Great times at the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference

There’s something about being around a group of farmers that warms my heart.

Dairy farmers are no exception to this rule.

Dairy producer workshops

When I was invited to the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference in Frankenmuth, Michigan, I jumped at the opportunity.

My responsibilities were simple: speak at a couple of sessions and help the MSU ANR Communications staff cover it.

During the three day conference, I accompanied Michigan dairy producers as they looked ahead to the future of their industry.

We listened to top notch speakers, learned about new technologies to implement on dairy farms and looked for new ways to connect with consumers.

The 2010 Michigan Dairy Ambassadors were also selected during the conference.

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We’re Engaged!

A year ago, I referred to him in this blog simply as “boyfriend.” When he joined twitter, many of you came to know him as @AaronHarned. Now I’m proud to introduce him as my fiancé!

That’s right folks, I’m now the future Mrs. Aaron Harned!

After 2 1/2 years of being my biggest fan, merciless critic and best friend Aaron popped the question on February 8th.

I met Aaron in June 2007 when we were elected Kentucky FFA State Officers.

We began dating that summer and have been inseparable ever since.

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Two Weeks of Tweets

Guest post by Aaron Harned

Over the last few weeks I have started to apply myself to learn about and participate in social media.

After months of prodding from my girlfriend, I signed up for a Twitter account.

Ever since my first tweet it has been amazing to me how involved agriculturalists are in promoting all of agriculture on the internet.

It has been a pleasure for me to learn so much in just two weeks from my tweeps.

The reason I started tweeting was to find more news stories about agriculture, but I have found that the friendships that I have already established will prove to be beneficial to me in the future.

I now know that I can look for advice from these people and be flooded with links and resources about agriculture and controversial issues.

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5 Common Meat Questions Answered

The meat counter is a confusing place for many consumers.

Friends are constantly asking me for advice on what meat cuts to buy, what brands to choose, and how to cook their meat purchases. Though each shopper is different, many have the same concerns and misconceptions when it comes to selecting their meat entree.

In this post, I briefly address five of the most common questions I am asked about meat.

1. “I’m worried about e. coli. How do I keep my family safe?”

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Watching Daniel grow up on the family farm

When I moved out, my large family did some much needed rearranging. Now when I come in to visit I share a room with my three year old brother, Daniel.

Playing farm animal matching games on my iphone.

Playing farm animal matching games on my iPhone.

It is not uncommon for me to wake up with an assortment of hot wheels cars spread out across my bed.

Nor is it a shock to hear my car alarm blaring only to find Daniel grinning sheepishly with my keys in his hands.

The one that takes the cake has to be when he decides to wake me up at 6 a.m. and ask to play games on my iPhone.

While he’s not the greatest roommate, I can’t help but love the time I get to spend with him.

I especially love when we he comes along with us to do farm chores.

Every time someone visits our house, Daniel spends the first 10 minutes of their visit rattling off stories about feeding the cows, checking the pigs or riding in Daddy’s “big truck.”

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WKU Animal Science & Pre-Vet Program

Many of my readers have commented on the very “collegiate” voice my recent posts have taken. This post shows you why.

In addition to working in recruitment as an Agriculture Department Ambassador, I have been working on a video piece in my journalism classes about the animal science and pre-veterinary curriculum at WKU.

I owe a huge thanks to the many agriculture students who lent their voices and their photos to this piece. They were so patient with me as I nitpicked the what they said and how they said it. This piece would not be what it is without their help.

Here’s the finished product:

FFA #OnTheFarm with Nick Weber

I’ve recently come to the realization that I am NOT the average journalism student.

I have few journalism classmates who maintain blogs, have over 500 twitter followers, and do some freelancing on the side.  Of those few: none raise livestock, were past FFA members, or have a second major in agriculture.

What can I say? I’m one of a kind!

I do have one thing in common with every other journalism student I’ve ever met: I hate macroeconomics.

Often during my macro class I’m on my iPhone, usually on twitter or facebook, yet still managing to pay attention. Once a week, however, my economics class is the last thing on my mind because I’m closely following #onthefarm with @n_web.

During National FFA Convention, I had the privilege of being a guest on my favorite twitter show!

The last time I wore my FFA jacket with my closest FFA friend.

The last time I wore my FFA jacket with my closest FFA friend.

Nick wanted to do a show about FFA but the folks behind the @nationalffa account were just a little bit busy that week!

When I tweeted that I was missing my first National FFA Convention in 6 years, he asked me to share some of my experiences during that time.

As a past Kentucky FFA State Officer, it wasn’t hard for me to brag about the huge impact the FFA makes on its members.

I even had the chance to talk about transitioning from advocating as an FFA member to advocating as a college student/alumni member.

I don’t know whether Nick was drawn to my overachieving journalism habits or my insistence on promoting agriculture through them but either way I had a blast visiting with him about FFA, agriculture education, and agriculture advocacy.

I hope you’ll check out the full recap of the interview at Nick’s blog and tune in to future #onthefarm episodes for some agriculture advocates who are making a huge impact!

Teaching the truth about H1N1 with Block & Bridle pork chops

About once a month, Western Kentucky University students’ walk to class is interrupted from its usual serenity with a loud cry from halfway across campus:

“PORK CHOP!!! GET YOUR PORK CHOPS!!!”

In between classes, Block & Bridle members help grill our famous porkchops.

In between classes, Block & Bridle members help grill our famous porkchops.

The freshmen are usually shocked and confused by the spectacle taking place in front of the Environmental Sciences and Technology building.

Most can’t help but stare at the 10-15 students gathered around a bright red grill flipping pork chops, wrapping sandwiches and hurrying to keep up with the ever growing line of upperclassmen who figured out what all this hype was about long ago.

