Back to the Blogosphere

As usual my summer is jam packed with trips, conferences, and work.  The past few weeks have been more than crazy!

Here’s a recap:

I spent June 9-11 as Public Relations Intern for the Kentucky Association FFA.  This meant that I contacted (and in some cases annoyed) Lexington media outlets and tried to convince them to cover the first KY FFA Convention there in 65 years. 

When a reporter showed up, I found them a story.  Pretty simple…pretty stressful!

Even though I shoved her in front of news writers, Ashlee Castle still loves me!

Even though I shoved her in front of reporters, Ashlee Castle still loves me!

Luckily, Kentucky FFA is full of newsworthy members.  Special props go out to Quint Pottinger and Ashlee Castle, state officers who I shoved in front of a camera or reporter with little or no prior notice.

A HUGE thank you, congratulations, or whatever goes out to Jessica Gambrel from the North Laurel FFA Chapter. 

When a TV station showed up after the opening session had started, I couldn’t allow them to interview a state officer.  Jessica was the courtesy corps member stationed by the awards room so we just grabbed her and took a chance on letting them interview her.

She rocked it!  Only a junior in high school, Jessica was poised and articulate as she explained what KY FFA meant to her and how excited the members were to be in Lexington.  She handled some tough questions perfectly, and I could not have been more proud!

My other big job at KY FFA Convention was to be the “Roaming Reporter.”  I picked a question, grabbed a camera man from our video crew, and took off to find members to interview.  The end product was a pre-session video prefacing the session to come and giving the average member a chance to be a part of the convention happenings.

I won’t lie, being 19 years old and having your own camera guy (even if only for 2 hours) is pretty cool!

Josh, Tyler, and Aaron: my former state officer teammates at the preconvention Lexington Legends game

Josh, Tyler, and Aaron: my former state officer teammates at the Lexington Legends game.

The best part of convention, without a doubt, was catching up with old FFA friends.  It is surreal to think about how differently my life would be without my 5 years in a blue jacket.  My FFA friends are my family, and I don’t really know what I’d do without them.

After convention and a couple days of rest, laundry, and packing, I was headed to Michigan!

Audrey, my boyfriend’s sister, tagged along and kept me company on the 8 hour drive to Lansing.  I really owe her for that!  She helped me unload all my crap, set up my room, move my bed, and was an awesome navigator. 

Monday was my first day of work as: Michigan State University College of Agriculture & Natural Resources Communications: Animal Welfare/Animal Agriculture Initiative Intern. Say that 3 times fast!

Basically, the intern who experiences whatever is going on in the world of Michigan State Animal Ag Extension (primarily dairy) and goes back to the office and writes about it.

Monday was a “get to know you” day.  I met a lot of the people I’m sharing office space with and learned what they do and what they’re working on.

A participant describes the characteristics of a Brown Swiss for her fellow Cow Campers.

A participant describes the characteristics of a Brown Swiss for her fellow Cow Campers.

Tuesday was Cow Camp.  That was an experience!  MSU put on 5 different one day Dairy Youth Cow Camps across Michigan.  The whole idea behind this is to teach kids about the dairy industry.  Most of the participants show dairy, but many are just interested in the industry.

Participants rotate between learning stations and sampled dairy products, learned the differences in dairy breeds, practiced showmanship techniques, listened to a calf’s heartbeat and shot their own “Got Milk” advertisements complete with milk mustaches!
    
I was learning right along with the kids.  I have no dairy background whatsoever and was totally out of my element.  It was very humbling to watch a 6 year old name all the dairy breeds and realize that I couldn’t!
 
Wednesday and Thursday I was on the Michigan Milk Producers Association Milk Marketing Tour.  This consisted of high school students who were interested in cooperatives and the dairy industry. 
This group designed a cooperative that would help dairy producers convert manure to a marketable product.

This group designed a cooperative that would help dairy producers convert manure to a marketable product.

Prior to this event, I had no idea how milk was marketed.  I learned so much in these two days that I know I annoyed my boyfriend as I spouted off random dairy facts every time I talked to him! 

