My Charge to Agvocates

After careful consideration, I have decided to shift the focus of my blog away from an “agvocate” focus. While I am an agvocate at heart, I have learned through tweeting with people on Twitter, there are much more capable agvocates out there (thats you farmers and ranchers). Instead, I am shifting my focus towards teaching agvocates about social media and how to navigate the “advocating for agriculture” waters. My first tip is to…

Be Yourself 

The recent blog posts I have written have taught me a lot, most importantly that I need to be myself on my blog, including writing about what I am interested in. I am very interested in social media and agriculture, so I have decided to bring those two passions together. I strongly believe that we need more agvocates telling their story. As agvocates, we need to begin delving further into the conversations happening on social media as a way to tell the story of agriculture.

This means we cannot stay in our little groups of agvocates. We need to reach out to others in our community as a way to teach non-agvocates about agriculture. For starters, we need to start following important groups that are not favorites of agriculture, including PETA and HSUS. Yes, I said it, we need to follow them everywhere. Like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, read their information. We need to know what these groups are saying about agriculture so we can answer the questions and help give facts when lies are spewed.

Social media is the future of information and where agvocates need to engage in conversation. The conversation needs to begin now.

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Guys Need to Wash Their Hands Around Leafy Greens

Did he wash his hands?

You may have recently heard that leafy greens were the number one cause of food-borne illnesses from 1998-2008 according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Leafy greens actually made up 23 percent of food-borne illnesses. With over 50 percent of those incidents from norovirus. For those of you who don’t know what “norovirus” is, it is an illness caused from eating fecal matter. Yes, fecal matter (poop). This made me kringe a little (ok maybe a lot)  for several reasons.

It amazes me that we actually have this problem. I mean, come on people, lets please wash our hands after we go to the bathroom. Whether it happened in our kitchen or on the farm, does it really matter? It is still gross. As a young man, I have seen my share of guys that did not wash their hands after going to the bathroom. The CDC reports about 23 percent of guys do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom (most of the time this is after going “number one”). I ask one simple question, you are telling me everything is completely clean down there? You know for a fact that you have scrubbed everything completely clean? It poses a good question and explains why I glare at every guy that doesn’t join me in washing hands (your welcome ladies).

Is it this simple though? A study done by researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Pennsylvania, Westchester University and North Central College found that posting relatable reminder signs can increase the amount of guys that wash their hands. I guess we all just need a reminder once and while. While I understand I can’t stop every guy from walking out those bathroom doors without washing his hands, here are a few tips you can use to protect yourself from leafy green food-borne illness contamination:

  • Make sure the leafy greens you are buying were not damaged
  • Make sure the leafy greens were refrigerated at the store (wait, Farmer’s Markets don’t usually have refrigerators)
  • Refrigerate within two hours
  • Wash your hands before and after working with leafy greens
  • Wash leafy greens with cool tap water
  • Keep chemicals and uncooked meat away from leafy greens

Those are just some simple tips, but most importantly use your head. If something doesn’t look right, just don’t eat.

What FFA Gave Me

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I didn’t have a lot of stuff to do on a daily basis. I mean, the closest Wal-Mart was 30 minutes away. Looking back on my high school days, the most influential thing I did was join the National FFA Organization. Now I know you are thinking it is pretty cliche, but I can honestly say FFA laid the groundwork to my success today.  It is FFA Week this week and I wanted to share my thoughts on this amazing organization and how it is giving students the foundation for doing great things in the world.

First I bring you the FFA mission:

FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success.

Premier Leadership

My senior year in high school I was the vice president of my chapter (Blair-Taylor, look us up, we are a pretty cool bunch). One of the main goals of our officer team that year was to get our chapter mentioned at the Wisconsin FFA Convention more than ever before. With this, I was tasked to get us on stage to win a National Chapter Award. If you don’t know what this is, you have to fill out a Program of Activities which is essentially a big application that takes a long time to fill out. I learned a lot from that experience, mainly that it isn’t always fun being a leader. Sometimes, you have to pull up your bootstraps and get some work done. I guess that is what FFA and leadership is all about. You can’t just sit back and expect to be regarded as a leader, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty with the rest of them and just get the job done. After all was said and done and my brain was tired of thinking, we ended up getting a silver. A much better accomplishment than I thought our chapter would receive. In the end it was well worth it, our chapter got mentioned at least six times that year, a remarkable increase from the year before, once.

