NAMA-A great experience

When I first joined the Michigan State student chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) about two years ago, I don’t think I ever dreamed of where it would take me or the opportunities it would offer. During the spring of 2007, I took ABM 100 with the faculty advisor for NAMA and she tried to reel me into the club constantly. I finally gave in the next fall and, I have to admit, my membership has had an invaluable effect on my college experience.

Student NAMA is a sub-set of the professional NAMA organization. NAMA is made up of industry representatives in agricultural communications, marketing, sales, and public relations. As a part of the student group, each university/college has the chance to network with these individuals, attend the national NAMA marketing conference, and compete in a collegiate marketing plan competition. The latter is what takes up most of our time and is an amazing learning experience.

Last year, MSU NAMA marketed the Wrap Bandit–a tool to help dairy farmers remove hoof wraps from their cattle more quickly and safely. It was my first year on the presentation team (a group of 5-8 students that actually presents the club’s marketing plan to the judges) and I was very excited that we moved our product through to the semi-finals. This year, though, our goals were higher.

This year, we marketed Ally–an all natural bio-herbicide that is approved for use on organic farms (keep in mind, most all products are fictional but realistic). After months and months of hard work, MSU NAMA made through the preliminary round, onto semi-finals, and finally through to the finals. At the end of the conference, we were unbelievably excited and proud to have earned 3rd place out of 31 total teams. It is so amazing to have almost an entire school year of hard work pay off.

MSU NAMA was also fortunate to be recognized for some of our other accomplishments. As a chapter, we were in the top ten finalists for top chapter which is based on our annual report. Kayla Lehman earned a $1000 scholarship and I earned the Fergie Ferguson/Successful Farming Outstanding Student $4000 scholarship. It was truly a great year with a great organization.

Beyond the competition and the awards, however, NAMA has really opened my eyes to a great number of possibilities that lay within the realm of agricultural communications. While MSU has had a decreasing interest in keeping the program alive, by talking to professionals at this conference, visiting their booths at the trade show and learning about all the awards they’re winning, it’s plain to see that there’s a whole bunch of possibilities for me that I haven’t even taken into account yet. I’m so glad that I’ve become involved in NAMA, though, because I know that the experiences it offers will help me learn more about these and other opportunities that are out there.

An hour with Michael Pollan

I’m going to preface this post by saying that Michael Pollan throws me for a loop, no matter how much I learn about his ideas. I’m sure many people have experienced this, but it is very hard to listen to someone and agree with some things they say, but disagree very strongly with others. The most we can do is tell ourselves over and over again to listen as best we can, despite how hard that is.

There. I’ve said it. Now onto “the rest of the story”. (Gosh, I miss Paul Harvey!)

The seminar yesterday afternoon gave students the chance to ask Pollan questions about anything. It only lasted an hour, so only about 8-10 questions got asked. People questioned him on anything from hunger to genetics to urban farming. The audience was fairly diverse, with people from both agriculture and non-ag backgrounds.

In terms of Pollan’s answers, anyone who has read his books–or even skimmed them for that matter–probably didn’t hear anything new. We are producing too much of the worst foods for us. Farmers and consumers are being hurt by the system. Cheap food isn’t really cheap if you look at external costs. Same old, same old.

I will start out on the positive side. There are things that Pollan says that aren’t all bad. America has a huge number of health issues (heart disease, obesity, diabetes) that are related to diet. More food that is nutrient-rich and served in appropriate portions should be made available and affordable. The list continues.

On the flip side of that, Pollan and I will tend to disagree on several things, as well. I truly believe that the perpetuation of diet-related diseases has a strong correlation to personal choice. We have stopped holding individuals and parents responsible for the food that goes into ours and our childrens’ mouths because it is easier to blame bad food choices on food processors, producers and marketers. We have stopped hold individuals and parents responsible for their own and their childrens’ physical activity. If you make the unhealthy choice to sit on your duff and play video games, surf the web, etc. instead of going for a walk, then my pity for your weight gain and high cholesterol significantly decreases. There are plenty of Anericans who live a healthy lifestyle without attacking the food industry–they realize they have a choice and use it responsibly.

Other disagreements with Pollan circle more about his ideas of solutions to problems. While I agree with a lot of issues facing our society regarding diet, I disagree with how to solve them. One example that is salient in my mind is that Pollan recognized that water and access to water will become an increasing problem for agriculture in the Western states. While he gave no solution to this, he said that he opposed the development of drought-resistent crops because crops should be developed to meet the needs of, not one weather condition, but many. In my mind, drought-resistent crops are a great technology to sustain crop production–and I mean any crop, not just corn.

Of course, these are just my opinions. I’d love to hear yours! Feel free to leave any comments–I’m always interested to hear others’ viewpoints.

If you’re interested in seeing some other coverage of both Michael Pollan’s and rancher Trent Loos’s visits to Michigan State yesterday, make sure to read this story in the Lansing State Journal and this report from WILX-10.

Calling all Ag Ed and Ag Comm students/alumni!

I’ve been at Michigan State University for almost four years.  As a dual Agriculture and Natural Resources Communication and Agriscience Education major, I have been immersed in one of the most tumultuous programs within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).  About a year and a half before I came to MSU the ANRECS Department where Ag Comm and Ag Ed had previously been housed was merged with the Parks and Recreation and Environmental Studies and Applications majors to form the new CARRS–Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies–Department.  If you’re thinking, “Gosh, those majors don’t seem to go together!”–trust me, you are not the only one.  Since that merger, my two majors have continued to go through continuous changes. Neither of them exist anymore; instead they are two of four concentrations within the larger major of Environmental Studies and Agriscience.  Now, CANR is looking at facing another round of restructuring due to budgeting and it is looking like the CARRS Department could end up in who-knows-where land (there are even questions about whether Ag Ed will even remain housed in CANR).

Now, I’m not writing this blog to complain about the programs (believe me, I have done lots of that to no avail).  Instead, I would like to get feedback from students in these two majors who attend other universities.  Below I have posted a series of questions that interest me. Feel free to answer one of them, all of them, or just give your two cents on the subject.  I am just wondering if I am asking our department, college, and university to do things that are impossible.  Thank you all for your input and I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

  • Does your school offer majors in agricultural communications and agricultural education?
  • What are your majors titled?
  • Where are these majors housed?
  • How many faculty do you have that concentrate on these majors?
  • What are some of the courses you are required to take as a part of this major?
  • What has been your most memorable experience through your major?
  • Do you think your university adequately prepares you for jobs in ag ed or ag comm?