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Youth make the case for ag

Kelli Fulkerson is an energetic and outgoing college student who lives and breathes agriculture. The 20-year-old Union City, Michigan, native enjoys connecting with nonfarmers, especially children and other college students.

Fulkerson feels lucky she can pursue her interests as one of a five-member National Beef Ambassador Team.

“People are trying to eat healthier,” she says. “Having beef in their diet is an essential component.”

Launched in 1988, the program is one of the earliest efforts to harness the enthusiasm and energy of youth, ages 17-20. Today the ambassador team retains its focus on educational efforts in classrooms, after-school programs, and health fairs. But team members also participate in social media, blogging, and posting on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on key topics such as animal welfare, nutrition, and environmental stewardship.

Earlier this year, Fulkerson and her team shared beef's story at the Boston Marathon. They cheered on 18 Team Beef runners who qualified for the event.

Partnering with the Beef Checkoff and the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative, they handed out 4,000 samples of Wild Bill's beef jerky and hundreds of beef recipes, nutrition cards, and Team Beef cheer cards at the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo in Boston.

“As a Beef Ambassador, I can tell my own story on a daily basis, instead of having someone who knows nothing about agriculture do it for me,” Fulkerson says.

The South Dakota State University junior is majoring in agricultural education and animal science.

The program is funded, in part, by the Beef Checkoff, and ambassadors serve as youth representatives of American National CattleWomen (ANCW).

A new National Beef Ambassador Team will be chosen October 2 in Wooster, Ohio. The event, hosted by ANCW, allows candidates to compete in the areas of consumer promotion, classroom presentation, media interview techniques, and issues response.

Last year, a National Junior Beef Ambassador category was created for youth ages 12-16.

FFA is training ground

The FFA National Collegiate Agricultural Ambassador program launched in 2005 with a team of 10.

“Today we have a team of 20,” says Marty Tatman, FFA education specialist. “The goal is stepping outside the ag community to address biotechnology, agricultural awareness, and consumer issues.”

Eligible ag students have completed one year of college and are motivated to promote agriculture and hone their presentation skills.

Caitlin Kasper is a two-year veteran of the program. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a major in ag education with an emphasis in leadership and communication. She currently is in Pioneer Hi-bred's Emerging Leader training program in York, Nebraska.

As an ambassador, Kasper received a scholarship and a digital camera. She developed and provided presentations for elementary students and civic groups.

“This past year, the focus was on feeding the world,” Kasper says. “We helped the general public understand the importance of farmers to global food security.”

Kasper, who grew up on an Owatonna, Minnesota, dairy farm, enjoyed fielding questions. “The program is a great opportunity to practice communication and presentation skills and get to know people from across the U.S,” she says.

Applications are due in June. A North Carolina training in August is followed by a winter training in Indianapolis. The program is sponsored by BASF, Syngenta, Elanco Animal Health, and the National Pork Board as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.

Online advocates grow

In 2009, the Animal Agriculture Alliance launched the College Aggies Online (CAO) scholarship competition, with the aim of helping students become social networking ag advocates.

Scholarship applicants interact on the CAO network by posting blogs, photos, and videos related to ag, and by taking part in online outreach via Twitter, Facebook, and email. They earn points for their team or for individual efforts.

The first-place and second-place teams as well as the first-place and second-place individuals receive scholarships. One member of the top-scoring team earns a trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the Alliance's Stakeholders Summit.

In 2010, 577 students competed for a CAO scholarship.

“College Aggies Online provides students with the tools they need to share the facts about modern food production with the public,” says Kay Johnson Smith, Animal Agriculture Alliance vice president. “We encourage students to reach out to peers who are not in agriculture.” 

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