Personal Growth

I think all FFA chapters have a rival school in FFA, you know, the one that just happens to win everything. My sectional FFA rival is Cochrane-Fountain City. One of the best experiences I had while in FFA was the Washington Leadership Conference (WLC for short). My chapter had three representatives, myself, my cousin and a close friend. We went with the rest of the state of Wisconsin on two buses and didn’t know what to expect. This entire experience was full of life-changing leadership experiences, but I wouldn’t say that was the most remarkable thing my friends and I got out of the event. We actually made some friends from our “rival,” Cochrane-Fountain City. The three of us played cards together and talked about our FFA chapters. We learned a lot about each other and how both of our chapters could grow. I think our chapter learned that it is important to use the connections you have around you to grow and become successful. You can’t always be upset with your “rival,” especially if they have some great things to teach you. I think both groups brought back ideas that made our chapters better.

Career Success

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about FFA is that it is just for farmers. Well guess what folks, it has evolved over the last few decades. FFA supports people in whatever field they choose and teaches students how to get a job in nearly any field. Agriculture supports 16 million jobs in this country, ranging from business to actual farmers. After all, agriculture is basically an applied form of science. FFA gave me the opportunity to build my professional career skills. My chapter forces its members to participate in interviews if you want to be an officer. I had to sit in front of a panel of four interviewers, in my official dress (OD). Man was I sweating. I learned a lot from that experience and you could say it helped me get my current position at UW-Madison. At the interview for my current position, I knew that I should come to the interview ready to go with my portfolio, resume and professional clothes. I was ready for everything they threw at me, just like how I wasn’t prepared at my FFA interview. I learned from my mistakes the first time and I knew the right things to do this time.

You could say I am biased towards the National FFA Organization and you are probably right. I know that the many experiences I had in FFA, and continue to have with Collegiate FFA, have laid the groundwork to help me succeed and become a leader in my field. I owe a lot to the National FFA Organization, something I will probably never be able to repay.

If you had a similar experience to me, please share it in the comments section below and on your social media platforms (#FFAproud) this week. It is time the public knew the great things the National FFA Organization is teaching its members.

Top 5 Reasons Guys Should Say “I Love You” To Farmers on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, but I thought it would be fun to see how much farmers affect our Valentine’s Day celebrations.

No. 5: Without farmers, there would be no overpriced, dozen roses to buy our loved ones.

Without a rose farmer, we wouldn’t have a dozen roses to give to our loved ones. The largest rose grower in the U.S., California, is a great location to grow horticulture. According to a 1997 survey, California produces 70% of the cut roses grown nationally and there are about 80 rose farmers in California. I wonder how many roses the loved ones on those farms get?

No. 4: There wouldn’t be any lingerie.

Yes, sad to say it, but without the cotton farmer, there would be no lingerie to give to our significant other on Valentine’s Day. The U.S. cotton industry provides the world with 17.9 million bales of cotton, that’s nearly nine billion pounds of cotton. Not to mention, with no cotton we would probably be looking pretty neud at our wonderful dinner dates. We also couldn’t be a gentlemen and pay afterwords because money is actually made out of cotton, not paper.

No. 3: Speaking of dinner, that food sure is good.

This is a pretty obvious one, but all of the food we will eat with our dates will come from a farmer. I know I will be having a steak for supper, which means my steak came from the $79 billion U.S. beef industry. I will only eat a small fraction of the 25.6 billion pounds of beef consumed in a year.

No. 2: You gotta have chocolate for dessert.

Africa is the largest producer of cocoa, producing nearly 2.5 million tons of cocoa in a year. Cocoa beans are found in pods on a cocoa tree and are picked by hand. The pods need to be cut open before the beans can be harvested. It sounds like a really long process, one I am most definately thankful for.

No. 1: Those cards are made out of trees. Yeah there is a farmer for that.

