#140Conf Detroit–A prime agvocacy opportunity!

A couple of days ago, some exciting news crossed my Twitter feed–#140conf is coming to Detroit! Now, I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, “What the heck is #140conf?” If that’s the case–great! This blog is all about explaining this great event, talking about how conferences like these create amazing opportunities for us to agvocate and how you can get involved. Without further ado–let’s jump in!

According to their website, the 140 Character Conference (aka #140conf, for those of you Twitterers familiar with hashtags) “provides a platform for the worldwide twitter community to: listen, connect, share and engage with each other, while collectively exploring the effects of the emerging real-time internet on business.” Since the #140conf events started, conferences have been held in New York City, London, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. The fact that Detroit gets to hold one of these great events is a real honor and a unique opportunity for those of us in the Midwest.

The #140conf event in Detroit will be held October 20th at The Fillmore Detroit. Registration, schedule and other information can be found on their website.

Now, why anyone in agriculture would want to go to #140conf when it doesn’t have anything to do with agriculture and might not even have any other agriculturalists in attendance? To find an answer to this seemingly difficult idea, I went and found some input from two farmers who had the opportunity to attend the 140 Conference in Los Angeles–Jeff Fowle and Ray Prock.

Jeff and Ray are a rancher and farmer in California and both are founding members of the AgChat Foundation. When I e-mailed the guys to ask them their thoughts on the conference, they both shared with me the same thought without any hesitation–it is all about the communities being built on the real-time web. Whether you are a mommy-blogger, entertainer or farmer, there is an opportunity for you to connect with people through social media and build a true community around conversations, passions and stories.

Jeff also shared with me that events like these are not only an opportunity for us to build our own farming community, but they’re a chance to connect communities that you wouldn’t have thought would be connected otherwise.

“It’s about connecting the people who produce the cattle and pigs to the families who share a hamburger or pork chop dinner. It’s about building relationships between the people who grow the corn and cotton to the citizens who put ethanol in their gas tanks and throw on a cotton t-shirt at the end of the day,” he shared. “Conferences like #140conf provide the forum to connect the producers of America’s food, fiber and fuel to the consumers of those things. Those type of communities are interrelated.”

And I couldn’t agree more. Jeff, Ray and I all encourage those tweeps in the Midwest to attend the 140 Character Conference on October 20th. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go due to a committment to the National FFA Convention, but I would love to hear from people who are able to attend. Another thing to think about: if you’re one of the first 250 college students to register, your registration is free! I know a lot of great college agvocates who could really benefit from an event like this–I know I could!

The #140conf in Detroit should be an awesome event and who knows? Maybe it will be just the opportunity you need to share your story. If you don’t tell it, who will?

Thanks to Jeff and Ray for chatting with me about the conference. To learn more about their experience, watch this video of Jeff and Ray at #140conf and check out this great blog that shares what happens when a farmer and a rapper walk into a bar…

You’re judging a what?!

Yeah, you heard right. I’m judging dairy cows! Well, not anymore exactly. Let me start at the beginning.

In animal agriculture, there are several different ‘judging’ events. You can do livestock, horse, meats, dairy and now even animal welfare judging. Except for the last one, all of these events are based on the historical need for farmers to be able to pick the best animals based on what they look like. You can tell which pigs will have the biggest loin eye, which horses will last the longest on the race circuit and which cows will milk the most based on their appearance (most of the time). This skill is still important when selecting animals, but it also makes a great competitive event. Those individuals who are better at telling the best animals from the worst animals win!

Members of the Michigan 4-H, ag tech and collegiate dairy judging teams evaluate a class of heifers--female dairy animals who have not had a calf yet--at Westendorp's farm in Nashville, Mich.

So, as I said earlier, my focus for the last five years or so has been on dairy judging. While I grew up as a livestock judge (I came from a pig farm!), I made the transition my freshman year at Michigan State thanks to the guidance of a great judging coach and teacher, Dr. Joe Domecq. He was willing to take a pig girl and turn her into a first-class dairy judge. Thanks to him, I can tell you all about this great event!

In dairy judging, competitors are given a class of four cows and they have to rank them best to worst. There is criteria to go by, known as the Dairy Unified Score Card. Different parts of the cow are awarded different numbers of points based on how important they are–the udder is worth 40 points, dairy strength is worth 25 points, feet and legs are worth 20 points and body capacity is worth 15 points. This second part of the contest requires competitors to justify why they placed the cows the way they did; these are called oral reasons. Oral reasons are the part of the contest that really teaches youth confidence, public speaking skills and how to defend a decision you make–all skills that are transferrable into the real world.

This year, I became dairy judging alumni. I had lots of highlights over my judging career–the best being a perfect score of 50 on my oral reasons last year at World Dairy Expo–but now I’ve switched roles so I can help the next group of teams. In Michigan, we train all of our teams for the national contests–the All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pa., World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisc. and the North American International Livestock Expo (NAILE) in Louisville, Ky.–together as one giant group. That includes three different 4-H teams, the MSU ag technology team and the MSU collegiate team. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to learn from each other.