At the end of the tour, students were assigned teams and asked to design their own cooperatives and present them to the group.  It was really neat to see them apply what they had learned and think outside the box. 
  
Now its Friday.  I’ve been in the office, writing articles, designing posters, and meeting with industry professionals and all in my first week’s work.
  

When I lay in bed at night, I still wonder if I really am in Michigan. 

Did I really move 8 hours from home to chase a dream?  Am I really living in a strange city, working on a strange campus, pursuing a practically nonexistent career goal? Sometimes I think I’ve lost my mind. 

And then something will happen that reminds me why I’m here. 

Like today, when I was meeting with someone in the industry that I hardly knew and she listened to what I had to say.  Or Tuesday, when a 10 year old asked me what he should do about the fact that no on in his class thought farming was as cool as he did.  Or Thursday, when a dairy farmer’s wife told me she couldn’t wait to see my name in by-lines. 

I may have lost my mind, but I sure haven’t lost sight of what I’m here for: to stick up for the agriculture industry and give it a voice.

Follow KY State FFA Convention on Celeste Laurent’s Twitter!

What is Quint Pottinger’s favorite FFA activity?  What inspired Derek Adams to be a state FFA officer?  Who won the state parliamentary procedure Careeer Development Event?  What’s it like to experience state convention in Rupp Arena?

FFA members, sponsors, and agriculture enthusiasts across the Bluegrass state will be full of questions next week as Kentucky FFA hosts its 80th annual State Convention for the first time in Lexington.  For the first time ever, these questions can be answered via Twitter!

As Public Relations intern for Kentucky FFA, I’ll be running around the convention hall, looking for stories and showing Lexington media outlets just how amazing KY FFA members are.  On top of that, I’ll be using Twitter, to answer your questions throughout the convention, and some will even make this website!

Here’s how it works:

Go to twitter.com/celestelaurent

Click the button that says “Follow” so that you will begin recieving anything I tweet.

To ask a question, just start the tweet with @celestelaurent

I’ll respond with an answer as soon as possible.

Its that simple!

New to Twittering?  Not a problem.  Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter, its the same how-to guide that I used to get started. (Remember, you are not required to set up Twitter on your phone, the web version works just fine!)

While your at it, check out the Facebook group “I’m Following KY State FFA Convention on Celeste Laurent’s Twitter” and invite your friends!

Can’t wait to see what you all have to tweet about!

Living Disconnected

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.  Since finishing finals on May 15, I’ve been living life disconnected. 

Instead of dealing with dial-up, my family (like many in our area) has decided to live without an internet connection.  This was fine when I was in middle school, inconvenient when I was in high school, and downright impossible as a college student.

Especially a college student pursuing a career in online journalism.

Luckily, my boyfriend is patient enough to check my email for me daily and let me spend an hour online each time I visit him. This allows me to stay somewhat up to date while living without the web.

Taking a break from the world wide web has had its positive points.

Daniel and Anna after her 8th grade graduation.

Daniel and Anna after her 8th grade graduation.

Spending so much time on the farm and with the family has been very introspective. 

I’ve reminded myself how much I love small town life, reconnected with my high school girlfriends, and literally prayed that my favorite sow would be bred.

I remembered how great a home grilled New York strip tastes, how sweet the smell of a barbeque pit is, and that there’s nothing quite like a diet cherry coke from Harned’s.

I’ve spent far too much time with my youngest brother. I doubt there’s any other college student who knows the theme songs to Phineas and Ferb and Word World.

The Laurent FFA members and KY State Reporter, Ashlee Castle.

The Laurent FFA members and KY State Reporter, Ashlee Castle.

I watched my siblings succeed at their end of the year banquets: Aaron installed as chapter Vice President, Renee named Star Greenhand and Outstanding Freshman Leadership, and Anna graduate from 8th grade.

Have I written much? No.

Beyond a few FFA press releases, I’ve used my laptop for little more than playing cards.

I’m not breaking my promised to blog more and write more, I’m just delaying it. 

Give me a few weeks.  Before you know it I’ll have plenty of FFA articles and be on the cutting edge of agriculture news again.  Until then, I’ll be enjoying the simpler things in life.