It is kind of crazy, but there are actually farmers that farm trees. There are several levels of farming trees, from the average person that owns a land of woods to someone that specifically plants trees for wood production. Most tree farmers will keep careful stock of what trees they have on their farm and decide which trees to cut down based on several factors. Foresters can be hired to help manage the stand (lingo for a large group of trees) and make sure it is operating in a sustainable and safe way.

So guys, I guess there are a lot of reasons to say “I Love You” to farmers on Valentine’s Day. I know farmers have saved me quite a few times on Valentine’s Day.

Farmers and Animal Care

I grew up on a 70-cow dairy farm in Northern Wisconsin. I loved my farm and we had a cow that was my favorite, mainly because I could milk her by hand. She was this big, gentle, white cow that I grew to love. I still remember the day my dad came in and told me he had sold my favorite cow. I actually cried that night. She apparently wasn’t milking well and we couldn’t afford to milk her at our farm anymore. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that my parent’s farm would eventually go out of business.

This experience has probably happened to every agvocate (especially farmers) at least once in their lifetime. I get a lot of questions like, “If you love animals so much, then why are you so quick to get rid of them” or “how are you fine with letting your favorite animal get slaughtered.” I guess the best answer is, I am not ok with it. Farmers don’t like sending their animals to the slaughterhouse, just like the next person. Farmers care for every animal like it was their favorite, which is why they spend thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars taking care of their animals. My dad didn’t like telling me my favorite cow was sold, in fact he probably dredded it.

When I was younger, I didn’t understand why we had to sell my favorite cow. I came to learn he sold that cow because he loved me and my family. He knew my favorite cow was hurting his family’s chance of having a better life. He knew that if he didn’t sell that cow, it would bring his family closer to losing its lifeline, the farm. You may not like that answer, but it’s the truth. Farmers do things for their family, no matter what size the farm is. 99 percent of the farms in the U.S. are family-owned. Farms may look like factories, but there is a family behind those barn doors. Every decision a farmer makes is out of love. A decision I am sure every parent would make if they were faced with this desicion.

Heart Disease and Vegetarians

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The Study

Recently a study from the Oxford University stated that a vegetarian is less likely to have heart disease by a third. I haven’t seen the official scholarly article, but have read some articles in the press, the best of which was from Reuters. The study showed evidence that “vegetarians are one-third less likely to to be hospitalized or die from heart disease than meat and fish eaters (Reuters).” The study tracked nearly 45,000 participants from Scotland and England beginning in the 1990’s. Over the study period, 1,086 of the subjects were hospitalized, 169 of which died. The study found that vegetarians were 32% less likely to have heart disease than meat-eaters. When weight was used, vegetarians had a 28% lower chance of heart disease.

What Questions Should We Ask?

While this study does point some “big fingers” at eating meat, I think we should step back a little.  Meat-eaters had higher on-average cholesterol and blood pressure than vegetarians. Meat eater cholesterol was 222 mg/dL and 203 mg/dL for vegetarians. While looking into this further, both of those numbers are in the “borderline high” level for cholesterol, but the vegetarians were closer to being below 200 mg/dL, a good cholesterol level. The systolic blood pressure for meat eaters was 134 mm Hg and 131 mm Hg for vegetarians, both prehypertension.  Prehypertension is when someone needs to make lifestyle changes in order to divert high blood pressure in the future.

The study felt these two numbers were the main cause for the heart problems seen in meat eaters.

My Opinion

I hate articles like this, not because they are wrong, but because they give us an excuse for why we have heart disease or any other diseases associated with obesity. We can all eat meat and be healthy, but rather we choose to eat more than what is recommended daily and make poor life choices. Did you know the daily recommended serving for meat is less than 4 oz. a day? I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t eat a 4 oz. steak when I go out to eat. Becoming a vegetarian is not the answer. I am currently working on managing my portion sizes and the type of food I am eating. Eventually I hope to throw in some exercise. These things are what I feel are important to my future health and well-being. Anyone, including vegetarians, can eat 500 calories worth of salad dressing on a salad. Meat is a convenient (and tasty) skape-goat, but I know it is not the reason for future health problems. The all-around food choices I am making today are what will affect my future health the most. I just hope I am making the right choices.