I love to travel, even if it does mean riding in a small Delta puddle jumper with a grumpy flight staff. A few weeks ago, I had the really awesome opportunity to travel to Arkansas and be a judge for the 2014 National Beef Ambassador contest. I was never a participant in the program, but have seen the extent of their activities at national trade shows and coverage of their consumer outreach at events across the country.
23 states were represented, including Tennessee and Montana which both had junior (high school) and senior (college) participants. Tennessee’s Rachael Wolters made the senior team! The juniors are able to return to the competition. Seniors only have one year of competition. I wrote up a piece from the Montana perspective on the MSGA blog.
What is a National Beef Ambassador?
National Beef Ambassadors are passionate youth advocates for the beef community. The individuals on the National Beef Ambassador Team are the official youth representatives of the American National CattleWomen, Inc. [ANCW] and the beef industry. Each year a team of five National Beef Ambassadors is selected during a national contest to travel the United States sharing the story of beef from pasture to plate with consumers and students.
What is the purpose of the National Beef Ambassador Program?
The purpose of the program is to provide American consumers and students with positive nutritional, economic, and environmental stewardship information related to beef consumption and the beef industry. Participants learn how to effectively address issues and misconceptions, accurately share industry practices, and promote the versatile uses of beef.
Not only was this a great opportunity to catch up, enjoy a few meals and drinks with awesome friends from across the country (like Dairy Carrie, the REAL Beefman, Brandi “Buzzard”, and Mal the Beef Gal), I awesome got to meet some new folks and watch some amazing youth who will be the future ambassadors of our beef community. Even if these kids never win the competition, they are receiving some great training on what it means to be an advocate and outspoken for a cause you believe in.
There were a few kids who relied heavily on the coined PR phrases and industry lingo, and a few that still have some polishing up to do on being able to convey their message to consumers, but overall, it was a great group of kids. The team was chosen on Saturday night after a long day of competition and hearty steak supper. For those who didn’t make the team, I say press on. You don’t have to have a title or be a part of an official team to make a difference.
The agriculture community needs more folks like these youth in training to step up and be advocates for our way of life.
Last week I had the opportunity to make a quick trip back to Arkansas to see family and friends. It was my first visit since Christmas and it seems like 5 days flew by entirely too fast. With every trip home growing farther apart these days, I always have a brief list of things that must be accomplished:
Visiting with immediate family and grandparents that live in town
Enjoy some good homemade meals
Spend time working with my dad around the farm and auction barn
This trip included every one of those aspects. My family, grandparents, and a few cousins came over to the house for a great meal where my dad grilled burgers and we had all the fixings. My parents made sure I had a few more fulfilling meals through the rest of the week as well.
I had the opportunity to go to work with my dad for a few days. Our cattle auction is on Tuesdays, so most of our work usually surrounds that to-do list. This usually includes hauling in cattle for farmers who are selling a calf crop or entire herd that week, along with feeding some of the stocker cows and calves we keep around.
For this visit, we had to make a trip to Northeast Arkansas to haul cattle for a farmer who was selling out his entire herd. A few years of drought, combined with high input costs, and appealing auction prices have made this sort of trip a common occurrence.
What made this hauling trip a little different was that we were headed to Goobertown. Most folks may think I’m pulling your leg, but no, really. There is a town just outside of Jonesboro called Goobertown. Travelers even make it a regular stop to pick up the infamous t-shirts.
What must-haves are on your list for every trip home?
I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas this week with lots of food, family, and friends! I traveled home to Arkansas to spend the week with family and ended up seeing a VERY White Christmas. We had about a foot of snow at the house and 6-8 inches of snow with quite a bit of sleet and ice on our farms.
A White Christmas is a pretty big deal here in Arkansas. To put it in perspective, this was only the 4th White Christmas for Little Rock since record keeping began in 1875 and the 8th snowiest month ever with 10.3″ of snow at the official recording site. We were actually under a Blizzard Warning – the 1st ever issued by the National Weather Service in Little Rock. We were pretty excited to see the white stuff start falling even though it cut our day at the grandparents’ house a little short.
I spent Wednesday helping my dad and brother feed cattle. We have several different farms across town so it takes a little while longer to feed everything. It takes even longer when we get one of the trucks stuck in the first pasture then have to push trees out of the way on the road in the holler to one of the pastures. But we made it home by the time the sun set and all of the cattle were fed.
Bandita Janeal Yancey is a mom and a meat scientist living in Arkansas. She spends her days attempting to keep up with students and research at the University of Arkansas. She spends her ‘free time’ attempting to keep up with her 4-year old daughter, Vallie. She tries to help other moms know more about meat in her blog Mom at the Meat Counter.
As most of you probably know, Ryan is working on a Master’s degree in Animal Reproduction. What many may not know, is that I knew Ryan when he was a freshman and sophomore in college. You think he’s skinny now, you should have seen him at 19. I found a few pictures of him from those days that I thought I’d share.
I work for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. I do research to help farmers, ranchers, and meat companies improve their products. What I LOVE to do is educate. I’ve been on a college campus since the fall of 1996. I like to tell people I’m a 16-year senior. I advise the Block and Bridle Club, which is the club for kids in Animal Science. That’s where I met Ryan. I love working with college kids, especially those in the Ag College.