Closing Time: My Last Jou 232 Blog Post

As I’ve written before, I am truly a poet at heart.  To me, life should be expressed in verse or rhyme.  Its no wonder that this post reminds me of the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, Closing Time by Semisonic:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”

This is the end of my first taste of online journalism, but the beginning of my pursuit of this field as a career.

This is my last blog post as a Journalism 232 student. 

The one belonging I'd need on a deserted island.

My laptop, which my boyfriend affectionately refers to as my "other boyfriend."

This class has made more of an impact on me than any other journalism class I’ve taken.  Obviously, it was the motivation for this website but its also led to my Twitter account, my LinkedIn profile, and ultimately my internship this summer at Michigan State.

More importantly, this class led me to my new passion: online agriculture journalism.

I had always realized the need for a greater online presence for the agriculture industry, however, I never thought I would be a part of it.  This class has given me the tools to break into this niche and now its up to me to find my spot in it.

As I look back on my early blog posts I can’t help but laugh.

I was worried about my lack of portfolio pieces and landing the internship I had been dreaming about since high school, saying:

“Hopefully, the next time I apply for a dream internship, job, or whatever I can put my best foot forward and prove myself on the web.”

Little did I know that I would not be selected for that position and would spend a month searching for any summer job that paid.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect my last ditch attempt at finding internship suggestions via Twitter would yield a job offer.  

Cliche as it may seem, this website and the other skills I gained in my Journalism 232 class really did “put my best foot forward” and land me an internship that exceeds all my expectations!

This may be the last post in the Jou 232 category, but its far from the last on this blog.

You can expect more posts, more agriculture issues coverage, and of course, updates how this Cajun Kentuckian adjusts to life in Michigan!

It may be closing time, but this is only the beginning!

WKU: Promoting Agriculture Misconceptions Daily

Normally, I would hold my tongue.
   
Normally, I would cut them some slack, laugh it off, and go on with life pretending that whoever it was had not just made some ridiculous agriculture illiterate mistake.
  
This is an exception. 
   
When I walked into the Tower Food Court at Western Kentucky University last night, I was greeted by a cartoon pig sporting a band-aid.  This jovial porker was on a large sign at the door of the food court to encourage me to wash my hands and take other steps to prevent getting the flu.
Taken with my blackberry and touched up on Photoshop.  I'll try to get a better picture soon.

Taken with my blackberry and touched up on Photoshop. I'll try to get a better picture soon.

Did it say “swine flu?” No.

Did it imply “swine flu?” Yes.

At a time when the agriculture industry is suffering from the unnecessary hysteria that is the H1N1 influenza, you would expect that our institutions of higher education would be promoting the truth about the situation. 

Sadly, the folks at Western didn’t take the time to watch the news, check the facts, or (heaven forbid) talk to anyone in the agriculture department before designing these ridiculous signs.

Since this start of the ongoing drama that is H1N1, I have heard more intelligent people sound like idiots.

        

For example, sitting behind student journalists (who I previously perceived to be well informed) in my Media and Society class, I learned this:

“You can only get swine flu if you are around pigs or farms.” – Student 1

“That’s good, there’s only like 30 farmers in Kentucky.” – Student 2

“No, there’s more than 30 farmers, you have to count racehorses, they have farmers.” – Student 1

“That’s true, so like 100 people.  So why is it a big deal? Are there more farmers other places?” – Student 2

And we wonder why the American people aren’t eating pork? 

If the students at one of the most celebrated public journalism schools in the country don’t care enough to get the facts then how can we expect the average consumer to?

The fact is that we can’t.  As agriculturalists, it is our responsibility to publicize the truth about agriculture so often that the general public can’t help but get a dose of reality.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has done a stellar job of this since the outbreak of H1N1.

The NPPC has continuously released information to consumers and the media explaining the safety of American pork products.  Pork producers across the country are appearing on news broadcasts, being interviewed in newspapers, and speaking to health conscious audiences.

Even more kudos to the NPPC for utilizing social media to publicize the truth.  Every time I saw @NPPC tweet a new press release I immediately retweeted it.  Each time I viewed the #swineflu trending topic on Twitter, I saw at least one tweet quoting an NPPC release.

