Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ag Cheerleaders--Moving beyond “Advocacy”

Kelsey Faivre was raised on a farm in northern Illinois, where she learned to love agriculture. She is a senior studying agriculture communications at Iowa State University in Ames, and she is an administrative assistant at CAST. She has written for several ag-related publications. This editorial appeared first in Feedstuffs Foodlink on February 8, 2016.  

Are You an Advocate for Agriculture?

Earlier this year, I was asked an interesting question as part of an interview.

“Do you consider yourself to be an advocate for agriculture?”

My initial thought was that I didn’t want to be called an advocate. Not because I didn’t feel qualified--I was an agriculture literacy intern--or because I hadn’t made any efforts, but because I wanted to do more than advocate.

Advocating and Cheerleading

Sometimes, it seems like advocating is like being a cheerleader for your team. But cheerleading isn’t a conversation. It doesn’t allow for give and take. Simply advocating can be limiting.

I was thinking about a science communication class I took at Iowa State. We had discussed in depth the three roles scientists can take when they communicate with the general public: advocate, arbiter, and adviser. The difference between these roles lies with the intent of the communicating scientist—the expert.

An advocate intends to sway and is the most biased expert. The arbiter is unbiased and serves with the intent of simply responding to questions as an expert. The adviser points out all available options and tends to advise on the best scientific answer. In this way, the adviser role is a blend of that of the advocate and the arbiter.

The advocate role is the most difficult for a scientist to maintain, because nothing in science is certain. To go all out in support of a policy or scientific movement only to find contradicting evidence may create polarization instead of open communication, and tends to damage the credibility of the scientist.

Being an advocate, or cheerleader, for agriculture tends to mean designating teams and picking sides instead of leaving room for more than one way of farming and an open, honest conversation. By simply cheerleading and therefore avoiding conversations about topics of doubt and uncertainty in agriculture, we lose the important element of transparency. 

At its core, the goal of scientific advocacy is to reduce the scope of available choice: in the case of agriculture this means choice of production methods and choices of food in the grocery store. I firmly believe we need to showcase the available choices and create an environment where consumers can join the conversation.
Put simply, being a cheerleader for agriculture can create distrust and be damaging to credibility. Cheerleaders don’t listen; they just keep cheering. That’s fine at a football game, but when it comes to agriculture, people can see through this one-sided championing and wonder what we’re hiding.

It Is Time to Move Beyond

I believe it is time to move beyond advocacy to ensure we are celebrating the strengths of our industry as well as listening, learning, and responding to the concerns of the public.

If I was asked that question again, I would say yes, I’m an advocate—but I want to be more than that.

I want to be a source of high quality, trustworthy information. I want to be positive while being able to see my industry with a critical eye. I want to be forward thinking, willing to adapt and change with the concerns and demands of the public without sacrificing best practices based on science. I want to be one of many informed participants in a conversation about food that is more than just a polarized argument.

by Kelsey Faivre  (pic of sign from miller-mccune.jpg)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

World Hunger is like a Puzzle

Hannah Pagel, an Iowa State University sophomore majoring in agriculture and society, also works as a student administrative assistant. Her agriculture background is firmly rooted in the rural area of northeast Iowa.

Walmart Closings Lead to Food Deserts

Hannah at meal packaging event.
Recently, I have been watching the local news and have seen many segments about Walmart and their decision to shut down 154 stores across the country. The media also mentioned the effect this has on local communities and how closing such stores has led to food deserts.

            During the first semester of my sophomore year, I enrolled in a sociology class covering topics such as food deserts—a topic many, including myself, would never think about on a day-to-day basis. I was shocked. To be considered living in a food desert, one must reside in an area where there are no supermarkets or convenience stores within a one-mile radiusthat is for an urban area and a ten-mile radius for a rural area. That’s not a lot of ground covered at all. But when factors such as transportation and poverty come into play, it makes sense why the distance would be so low.

Puzzle Pieces

This topic not only intrigues me but also hits close to my heart. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to attend the World Food Prize (photo above). This organization is founded on the principals of Norman Borlaug, the man responsible for starting the Green Revolution and saving over one billion lives worldwide. The World Food Prize not only wanted to recognize the men and women working to end the plague of world hunger but also wanted to educate young students on the topic and allow them the opportunity to take a deeper look into this epidemic. 

            Being a part of the World Food Prize is where my passion for world hunger began, and I wanted to make a difference in spreading the word about this topic. At first, I noticed I was referring to third-world countries or areas outside the United States as places where world hunger was present. When I volunteered at my local food pantry, I noticed the presence of hunger in my local county. But as my journey continued, I noticed world hunger taking place right in the heartland of the Midwest. 

I never understood how an agricultural state such as Iowa could be affected by world hunger. But then I realized world hunger is like a puzzle. There are so many factors that make up each piece of this puzzle: from food deserts, to infrastructure, to economies, to the government, and much more. Each piece needs to be taken into account before we can see the final picture, and that will take time. 

The cool thing is, we all have a piece to this puzzle. Whether it is growing the food we eat, driving food across the country, working in the grocery store, packaging meals for others, donating food, or just spreading the word about food security. When we come together and connect our pieces, we are contributing to a solution. So I ask you, what can you do to solve the problem of hunger and poverty in the world? All you have to answer with is an idea or a method. So what’s your puzzle piece?

by Hannah Pagel

Friday, January 29, 2016

Cattle, Editorials, and Toxic Kiwifruit

Kelsey Faivre, a senior in the Iowa State University agriculture communications program, recently joined the CAST staff as an administrative assistant. Kelsey has already communicated with the public in many ways, including articles in ag publications. Click here for her blog titled Like Farmer, Like Daughter

A Cattle Entrepreneur at Age Eleven 

Kelsey with her favorite show steer--Captain.
At the age of eleven, Kelsey Faivre wrote a business proposal. She needed to convince her skeptical parents that she could establish a viable cattle operation on their farm near DeKalb, Illinois, and it would all start with one "bucket calf"--a calf she would bottle feed and eventually turn into a successful business.

A farm financial adviser was impressed with the plan, her parents were willing to let her try, and the rest is history. The 60-pound sixth grader had a 700-pound steer by August, and during the next seven years, she showed cattle, sold "seed stock," and learned about the intricacies of livestock agriculture.

"I love the animals," Kelsey said. "Raising cattle is a great way to be involved in agriculture. It opened my eyes to the hard work and great people in the industry."

Speaking, Writing, and Ag
Kelsey has remained focused on agriculture. As an Iowa State University senior, she is majoring in agriculture communications and minoring in animal science. Her extensive writing and speaking experiences help her succeed at reaching her goals. Kelsey was a dynamic speech contest participant in high school, and she finished as the Illinois champion and 4th in the nation for the FFA extemporaneous speaking Career Development Event.

Kelsey has published several articles, editorials, and blog entries in publications such as the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation blog, ISU's CALS Connections, and a county Farm Bureau magazine. "I love language," Kelsey said. "It's a great way to think."

The Trip Almost Killed Me
Last year, Kelsey took the opportunity to join a study abroad trip to New Zealand--and of course she ended up writing about the country and its agriculture. One of her editorials was published in Feedstuffs. But as she points out, the venture had an ironic twist. "I discovered I have a strong aversion to kiwifruit." Kelsey is allergic to the country's namesake. "I loved the trip, but it almost killed me."
CAST staff members are pleased to have Kelsey bring her many talents to the organization. Not much bucket feeding in the office, but plenty of writing--and we never serve kiwifruit at staff meetings. 

Photo at right: Kelsey with a New Zealand icon she is not allergic to.

by dan gogerty