Tag Archives: Education

Cheerleading for Team Agriculture!


Did you think the Banditas were gone? Hardly! We will be popping in here and there to keep you all entertained so be sure to be on the lookout for us! 

Jennifer ElwellBandita Jennifer Elwell lives near Louisville, Kentucky and is the mom of two. She enjoys her horses, finding creative ways to encourage her kids to eat healthfully, and singing in the church choir (that’s a new found love). She has been the Director of Communications for the Kentucky Corn Growers Associations and Kentucky Small Grain Growers Associations since 1998, while providing graphic design and web services to several national and state associations. She is involved in CommonGround , a national program that works to connect women from both sides of the farm gate, and other state farm advocacy programs. Her latest projects include the Kentucky Farms Feed Me  virtual field trip and education program for teachers and a new blog that showcases Kentucky food and farmers, Kentucky Food and Farm Files

I remember really wanting to be a cheerleader when I was a little girl. I remember envying my friends who took tumbling classes and cheered for the local youth sports teams. And it always seemed as if those girls were the most popular. Unfortunately my parents did not have the money for such extra-curricular activities, and I convinced myself that I was too big, too clumsy, and not popular enough. But look at me now. Who would have thought that I would become a cheerleader in my late 30s?

How I got to this point in my life is a long story, but it started with my mother’s love of horses. Horse-crazy lady marries farm boy who shares her love. I grow up on a small farm with lots of horses, and I became Miss Kentucky 4-H Horse Program (that’s not a real title, but if it were, I was “it” in my teens). I’d like to admit that I dreamed of working with horses, but I did not. I was a natural science nerd (still am), and I was convinced I would become a research geneticist. After a series of events not worth mentioning here, I ended up at my land-grant university, the University of Kentucky, studying farm animals. I was thrilled to be one of the many scholarship recipients, which in part was due to my involvement in the 4-H program. I hate to sound like I settled because of a financial situation, but I now know this was my path. (Lesson 1: Money is available for those studying agriculture.)

I soon figured out that I craved a creative outlet, so I weaved journalism and public relations into my studies. I sought out every opportunity that would help me land the career of my dreams. (Lesson 2: Make your opportunities).

So I graduate, my mother bribes me to refuse a job away from home by buying me a horse, and I shortly-there-after land the job I have to this very day, working for farmers. (Lesson 3: Listen to your mother.)

Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.
Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.

Over the years I have learned quite a lot: what it takes to grow crops, the struggles farmers face, etc. I talk with the farmers I serve on regular basis. I feel that I have the inside story, which is most often quite contrary to many of the messages dispersed by non-farming intellectuals and sensationalism-loving media. I wonder if I can even compete against the anti-ag rhetoric. After a year or so of wondering what I can do, I suck it up and start blogging. My first post on “Food, Mommy!” was “Why I Choose to Eat Meat.” I expected to get some feedback from those who do not agree with me, but the positive comments far outweighed the negative. (Lesson 4: Don’t be a wuss.)

Now I’m smack dab in the middle of the social media age. My efforts have connected me to farmers, food processors, and agri-business folks like myself from all over America. I continue to learn from them. I have posted about not wanting to buy organic, but I now talk with organic farmers, and I can feel good about what they are doing as well. (Just don’t try to sell me one by stomping on the other!) I continue to educate myself about farming and food technology. I see changes that are being made, not only to meet consumer demands, but what research has shown to produce nutritious, safe food with less impact on our environment. The system is naturally moving in that direction. (Lesson 5: Never stop learning. Never stop moving forward.)

So now I see myself as the CHEERLEADER I have always wanted to be, and my version is a heck of a lot better than being tossed in the air with a skimpy skirt on. And I have learned that being an effective cheerleader for the farming world has nothing to do with how loud you can yell, but how willing you are to listen and have a candid conversation. (Lesson 6: Not everyone has the same perspective as you, so be willing to open your ears before running your mouth.)

The point of this tale is not to showcase what I have done, but encourage others to join the team. We need you! The best part of my journey is that I am just one cheerleader of many, and we come from all walks of life. We are rallying together to make sure the story of American agriculture is being shared in as many places as possible. We are not BIG AG. We are people that appreciate having access to healthy, affordable food. (Last Lesson: Be Agriculture Proud!)

Kids of the Ag college.

The AgChat Banditas have taken over!
The AgChat Banditas have taken over!

Janeal, Meat Counter MomBandita 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.

Ryan Goodman

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.

Here we are at a cattle show hosted by the Block and Bridle Club. Ryan is 5th from the left. I’m on the far right.
Here we are at a cattle show hosted by the Block and Bridle Club. Ryan is 5th from the left. I’m on the far right.

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.

That’s Ryan in the blue shirt on the top row. I’m not sure what he’s doing.
That’s Ryan in the blue shirt on the top row. I’m not sure what he’s doing.

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.
This is a roping dummy some of our students made this semester. Yes, it’s made from a bicycle handle.
This is a roping dummy some of our students made this semester. Yes, it’s made from a bicycle handle.
  • 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.

Students showing lambs in a club competition
Students showing lambs in a club competition

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.

Kids on a field trip to a wool processor. They made yarn, blankets, and sweaters.
Kids on a field trip to a wool processor. They made yarn, blankets, and sweaters.

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.

A club activity, Ag Olympics. Students compete in Ag related events.
A club activity, Ag Olympics. Students compete in Ag related events.

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.