They’ve even built an entirely seperate website to spread H1N1 facts and advertised this site in full page ad in today’s issue of USA Today.

While they are doing a stellar job, we cannot expect the NPPC to combat these misconceptions alone.  The entire agriculture industry must do their job to spread the truth about H1N1. 

You don’t have to write an article, blog or tweet about it.  Just explaining the truth to confused classmates, sharing information with school administrators, writing letters to the editor in newspapers that are still using the thrill seeking word “swine flu” can make a major impact.

Or, you can take a more creative approach: write a song about it and post it on YouTube.

Whatever your method of choice, it is up to the agriculture industry to spread the truth about H1N1.  Obviously, our institutions of higher education are not.

Cargill made sure I didn’t get the PETA treatment

In April, my meat science class partnered with the beef production class at Western Kentucky University, loaded 40 college students on a charter bus, and headed west. 

Dr. Gordon Jones, my meats professor and advisor, knows someone everywhere who has done something important in agriculture.  He called in a few favors and lined up tours at some of the most secure meat packing plants in the country.  

Add in visits to feedlots, farms, universities, and the USDA Meat Animal Research Center and you’ve got a pretty great taste of the beef industry in only 4 days time!

Here’s an overview of the trip and its impact on students.

From a journalism standpoint: I knew that each packing plant I entered was suspicious of me. 

Who can blame them?  After the likes of PETA and HSUS sent undercover reporters into plants to slander the meat industry, most plants adopted “confidentiality policies.”

While my classmates were just signing their copies, I was reading the fine print, trying to cover all the bases and make sure I could include their facility in my journalism class projects.

Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, MO, had the most strict confidentiality policy of anywhere we visited.  Their policy only allows me to say that I toured the facility.  I cannot voice an opinion or divulge any information about anything related to their company.

Cargill Meat Solutions in Schuyler, NE, gave me the benefit of the doubt.  Plant manager, Vaughn Bloom, waived the confidentiality policy in regard to my video project, saying:

“Tell the world what you saw here, its time to get the truth out there. Just don’t put my ugly face on your video!”

The chance to work with someone like Mr. Bloom was very reassuring for me.  It is nice to know that there are people in the industry who are willing to cooperate with an ag journalist and share their passion for telling agriculture’s story to the general public.

Most importantly, he believed me when I told him I wasn’t with PETA!

Even though Mr. Bloom waived the confidentiality policy, I was still not permitted to photograph or film inside the facility because I was a student journalist.  This is a Cargill policy across the board, though they provide photographs on their website that journalists can use. 

I can’t blame them; a student journalist is unaffiliated, there’s no telling what they’ll write or where it will be published.  Just the fact that I am allowed to write about the plant is more than enough permission for what I’m doing.

This trip was so influential to me that I know I’ll write about it again in later blog posts. For now though, I’m just proud that I was able to youtube something that tells the real story about the meat industry.

When I Grow Up…I want to stick up for Agriculture!

It was the subject of at least one essay every year of grade school: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Like any child, each year I had a different answer.  One year it was hog farmer the next it was country singer and still the next it was author.  Though my career goals changed, I always knew that I would spend my life sharing what I loved with the world.

What did I love?  Three simple things: agriculture, writing, and living in the country.

Honoring my parents at the 2008 KY State FFA Convention.

Honoring my parents at the 2008 KY State FFA Convention before I retired from state office.

Though it took years of gradeshool essays, I have finally realized that the best way to share all three of these things in my chosen career is probably not at the Grand Ole Opry but as an agriculture journalist.

This is not the first time I’ve blogged about my career goals.  In this post, however, I’m going to give credit where credit is due. 

Take a look at my “About me” page and you’ll see that I’ve been dedicated to animal agriculture my whole life.  This was only possible because I was blessed with the parents who never let me say never. (Literally, my mom didn’t allow us to say the word can’t when we were growing up!) 
 
My parents understood the importance of 4-H, FFA, and youth livestock programs and allowed me to miss so much school to learn things that couldn’t be taught in a classroom. 
  
My closest friends at the 2009 Block & Bridle banquet.