I’m so glad that I got the chance to go through such a great judging program. I’ve made some awesome friends and have gotten to travel to some awesome places, including Europe, because of dairy judging. I’m glad that I can help by listening to oral reasons and working with younger judges so they can have the same great experience I had.


A juggling act

So, I’ll admit it. I may have been a little crazy when I created my schedule for this semester. I signed up for 15 credit hours. Yeah, okay, that’s not that many. But, that’s not all–oh no, that is not all. I also agreed to work nearly 40 hours a week, be president of one club and secretary of another, miss two full weeks of class for two different conventions, help out with the website of another convention, do homework, meet my #ACFC10 goal of two blogs per week and attempt–and this is a very big “attempt”–to have a social life. By the time December rolls around, I’ll probably be about ready to throw my hands up and ask whatever higher power is out there to save me from this insanity I created. But you know what?

I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I don’t know everything about what my future holds for me, but I do know a few:

  1. Whether I become an ag teacher or work somewhere in the agricultural communications field, life will be busy. Even before time for a marriage and a family rolls around, I know that FFA activities, SAE visits, travelling for work, conventions and conferences, committees and organizations that I’m a part of, grading papers and more will keep me on my toes. There is never a better time to learn how to handle all of that craziness than now. It won’t kill me and it will help me get more saavy at juggling a busy life.
  2. Someday, I’m going to have to pick one job. You mean people won’t pay you a living wage at each of three different jobs to only work part time at each? Yeah, it was news to me too. Just kidding. In any case, college is one of the only times where I can have a great job working in three different locations, learning really cool and different things at all. It’s also one of the only times where I can work at this many different places and they’re all totally cool and flexible about me taking time off to better myself through travel to a convention or because I need to catch up on my school work.
  3. The only way I’m going to be prepared to work in whatever career I choose is to get as much experience as I can. Clubs, conventions or work–all of them give me the chance to experience opportunities that may not be possible once I graduate.

There are very few industries that can make people as passionate about their life as agriculture. By taking advantage of every opportunity that passes my way (no matter how crazy it can be sometimes), I’m able to continue growing that passion through experiences, meeting people and learning continually.

And yes, for all of you who are worried, I am still making sure to get enough sleep and eat good meals. I’m also working in time to spend with my friends (even though it may be limited) and I’m thankful that club participation gives me a lot of chances to mingle with them. Today, I’m even cashing in the gift card my boyfriend got me for my birthday to go get a facial and a haircut.

After that, though, it’s back to the grind. 🙂

Getting our cowboy (or girl!) on!

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go watch my aunt and uncle at one of their competitive shooting competitions. They participate on the SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) circuit in cowboy action shooting. It’s a lot like the Old West. Everyone is dressed up in period clothing (or something close to it) and they have to shoot weapons that are originals or replicas of guns from that period. We’re talking stuff like the most famous pistol of all times–the Colt!

Some of my favorite people to watch were, of course, my aunt and uncle, as well as their friends Kendra and Steve. In SASS competition, though, everyone has their cowboy alias. My aunt and uncle are Short Fuse Ruby and Black Tom, while Kendra and Steve are KJ and Deuce. Deuce is one of my uncle’s best friends and is actually a world champion shooter. Check out some of the video below to see how fast he is (he’s known for being super fast at unloading the pistol really fast at a single target) and click to see Short Fuse Ruby, Black Tom and KJ shoot. You can also find an awesome video of Deuce shooting his world champion pistol run here.

One of my favorite part of going to the shoot was getting to see all the people my aunt and uncle talked about while I lived with them this summer. There was Chili Pepper Pete who wore this great Pecos Bill hat, Doc Molar (surprise–he’s a dentist!) and Doc’s two kids (who are both shooting in the ‘buckaroo’ age division right now). Everyone was a lot of fun to meet and watch. There are shooters of all ages from 10 or 11 all the way up to men and women in their 70s. It just goes to show how great it is to find something that you enjoy and meet people that enjoy the same things you do. Plus, it’s fun to shoot guns and dress up like a cowboy (or girl!)!

After the competition wrapped up, my sister, my boyfriend and I got to shoot some of the cowboy style weapons for fun. Katie and I had gotten the chance to shoot them before when visiting my aunt, but it was the first time shooting a competition-style weapon for Mitch (he usually just shoots his hunting stuff). It was really fun to try and get faster and faster, at the same time as working on your accuracy. It is definitely something I could see myself getting into and enjoying in the future. Check out some of the video below to see me taking a crack at it with the pistol and follow the links to see Mitch and Katie cowboy up!

Frustrations and Family–Learning as a Spartan

I’m not going to lie–sometimes being at a university can be a big headache. This can be especially true when you make it a point to be very involved in your program, college or the university as a whole. A college or university often works a lot like a governmental body. Deals get made in the shadows. Money can be focused on over people. Decisions are made with seemingly no logical reason. It’s true. It all happens.