Farm kids are a special bunch, and most of the time, when they move to a college town, they’ve moved to the most populated place they’ve ever lived. Manhattan, KS (population 50,000) is a bustling metropolis in their eyes.
Personally, I moved from my home town (pop. 1063) to a 12-story dorm at Texas Tech in Lubbock, TX. There were more kids on my FLOOR that there were in my graduating class in high school. Almost twice as many. There were more kids in the dorm than in my whole home town. I sat in seat 182 in Chemistry class, there were more kids in that class than in my whole high school. My senior year in high school, there were 2 people in my Calculus class and 3 in Physics. Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed those first few weeks of college. Most farm kids that go to college have been in my boots.
Luckily, most of us farm kids find each other in the College of Agriculture. Several of us knew each other through FFA and 4H in high school, we have similar interests and backgrounds, so it makes sense that we all stick together in college. Even on college campuses of 50,000 students, the Ag College is like a small town. Everyone knows one another.
Ryan and I were part of a special population of college kids who may have a very different college experience than the students across campus in the Business School or the College of Arts and Sciences.
We were the kids who got dirty looks from other kids in class on days we smelled like a cow, a sheep, a hog, or a horse. Sometimes you had to go straight to class from work or from an Animal Science lab.
We were the kids who had to explain to our professors that we needed to miss class for harvest, state fair, judging contests, or calving season.
We were the kids whose clubs had fundraisers like ham or pecan sales and activities like cattle shows, working at the State Fair, trail rides, or rodeos.
We were the kids who didn’t get cold on winter days because we wore our Carhart bibs and chore boots to class. (One of Ryan’s friends here at Arkansas had a bright pink pair.)
We were the kids whose class field trips included feed lots, slaughter houses, vet clinics, and dairies.
In class, we learned to shear sheep, handle newborn piglets, identify poisonous plants and the parts of the reproductive tract, make cows urinate, grade meat, and make sausage.
We were the kids who slept through class because we were up all night, not partying, but on all-night lamb watch for sheep production class. (Bottle lambs have been known to attend class, too).
We were the kids who passed the time between classes roping a dummy.
Our work-study jobs may have consisted of washing dishes in a lab one day, working cattle at the farm the next day, and baling hay on summer days.
We were the kids who got up at 5 am to feed before showering and getting dressed for class.
We were the kids who had to buy school supplies like knives for cutting meat, AI gloves for reaching in…places you wouldn’t want to reach without a glove, steel-toed boots, or hairnets.
We were the kids who had to show up to class with black eyes or missing teeth from a run-in with cow, sheep, or horse.
Some of us had to go home every weekend to help on the farm. Aging parents and family situations meant that extra hands were really needed. The needs of the farm came before extracurricular activities.
Don’t think we had it easy in class, either. Students in Animal Science are required to take the same Chemistry and Biology classes that Pre-med and Biology programs require. Think about it, students who study human anatomy and physiology are only required to understand one species, whereas those who study Animal Science are required to understand three or four species, even more for those headed to vet school.
Students in Agriculture Communications have to take classes in Marketing and Journalism. Some of our other Banditas have blogged about the diversity of US agriculture. Students in the College of Agriculture are not only required to know and understand that diversity, but they are also trained to improve on it and to communicate about it with non-ag folks.
Ryan has blogged about the importance of ag education. Ag kids understand that a heavy burden is placed on their shoulders. They are required to figure out how to feed a growing population with a shrinking set of resources and a shrinking public understanding of what they do. They continue to sign up for the task.
Some farm kids leave the farm for college and never go back. Our new football coach at Arkansas was raised on a hog farm! Go Hogs! Several become doctors or lawyers. I know farm kids that are legislators and lobbyists. Several go to work in the food industry. Other farm kids go to college and take the knowledge and skills they learned back home to improve their family farms.
Some farm kids end up in graduate school. Ryan and I both chose that route (that’s why I’m a 16-year senior). Graduate school in Animal Science is a whole new set of challenges. Graduate students are usually kids who have moved away from their college buddies and the comforts and familiarities of their home state. I went through Mexican food withdrawals when I moved to Kansas.
Graduate classes are great because they are more focused on your interests, but, with that focus, comes an intensity that you’ve never experienced before. The study skills and discipline that earned A’s and B’s in undergrad won’t even get passing grades in graduate school.
Then, there is the research. Research is the most exciting, challenging, frightening, and time-consuming part of graduate school. It can be lots of fun. Animal Science graduate students get to do all kinds of neat things. Ryan collects placentas (afterbirth) of cows to study. I knew of some students who had to milk pigs. My friend, Chris, dissected eyes from cattle. We had a student who collected dead bobcats and mountain lions to study for disease. There was the student that studied skunk intestines. My boss exercised sheep and calves on treadmills. My office often smells like pig poop because grad students are drying poop samples. I can imagine those are fun to collect.
Graduate students work insane hours for lousy pay and have to pay for classes, books, and supplies. They are usually far from home and loved ones. Grad students usually help teach classes and labs for undergraduates. They also tutor undergrads and, as they become more experienced, they serve as mentors for the younger grad students. Graduate students do a big portion of the work in university research. Most of the advances in Animal Science research can probably be attributed to some poor, bleary-eyed grad student who worked endless days and nights to get it done. Students just like Ryan.
I loved grad school. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything, but there is no amount of money that could convince me to do it again. Keep at it Ryan! It will all be worth it in the end.