In my own words: The National Collegiate Agriculture Ambassadors program

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By Brandon Smith

As I sat at home reading my newsfeed, I came across a video explaining how important agriculture will be in the year 2050 and just how much food we will need to produce. I was so moved by this video that I brought it to the attention of one of my classes. After class, a young woman came up to me and said, “I had no idea how important agriculture is.” She then proceeded to follow up with questions and comments on what her perspective of agriculture was. That is my favorite part about being a National Collegiate Agriculture Ambassador.

As an agriculture ambassador, I have been able to challenge more than 1,000 people to think carefully about just how much work goes into their food. The program consists of 20 college-age students from all over—from Oregon to North Carolina. Each one of us is enthusiastic, driven to succeed and love to spread the word about agriculture. My own experiences with this group have been nothing short of phenomenal. While working through these experiences, we all have the opportunity to meet professionals in different fields of agriculture. I have met the president of Syngenta and have been asked to do a summer internship with them to broaden my agricultural experience.

All these wonderful opportunities have come my way because of the agriculture ambassador program. I found out about this program from one of my advisors at the University of Illinois. Shockingly, he told me that no one at the U of I had ever signed up to be in the program. I was the first. It was hard work, filling out the application and doing the interview, but I knew that it would pay off in the end.

Recently our group returned from winter training in Jacksonville, Fla. Not a bad way to spend your winter break. We went to CSX, of which I only knew to be a train company. After a few days meeting with the staff and attending a Trains 101 class, I now have a better respect and understanding of the hard work that goes into moving produce and commodities from point A to point B. Seeing as I also come from a sea of corn and soybeans in central Illinois, I was interested to hear about pork production from Pork Checkoff. It was one of the most interesting and foreign topics to me that week. Not to mention the helpful conversation we had with the couple from Advocates for Agriculture.

As an agriculture ambassador, I am required to teach at least 30 hours of prepared lessons/presentations. In other words…I travel a lot. I have been able to teach young elementary students about the importance of food, fiber and fuel in agriculture. Some of the best conversations happen when I present poultry to a group of kindergarteners and first graders. I enjoy every moment of it, as they sit on the edge of their seats waiting for some new nuggets of information to be thrown their way. Something I quickly learned is that this age group will always have funny comments. Whether it be “My Mom, she grew up on a farm” to “It’s my birthday, is a cake agriculture?” there is always something that grabs their interest.

I did have the opportunity to go above and beyond for one of my presentations. So that I would be the coolest guy ever, I brought newly hatched chickens to a first-grade class. The students would have the chance to raise the chickens and learn what it’s like to be a poultry production owner. While I was trying to teach them about chickens and eggs, the students kept looking over to see if the baby chicks were all right. After I explained the proper care for these animals to the teacher, I was off. It then became their responsibility to be the caretakers for four baby chickens over the next two weeks. When I returned after the weeks were over, I heard stories of how these chickens were pampered with affection. There was even a humorous story of when the chickens escaped. The students were glad to get rid of the chicks and said that they learned more than they expected. I was proud that day to be an agriculture ambassador and have the privilege of teaching agriculture to elementary students.

Brandon Smith attends the University of Illinois where he is studying agricultural education. He’s a first year ambassador and was also a member of the Collegiate FFA staff at the 2012 National FFA Convention & Expo.