WKU Block & Bridle has long been known for their famous pork chop sandwiches.

Current members often tell stories about their parents working pork chops sales, using the same “secret” marinade that has been passed down through the club for over 30 years.

During this time, pork chop sales have been the main fundraiser for WKU Block & Bridle.

Social Chairman Marie Weldon inserts "Pork is Safe" flyers into bags.

Over 400 "Pork is Safe" flyers were inserted into bags during our two day sale.

In April 2009, Block & Bridle members began to worry about the future of our fundraising.

Overnight, the news media was talking about nothing but the so called “swine flu” that we now know as the H1N1 virus.

Pork prices fell.  The media continued to use the improper name for H1N1 and consumers continued to lose faith in the safety of American pork products.

When it came time to plan September pork chop sales, Block & Bridle members tried to be optimistic.

Our optimism was forgotten when our campus newspaper, the College Heights Herald, ran an editorial with such outrageous comments as:

“Just when you thought you were safe from avian flu and SARS, along come the pigs to ratchet up your paranoia.”

Needless to say, Block & Bridle members knew we needed to act fast spread the truth about H1N1 instead of the lies being published in the Herald.

I developed a flyer of “pork is safe” facts to insert into every bag lunch we sold.

Members engaged customers in discussions about what cut of pork we used (boneless loins), what the proper cooking temperature of pork was (160 degrees), and what Block & Bridle was all about.

In two days, WKU Block & Bridle members sold over 400 pork chop sandwiches and distributed just as many flyers.

Hopefully, the WKU community left our pork chop sale with more than just a lunch. Hopefully, they learned that pork is safe. Hopefully they now call the virus H1N1.

More than anything, I hope they left with a new found faith in the hardworking farmers who work everyday to produce our food products.

WKU Block & Bridle: Managing My Offline Brand

For the past month I’ve been focusing on my life offline.

I don’t doubt that there are future employers who will love that I’ve been actively writing, tweeting, and facebooking, however, I realize that twitter friends aren’t the only friends.

So much emphasis in the WKU School of Journalism & Broadcasting is placed on establishing an online presence but I’ve only had one teacher encourage me to practice personal, face-to-face networking.

In my Agriculture Department classes, however, this is not the case.  This is probably because in the Kentucky agriculture world the networking game is still mostly played offline.

2009 New Members & Officers

2009 Block & Bridle New Members and Officers

At WKU, Block & Bridle is an integral part of the agriculture student’s networking system.

As the largest non-Greek, student organization at Western, Block & Bridle is open to students of all majors interested in the livestock industries.

Alumni of the WKU Block & Bridle chapter are politicians, directors of commodity groups, veterinarians, agriculture educators, and some of the state’s most prominent farmers.

Every alum I’ve met loves to relive their memories of grilling pork chops, showing livestock, traveling across the country, and making lifelong friends.

My three years as a member of the WKU chapter have already been life changing.  My best friends are all Block & Bridle members; my roommates are all chapter officers.  We literally eat, sleep, and breathe Block & Bridle.

Beeler sharing stories from his time in WKU Block & Bridle

Beeler sharing his Block & Bridle memories

Last week, we welcomed 30 new members to our chapter at our annual New Member Banquet.

Speaker for the evening was Warren Beeler, a WKU Block & Bridle and Agriculture Department alum who is now the Director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Division of Value Added Animal and Aquaculture Promotion.

Beeler encouraged members to make the most of their time in the club and to let it help them find their future in the agriculture industry.

Beeler’s words reminded me how important it is to make personal connections with people in the industry, a point I feel is being neglected in the journalism education at WKU.

At the end of the day, its not always about how many twitter followers you have or how many people read your blog.  Its about the people you’ve met and taken the time to get to know.

Its about being more than a screen name and managing your “offline” brand.

#Oink-ing the Truth about H1N1

What will you be doing Sunday, August 16 at 9 a.m. EST???

If you’re like me, you’ll be #oink -ing!

What is #oink?

#Oink is an effort to teach consumers and the media the facts about the H1N1 virus in which pork producers, supporters, and fans will be using the microblogging site Twitter.

Each tweet will include the hashtag #oink, a tactic inspired by @FarmerHaley who encouraged his twitter followers to #moo on his birthday in support of dairy farmers.

My birthday, the day after @FarmerHaley’s, some of us were joking on Twitter that we should #oink for my birthday.

Four days later I received a direct message via twitter from @AFBFMace asking me to help spread the word that he was working with the pork board to start a twitter campaign using #oink to spread the truth about the H1N1 virus.

Why should I #oink?

The misnamed H1N1 virus has devastated the pork industry.  Consumers need to hear the facts instead of the sensational headlines featuring improper names for the virus.

I’ve previously blogged about the importance of all agriculturalists pulling together and spreading the truth about H1N1, but this twitter campaign gives people around the world an opportunity to help farmers.

How do I get involved?

Make sure to follow @farmerfeed to get the latest updates on the #oink movement!

Tweet with us on Sunday and include the hashtag: #oink.  You can see all the other #oink tweets in realtime by watching TwitterSearch.

If you’ve taken your #oink-ing to the level of obsession (like I have) you can add the #oink Twibbon!twitterProfilePhoto.jpg

Twibbon adds a banner to your profile picture so that all your twitter followers can see it.

What should I say besides #oink?

Anything you can do to help spread the truth about H1N1 would be greatly appreciated by pork producers everywhere!

This also gives us a great chance to share facts and videos (like the ones below) that educate consumers about pork safety and the humane production methods used by pork producers across the country.

I can’t wait to see you #oink with us on Sunday!