By Anna Leigh Peek
Just the other day I saw a quote on a T-shirt that read: “Agriculture, it’s not important until it is time to eat.” This quote couldn’t be more accurate; however, a lot of consumers in present-day America do not think about where their food comes from when it is time to sit down and eat. My role with the National Collegiate Agriculture Ambassadors program over the past year has allowed me to challenge more than 2,000 people to think twice about how their food gets to their tables. The agriculture ambassador program is comprised of 20 college students from across the United States, and we are committed to serving as educators and advocates for agriculture.
Last year’s ambassador team spoke to approximately 19,000 people of different ages and backgrounds. Typically we try to speak to audiences that have little knowledge in or exposure to agriculture. These groups include Kiwanis, Civitans, Lions, Rotary and other civic organizations. People involved in these organizations tend to make most of the purchases in their households; therefore, these groups typically want to hear about how their food is grown and the economics behind it. Civic groups also like to learn about issues facing agriculture; this is one of my favorite presentations to give because it allows me to debunk some myths or misconceptions. Topics such as composition of the farm bill, food production methods, animal welfare, food safety and pesticide use are common areas discussed.
School groups -- whether in college, high school or elementary -- are also important audiences we reach out to each year. It is during this time that students are forming their opinions and views of the world. By teaching about agriculture, especially to the younger students, we want them to not only learn but to share what they have learned with a parent, sibling or friend. The last main group we reach out to are agricultural-based organizations. Just because we are involved in one part of agriculture does not necessarily mean we know about other areas outside our knowledge. Interestingly enough, oftentimes agriculture groups are just as misinformed as non-agriculture audiences. In agriculture we often become complacent with how things are going and get defensive when someone attacks us or our industry. We cannot wait until someone attacks us to tell outsiders what we do. With anti-agriculture groups using media to spread false information about our industry, it is now more important than ever that farmers and ranchers tell their stories.
I have always had a love and passion for agriculture, but the ambassador program has allowed me to share my knowledge and experiences with people who I would not normally have talked with. The program has also provided me with more knowledge, tools and skills to properly speak to audiences of any age and background. I feel confident in speaking to audiences of any size and on a variety of agriculture topics. I used to worry about the questions that I might be asked or the fact that I am young and people would not want to listen to me. Through this program I have been able to overcome any apprehension I have had about talking to people about agriculture, and it has strengthened my ability to help consumers see their link to the farm. I firmly believe this is one of the most valuable and effective programs that FFA sponsors. After all, FFA was founded on agricultural education, and that is exactly what the agriculture ambassador program is all about--educating people about agriculture.
Anna Leigh Peek is a junior agricultural communications major at Auburn University in Alabama. She is serving in her second year as an agriculture ambassador and recently served as a collegiate staff member during the 85th National FFA Convention & Expo.