My "fan club" at the 2009 Block & Bridle banquet.

When I got to college, my Block and Bridle friends became my #1 cheerleaders!

It was no suprise that they were behind me when I began building my website. 

They were my first “blog fans” and the ones who celebrated with me when my story was featured on Ag Wired.  Most importantly, they helped me find my niche in the ag journalism world: expanding agriculture news online. 

I know, you think I sound like a twitter-happy, cookie cutter journalism student. 

Unlike mainstream news coverage, however, agriculture news has a lot of catching up to do in the online department.

In my mind, agriculture literacy is the biggest issue facing the industry today.  How can we ever expect the average consumer to understand modern farming practices if we don’t put the information out there?

Furthermore, its not enough to put agriculture news online, we have to connect it with the general public.  Sponsor some Google links, add an RSS feed, open a Twitter account – whatever it takes!   What’s the worst that could happen?

Its time for conventional agriculture to stick up for itself, I just hope I can be there to help.

Just Plain Celeste, the Ag Journalist

 Growing up, I had two groups of friends: show friends and school friends.
My 2006 KY 4-H State Livestock Judging Team

My 2006 KY 4-H State Livestock Judging Team

 
My show friends were the kids I had spent my summers with since I was nine years-old.  They were my livestock judging teammates and livestock showing rivals. 
  
We shared everything: our food, our families, and our love for the livestock industry.  Among these people I found my biggest supporters, my college roommates, and friends that time and distance can’t separate.
 
My high school girlfriends, Spring Break 2007

My high school girlfriends, Spring Break 2007

 My school friends were the ones I hung out with the rest of the year.  In our small town, everyone went to the same school from 1st grade on so we all knew way too much about each other. 

These people starred in so many fond memories: elementary school plays, middle school dances, sleepovers, pool parties, and soccer games.

Since fourth grade, I have been keeping these two groups separated.

Living in these two very different worlds created an identity crisis for me.  I had to learn when to be “farm Celeste” and when to be “school Celeste.”   I hated separating the people and parts of myself that I loved the most, but I didn’t know how else to deal with it.

My situation as both a journalism and an animal science major is very similar to my friend scenario growing up.

In the past, I would have tried to separate my journalism life and my animal science life.  My experiences with my friends, however, has taught me how painful that can be, and I am determined to do whatever I can to avoid the same outcome. 

My solution: combine my passions and chase them as one dream.

 That’s why I incorporate agriculture into nearly every post on this blog, even if the prompt has nothing to do with it.  I’ve spent my whole life separating the things and people that were so dear to me, I don’t want to do that forever!

 My goal is to develop my online presence and gain respect for my agriculture journalism work.  Hopefully, my audience will reach a point where they no longer categorize me, but instead see me as just plain Celeste. 

I think all good journalists want that same treatment.  Think about it, if you love a person’s work then why do you care if it was published in a blog or in the Sunday print edition?  Either way its their work, its their talent, its worth respecting. 

Journalists need to quit wasting time trying to settle on a job title and do what they were meant to do: write!

One of my favorite ag journalists is Amanda Nolz, a journalism student and livestock lover who (among other things) works with BEEF Magazine.  I have no idea what her specific job title is, nor do I care!  All I’m concerned with is seeing her by line on my RSS feed, whether its in her personal blog or Beef Daily, because I know that there’s good content to follow.

When people ask what my career goal is now, I tell them that I want to be an online agriculture journalist.  Their next question is always, “What will you do?”  I look them in the eye, smile and say, “Whatever needs doing!”

Whether that means blogging, podcasts, videos, or hard news writing, I don’t care.  I’ve spent too long separating my passions, its time to combine them all and see what happens.

Yep, I found an internship on Twitter

My boyfriend and my laptop are in a constant competition for my attention.  Usually, my boyfriend loses. 

This semester, I dove head first into the world of online journalism.  Being a chronic overachiever, I checked out every website that my Jou 232 teacher suggested and put hours of extra effort into building my online presence.

Did I know what I was doing? Nope! Consequently, I didn’t set my expectations too high.  My only hope was that my blind leap into social media and online journalism would be of some benefit to myself or others. 

