The United States of Agriculture.


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

Kelly Rivard

Today’s Bandita is Kelly Rivard. Kelly is a country girl living in downtown Kansas City, where she works a day job in agricultural communications. When she isn’t at the office, she’s visiting farms and ranches, learning how to cook healthy for one, or trying to play the ukulele. Her adventures in agriculture and urban living can be found at KellyMRivard.com.

Agriculture is everywhere. It’s on every continent except for Antarctica, it’s in every nation, and its products can be found in just about every fridge and pantry in the U.S. My favorite thing about American agriculture is the diversity; and while our one nation produces countless agricultural products, each state kind of has an agricultural personality of its own.

In the last two years, I have lived in four-and-a-half different states (I consider Kansas a half-lived-in — I’ll explain later.). I spent time in my native Illinois. I had a month-long stint in Wisconsin. I made the long trek from my Midwestern hometown to Sacramento, California, where I temporarily took root for three months. Nine months and one college graduation after that pilgrimage, I found myself with all of my belongings loaded in my car and my brother’s trailer on the way to my new home in Kansas City, Missouri.

What have I learned in all of this travel? Well, every trip or relocation has had something to do with my career in agriculture. And every trip gave me the opportunity to love each state’s unique agricultural personality.

In my booming hometown of Momence, Illinois, I ran for the coveted title of Gladiolus Queen. It’s a part of the Gladiolus Festival, which pays homage to Illinois’ rich history in the cut flower industry. I’ve ridden floats in the St. Anne Pumpkin Festival, which celebrates the fact that Illinois the #1 producer of pumpkins that are “processed,” or used in canned pumpkin or pumpkin pie filling and the such. It also boasts a strong grain industry and is a top producer of pork!

During my stay in Wisconsin, I had the joy of learning the ins and outs of the dairy industry as I’d never experienced it before. I learned about cheese, and cattle health, and the unique challenges that dairy producers face in day-to-day life. I also learned some about beer’s role in U.S. agriculture. (Fact: it’s bigger than most people realize!)

California opened my eyes, truly. Whenever people ask me about California agriculture, I respond by saying, “If it grows, it grows in California.” Having never lived anywhere but the Midwest, I found great joy in being surrounded by orchards of citrus, nut, and stone fruit trees. My corn-fed Illinois native self had a field-day, seeing irrigated fields that allowed farmers to grow corn most of the year. (I’d never seen a field of six-foot-tall corn next to a field of two-foot-tall corn. It was mesmerizing.) Dairy farmers in several parts of the state taught me about the diversity within the dairy industry; what works in Wisconsin may not work in California. I learned about rice production, and the mutually beneficial balance between California’s vast agricultural acreage and its many species of native wildlife. And to make matters more interesting, I had the pleasure of driving through seven states to get to and from California along I-80 – it was an added bonus to an already “agtastic” adventure, to see livestock and crops all along the U.S. countryside.

And now, I’m here, in the place where Kansas and Missouri meet. I spend most work days in a downtown office surrounded by highrises, but I also spend each day immersed in agriculture. Kansas houses some feedyards which play a vital role in maintaining the livelihood of many small family farmers across the U.S., and help keep the beef industry both ethical and efficient. And Missouri is home to over 100,000 family farms which produce beef, pork, corn, soybeans, wheat, turkeys, cotton, rice, sorghum, and more. And Kansas City? It has a deeply rich agricultural history, being one of the “Cow Towns” that helped build the American west.

See what I mean about different state personalities? Maybe this is my inner ag nerd coming out. (I own it, if that’s the case.) But, agricultural diversity is amazing. And I am proud to say that I’ve gotten to enjoy it. I’m proud that I get to spend time sharing these stories with people. And I’m thankful beyond words that this diversity exists.

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11 Comments

  1. Kelly, I’m thankful for the diversity, too. I don’t think people realize there are farms in every state of the Union. If Americans really want to know what happens on a farm or where our food comes from, chances are they can visit a farm and meet a real, live farmer not far from where they live!

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    1. Agreed! I’m actually pleasantly surprised at how many farms are within 10 or 20 minutes of downtown Kansas City — I thought living downtown would isolate me from the rural world. Instead, I’m going to be part of one of the most active Farm Bureau chapters in the state! It’s just a matter of taking initiative to find the folks to talk to, and even before that acknowledging that they’re nearby in the first place.

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  2. Kelly very interesting life you have so far! Just thought I would add a suggestion from a former Californian. If you want to see a lot more of the Ag industry in California I would suggest two things: 1. Drive from Sacramento to Bakersfield on Ca99 and then back on I-5.
    2. Go north from Sacramento to Redding. (While at Redding go north to Lake Shasta! Very beautiful!).
    I promise you will see more varied forms of Agriculture then in any other state! (I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve managed to get to all 50)
    Good luck!

    Dave

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