The return to tardy slips, teachers and seeing your friends every day. Homework. Tests. Remembering to turn your phone off or face consequences. Friday night football games. Staring out windows and wishing you could work outside. If this sounds familiar, you’re likely a student that’s gone back to school or will in the next couple of weeks. In celebration, I’ve written some thoughts for teenagers on how you can better share your agricultural story. Remember the six Cs!
Confidence Tera Koebel, a senior at Michigan State, spent a lot of time talking about her dairy farm days with non-ag friends in high school. “As a teenager, ag kids can talk about the fun experiences they have playing on the farm and working with their tractors/animals, etc. They need to remember that most other kids simply have a couch and TV to go home to. If kids can be confident in portraying the chores and activities they do with agriculture in a positive light, it immediately puts things into a new perspective for their peers.”
Communications skills: Seem a little too obvious? Given the writing skills I’ve seen from young people at state and national contests, I can’t emphasize this enough. Learn how to spell and write. While you’re at it, speaking skills are kind of important – at least practice being able to stand in front of a room, state your idea and answer questions confidently. Writing and speaking may seem mundane, but they are skills that will serve you daily. No matter what your career is, you have to be able to communicate. And while you’re learning writing and speaking skills through a class presentation, science fair project, essay or biology assignment, why not use something in agriculture as your subject? It might make those assignments a little more fun for you – and it’s a great opportunity quietly practice sharing your ag story. The same is true online with your Facebook or other social accounts.
Cool factor: Are you a dork because you like horticulture, genetics, cows, agronomy, aquaculture, forestry, landscape design, agribusiness or tractors? Not unless you think so! Talk about what you do, be proud of it and who knows – showing cows may just become cool. Our dairy leasing project has mostly kids that live in town and many of them play sports. I see them out and about wearing their Boone County 4-H Dairy shirts with pride – and letting people know what they think is cool. Know that your actions speak louder than words. Koebel says being confident that ag is cool, not lame, is the best tip she can offer.
Clarity: Many FFA and 4-H members have been given a gift of experience, which can give you a lot more clarity about your future. If you love animals, don’t be shy about stating that you’ll be pursuing an animal science degree. By the way, if you’re in the unfortunate situation where adults are telling you that there is no future in ag, be sure to show them information about the shortage of employees in agriculture or talk to them about 200+ agrifood careers. Your clarity, along with understanding the careers in your chosen sector of agriculture, will speak volumes to your classmates – and give you a leg up in college. If you have not found that clarity yet, keep searching – it’s critical for you to find a career you’re passionate about.
Conversation: Are you a little defensive about agriculture? Do you think people are stupid because they don’t the difference between a cow and a heifer or a combine and a chopper? Are you dumb because you don’t know the latest video game? Hopefully you can answer “no” to all of those, but I suspect not. Here’s the deal: if you’re defensive or a know-it-all, people aren’t going to be interested in conversing with you. If you approach others with an open mind and use two ears to learn, you’ll see great results. Caroline Knoblock just graduated from high school in Iowa and was very active in 4-H and FFA. She said “Understand that some people literally do not know where their food comes from.” Stacey Forshee is a mom to high schoolers in Kansas. “It’s hard for that age to not feel like someone is attacking them when they disagree with what do in agriculture. So I’ve told my kids that they need to calm down and have a conversation with those kids and see why they think what we do is wrong. Most of the time it’s a misconception! ”
Sharing your own story about agriculture doesn’t need to be difficult. The sixth C is CONVICTION. Do you have CONVICTION in how important it is for you to tell your story? About 1.5% of the population is involved on a farm or ranch – that leaves 98.5% to share with. You don’t have to pass college math to figure out that the odds are against agriculture if each of us doesn’t do our part. How will you use your voice?