. It’s like telling a story with a very happy ending: delicious wine!

For the Oregon side of things, I would communicate with the public the new purchases of land by Californian and French wineries and explain how our economy will be affected. Basically, the economy should be boosted by these purchases. The Californian and French wineries that are buying land are big-named brands. The integration of big-named brands into the smaller winery market that currently exists will most likely increase tourism in Oregon. If people recognize a few brand names, they are more likely to travel to check out the new plots and visit a few smaller name wineries as well.

The Willamette Valley offers opportunity to grow exceptional wines and people from all over the world are starting to take notice. For more information on Oregon wine industry news, check out: http://newsroom.oregonwine.org

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*Photos courtesy of Sweet Cheeks Winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards and oregonwine.org

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Monsanto: Corporate Social Responsibility

What is corporate social responsibility? When I think of CSR, I immediately think of companies like TOMS. For every pair of shoes sold, TOMS donates a pair to children in need. This idea is five things: creative, active, consistent, globally impactful and tangible. TOMS has done a great job implementing CSR into its business model; however, some companies need a little bit more help in that department.

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Take Monsanto, for example. Monsanto is one of the world’s leading agriculture companies, possessing over 400 facilities in 66 different countries. Monsanto employs just over 21,000 people worldwide. While it is a hugely successful company, Monsanto’s name has been tainted by less-than-ethical business practices. Part of Monsanto’s damaged reputation is because its non-existent corporate social responsibility tactic. “Sustainability” is used by Monsanto president, Hugh Grant, as the company’s corporate social responsibility. What is lacking here is action. Monsanto should look at the core pillars of TOMS’ CSR plan. Creativity, consistency, global impact and tangibility all contribute in making a company socially responsible.

In order to be viewed as a socially responsible company, Monsanto should consider implementing a plan to better the community creatively. Since Monsanto is such giant agricultural corporation, its corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan should better the planet agriculturally; this just makes sense. Not to mention the fact that one of the things going against its reputation is the damage Monsanto is inflicting on the environment with its production practices. Using resources in a creative way will help Monsanto stand out as a socially responsible company, ultimately improving its reputation.

If I represented Monsanto, the first thing I would do is propose a CSR plan to kickstart a reputation makeover. Monsanto has so many resources immediately available to it that could potentially benefit the entire planet. I think that it should take advantage of these resources to attack a worldly conflict; specifically, a conflict that it contributes to, e.g. deteriorating rain forests. A plan of attack that Monsanto could implement in this case could be “Preserve the Amazon Rain Forests.” In this case, the company would dedicate a certain amount of funds to put toward preservation of the Amazon rain forests. This plan would make a global impact and start shining Monsanto’s name in a new light. For a CSR plan this broad, specific mini-plans are crucial to actually show growth in the program. This campaign would be a great way to spearhead CSR for Monsanto, but in order to be a truly socially responsible company, a “one-and-done” kind of CSR plan shouldn’t be the only action taken.

Consistency is key here. For example, TOMS didn’t just donate a million pairs of shoes and call it quits. They continue to donate shoes every time someone purchases a pair. Monsanto should be consistent with its efforts to improve the well being of the community as a whole. Perhaps Monsanto could involve several of its brands in mirroring TOMS’ idea of donating based on sales. For example, for every number of seeds sold, Monsanto could donate a corresponding amount of seeds to starving communities in third world countries. Seed packages will vary in corn, wheat, soybean and sugar cane. This will help attack the world hunger epidemic and is tangible (meaning we can directly see results). Along with the seeds, a team of Monsanto employees or volunteers will not only deliver the seeds to individual communities, but they will plant them. A plan like this would be sustainable and could potentially make a global impact.

For more information on corporate social responsibility, check out TOMS’ website at: http://www.toms.com/one-for-one-en

*Images courtesy of toms.com

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