I never could have imagined just how beneficial it would be.

I started with what seemed like the newest craze: Twitter. 

Honestly, I hated twitter for the first week I had an account.  I literally forced myself to “tweet,” hoping that I would come to like the set up.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I am a wordy person.  Twitter’s 140 character limit took some getting used to but I’ve adjusted.

I quickly fell in love with tweeting when I discovered WeFollow.  This site is basically a phonebook for twitter.  It lets you register under the “tags” that you feel best identify with your twitter usage and browse other users who share your interests. 

WeFollow helped me find agriculture news sites from across the country and I began following them and replying to their tweets.  Before I knew it, I had people from all over the agriculture world following me, replying to my tweets, and reading my blog. 

That’s when inspiration struck.  I needed an internship for the summer, why not see if anyone on twitter knows of any available?  Without expecting much of anything, I wrote:

“Searching for paid summer internship/job related to #farm, #agriculture, #journalism, #news-writing. Any suggestions welcome!”

One of my followers(@rosamyst), who works in animal welfare/animal agriculture initiative communications at Michigan State, sent me a message asking for a copy of my resume.  Two weeks, 4 emails, and one phone call later and I had an internship at Michigan State working in my dream field!

Obviously, not everyone has this type of twitter experience.  For both agriculture and journalism students, however, stories like this one should encourage them to build their online presence.  No matter what your field or interest, it never hurts to network and twitter is just a new way to do that.

I feel like networking is the main role that social media will play in journalism.  The more people you know, the more you’re exposed to, the more you learn.  This mentality is the basis of the web, connecting people and information.

I won’t pretend that I have adopted every venue of social media, after all, I do have a life offline and as previously stated, an anti-twitter boyfriend.  Even he will admit, though, that sometimes my overachieving tendencies do pay off.

Hurting American farmers isn’t enough, COOL takes a stab at Canada’s too

In theory, it was a great idea: print the country of origin on all meat products and perishable agricultural commodities.  They even came up with a catchy acronym: COOL (Country of Origin Labeling).  Consumer lobbyists were happy, politicians were happy, and the warnings of the agriculture community were ignored.xbredpiglet

In execution, it became a nightmare.

The adverse affects that farmers warned of became a reality.  The aftermath of COOL has changed the beef and pork industries in the United States and, consequently, devestated those industries in Canada.

Before COOL, American producers would purchase live animals from Canada and commingle (mix) them with American livestock.  Since there is no permanent tracking system of where these livestock originated, they would not be eligible to enter the food chain under COOL regulation.

In order to cut their losses, US farmers drastically cut back on their purchase of Canadian livestock as they could more effectively market their “product of the United States” animals. 

According to AHN, the US producers imports of Canadian pigs have dropped to unprecidented lows. 

“Because of COOL live hog exports had gone down 43 percent to 1.3 million. Given the continuous decline, the [Canadian Pork] council estimates total hog exports for 2009 will decrease to 5.6 million from 9.3 million in 2008.”

Since COOL legislation went into effect, the Canadian Pork Council has again petitioned their government to challenge the legislation before the World Trade Organization.  They have little hope that their industry will recover without drastic measures, such as the repealing of COOL or the implementation of a permanent livestock identification system in the United States.

“Ultimately it will kill our producers in Canada… It is protectionism at its worst – without understanding what the ramifications are,” said Canadian Pork Council chairman, Jurgen Preugschas.

Unfortunately, the red tape of politics will take time to untangle, and time is something Canadian beef and pork producers don’t have to spare.  This sense of urgency has resulted in strong language from the Canadian Cattleman’s Association President, Brad Wilderman, who stated on February 24, 2009:

“This latest protectionist action makes it very clear that Canada must use every tool to challenge actions and policies that harm the Canadian industry.”

I feel like AHN did a wonderful job of covering this story and presenting the facts in manner that was easy for all audiences to understand.  While there are dozens of articles written by United States news organizations about the effects of COOL, it is interesting to see one from a Canadian news group. 

Sadly, this article only confirms what American agriculture analysts had suspected: Country of Origin Labeling isn’t so “cool” after all.