However, then you realize that underneath all the–excuse me for my language–crap, there are amazing people who are doing important things for you and others. I’ve found this to be true at Michigan State and I’m sure others have found it in their own schools. A teacher who steps to the front of the classroom and proclaims they’re here because they love to teach. An advisor who spends time figuring out a problem for you, even though they don’t have to. A friend who will listen to you complain for hours about a class, just so you’ll listen when they have to take the same course. It’s true. It all happens.

I love to tell people that East Lansing is home for me. Agriculture has turned it into home.

Being a part of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is an interesting experience. Many of the students, faculty and administrators have known each other for years–even before they became Spartans. We work on the same projects, have the same interests and do a lot of the same things in our spare time. This can lead to some of the frustrations mentioned earlier. It also adds some new dynamics that people in the College of Education or Arts and Humanities don’t have to deal with. Because we are so strong and so similar in our passions, we often know each others’ business and delve into each others’ problems. It can be a lot like high school, if you think about it!

At the end of the day, though, beyond all these annoyances and frustrations, being a part of CANR means that I walked into a ready-made family in 2006 and that family continues to grow stronger every day. We like the same things, so we work hard together to make agriculture stronger. We have great conversations that everyone can understand and sympathize with. We have a support network when one or a group of us is targeted. It is truly a family atmosphere.

As I head into my last year at MSU, I think about all the frustrations I’ve felt and all the challenges I’ve dealt with. I also think about the wonderful friends I’ve made that will be a part of my life for many years to come. Agriculture makes both those frustrations and that family possible.

One hashtag, one community, one passion.

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…
-“For Good”, Wicked

I have been blessed to have many wonderful people in my life over the years. Through FFA, 4-H, NAMA and other groups, I’ve been surrounded by those who often share the same passions I do. It has been so wonderful to learn so much from them over the years.

This was no different when I became a part of the #agchat community. Over the past year, I have been so lucky to be a part of a group of people who are extremely passionate about agriculture and understand the value of sharing our agricultural stories through social media platforms. In my time with #agchat, I have met some of the most amazing farmers, ranchers, communicators and agribusinessmen (and women!) from coast-to-coast. They’ve had my back when we’ve run in to people who are against different parts of agriculture and they’ve made me laugh with only a 140-character post. The #agchat family has made me look differently at how we communicate and connect with people in a society growing ever-more dependent on technology.

This past Monday and Tuesday, I had the huge honor of being able to attend the first ever AgChat Foundation Agvocacy 2.0 Conference in Chicago. This was a first-of-its-kind event–a social media training conference for farmers by farmers. We had the opportunity to hear from Chris Chinn, a Missouri pork producer, on why it is important to tell your farm story, no matter what your size or production type–if you don’t tell it, who will? We learned about all sorts of tools of the trade in social media–Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging–you name it, we talked about it. The conference finished up with Michele Payn-Knoper. She moved the audience (yes, Michele, I saw more than one less-than-dry eye in the group, including mine!) with the story of how one small hashtag created a community which is changing how this country looks at food production and communication with farmers.

Above all the tips and tricks, though, the Agvocacy 2.0 conference gave me something far greater and more valuable: I was able to meet all the people I’ve been talking with online over the past year and, let me tell you, they are AMAZING. From Rebecca to Mark to Drew to Shaun, they have left a mark on me that won’t be erased. Here are a few that you might be interested in learning more about:

Jan Hoadley: Jan is a small farmer who has made it her mission to spread the word about the value of small, local farming. I always value Jan’s opinion, which I often get to see through the @SlowMoneyFarm handle on Twitter, because of her never-failing respect for everyone in agriculture and her constant willingness to explain to me what she does. Twitter | Blog | Facebook

Joanna Kohnen: Joanna is a self-proclaimed ‘mommy blogger’ (which, I will add, is my new favorite phrase!) who is looking for her place in agriculture. She grew up on a dairy in Ohio and her dad continues to milk cows and farm organically as a part of Organic Valley. I loved spending time with Joanna and can’t wait to see the future she plans out. Twitter

Janice Person: Janice loves cotton! She is a self-proclaimed city girl who is now working for Monsanto in the southeastern United States and is a member of the AgChat Foundation board. Her always-present enthusiasm and understanding that it matters not who you work for, what you grow or the size of your farm is inspiring to everyone who meets her. Twitter | Blog | Facebook

I can’t list everyone I met (and nobody wants to read a 50-person list of names!), but please know that I am truly grateful for the opportunity to meet each and every one of you. I can’t wait for the next time our #ACFC10 group gets to join together for some #agnerd and #agvodate love!

For a recap of the conference, please check out the AgChat Foundation website and watch this awesome video put together by the video genius that is Kelly Rivard (with some minor help from a couple of unruly Spartans and a Kansas farmer 🙂 )