A student in lab learning to make sausage.
A student in lab learning to make sausage.

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.

On a field trip to a Tyson meat plant. That’s me on the far right.
On a field trip to a Tyson meat plant. That’s me on the far right.
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AgProud: Kentucky Farm Mom Wanda Quiggins

Ask someone involved in farming and agriculture what is most important to them. Likely, most of those responses will include family. Wanda Quiggins, 4th generation beef and tobacco farm mom, takes a moment to share why she is proud to be a part of Agriculture and why youth involvement and agriculture education is so important. Be sure to check out the rest of my series asking others why they are AgProud.

My husband Tim and I are like so many people in our area, we farm and both work at full-time jobs. Tim is a high school agriculture teacher, and I am manager of a regional campus college bookstore. We both spent our childhoods on the farm, growing tobacco and raising beef cattle, and also leading a few into the show ring as 4-H and FFA members. For almost 25 years we have been raising Chianina influenced cattle on our farm Quiggins Chiangus, and selling bulls and replacement heifers. We have also spent much of that time involved in youth agriculture activities, educating and encouraging youth to be involved in the industry.

Our children, Ashley and Blake, are involved in 4-H and FFA as well as junior breed associations and Kentucky Jr. Cattleman’s Association. Ashley is now in grad school at Texas Tech, and our youngest will be entering high school in the fall. They are both very involved in agriculture, primarily the livestock industry, and have been very active exhibiting livestock on the regional, state, and national levels. As a family we feel the show ring, fairs, youth activities are avenues to educate the public about livestock production and keep youth involved in agriculture. The Kentucky State Fair attracts thousands of non-agricultural visitors and we spend much of our time in the cattle aisle answering questions about animal agriculture.

I’ve heard many people say that farming is not a lifestyle, it’s a business, and I agree with that, however, I believe you must be passionate about the industry and the lifestyle to make it through the many hardships that you encounter. I believe it is important to constantly educate everyone around us about the industry because even though we live in a rural community, few residents are farmers, and in our local elementary school of 200, there’s probably less than 15 kids actively involved with a family farm.

To further educate our youth and promote the industry, we are about to open Burley Fields Livestock Center on our farm near Horse Cave, Kentucky. This facility will be available for production sales for all species, and a venue for youth and open shows, and educational clinics and conferences. We feel it is important to have a modern, regional facility to promote agriculture and livestock production for both youth and adults.

As a 4th generation beef producer, I am agriculture proud to be a very small part of this industry as a family operation working to promote the industry, educate, and inform.

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Be sure to find Wanda on Facebook, Twitter, Her personal blog, and farm blog.

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AgProud: Illinois Agriculture Education

It’s National Teach Ag Day, and here’s my second Agriculture Educator sharing why she is Agriculture Proud. Kathy Novotney is an Illinois educator. Have you thanked and Ag teacher today? This is part of my month-long series highlighting the diversity of Agriculture. Are YOU Agriculture Proud?

Growing with two parents as teachers, high school math and middle school Physical Education, its very difficult for most to understand why I chose to become and agriculture educator. My path to this career is simple to me. I always loved being outdoors, working in the garden, and learning something new everyday that could actually be applied to my life. Naturally, when high school started, and I was signing up for classes, God stepped in and had my high school agriculture teacher, FFA Advisor (and now long time friend) as my mentor to set up classes. My father was completely bewildered that I’d ever want to learn about “farming and cows,” but I had a genuine interest. I can honestly say that was one of the most pivotal moments of my life, choosing to be in agriculture and joining the FFA.

From that moment, I knew my future was somewhere in agriculture, where exactly I wasn’t sure. My entire high school career led me down several agricultural career paths, from agricultural communications, production agriculture, and especially horticulture. As a senior in high school I chose the University of Illinois to further my education, selecting agricultural communications as my concentration. Little did I know what was in store for me, and through several agricultural communications internships and jobs, I found that my future didn’t seem to fit. I decided to switch my major to what I felt I was truly missing- working with FFA members and youth in agriculture. Agriculture education was the concentration I chose and graduated with, focusing on Teacher Certification. It was not until I student taught at an amazing agriculture education program in south Central Illinois, that I truly knew I wanted to be an agriculture teacher. Two weeks in, I was certain this was the career for me.

Yes, I often have struggles, managing all the different activities of an FFA Chapter and teaching 6 different agriculture classes each day, but I often find the variety and the time commitment very rewarding. A perfect example being earlier this week in my Orientation to Agriculture class, full of mainly freshmen and sophomore students. One of my freshmen girls raised her hand and said her mom had told her the day before that best beef comes from a 4-5 year old cow. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would not want to eat that meat. The student laughed as she was telling me and said, “Miss Novotney, can you please call my mom and tell her what you have been teaching us in the Beef Unit because she doesn’t believe me?!” I laughed and told her she did the right thing, but also showed her some resources she could show her mom to help her become a more educated consumer.

As an agriculture teacher, and as a person, my general hope is to spread some basic knowledge of agriculture to the public, in hopes that they will become more educated consumers. I don’t want anyone to become a master in meat judging, but if they take that upon themselves as a goal, I will certainly aid in the process. My hope is that we will have more people understanding why they are paying more for organically versus naturally versus conventionally produced products. I don’t want people to purchase any certain type of food, but rather, be informed about those choices they are making.

I am proud to be apart of those who educate others about agriculture!

Kathy Novotney can be found in Illinois and online at her blog and on Twitter.