By Maddie Smith
National FFA Officer Candidate
Think about the last time you filled up at the pump. What fuel did you use? Why? Thinkabout the labels on the food you buy. What do they mean? Think about the news stories you hear. What do we do to keep our water clean and the environment healthy? How do trade agreements impact our communities? Why do we see healthy livestock and hungry families in the same county?
Think about what these things all have in common: agriculture. These are valid questions that are explored and answered with agricultural literacy. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry states that agriculture accounts for 147,000 jobs – many of which have been deemed essential. Our state ranks fifth for total agricultural production and eighth for livestock production in the country. The statistics support the economical importance of understanding agriculture, but suppose we aren’t one of the 147,000 agricultural workers in our state. Why should we care? Well, agriculture is part of all of our lives, from the food we eat and the fuel we use to the landscapes around us and traditions found in our communities.
Agriculture is always in our lives, but that doesn’t mean an understanding of it is.
Consider a recent Burger King advertisement campaign. In a playful music video with yodeling and making fun of “cow fats,” Burger King claims that lemongrass in a cow’s diet reduces methane by 33%. Many people who enjoy a thick Whopper and catchy rhythm may have been pleased by the idea of a so-called environmentally-friendly burger. Many people within the agriculture community, however, considered the humor as lack of regard to agricultural efforts towards sustainability and immediately dismissed credibility to the ad because a dairy cow breed was used in a video making a scientific claim about beef. Most people were either laughing or complaining, depending on their point of view.
This is a perfect demonstration of the importance of agricultural literacy. Burger King’s advertisement failed to back their claims with adequate research and legitimate scientific reasoning. Whether we raise beef or buy beef from a Burger King drive-through, we all have a desire for sustainability and food. The decisions we make when we provide and purchase sustainable food should be resolved with science and an accurate understanding of that science.
Literacy is listening. We rely on dependable research and facts to make informed decisions. To deepen your understanding of agricultural literacy, refer to credible sources that provide accurate facts and deeper insights. For well-sourced information on common agricultural topics, visit the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture’s Common Questions About Agriculture page. As responsible consumers and producers, we support our beliefs and actions by utilizing personal values as well as facts. Agricultural literacy is key to making informed decisions in our lives – whether it be at the gas pump, grocery store, or voting booth.
When I was asked to write this series of articles related to agriculture, I was thrilled! As a 2019 Fillmore Central High School graduate and ongoing agriculture student, this county and topic hold a special place in my heart. I spent the first 10 years of my childhood growing up in Rochester and riding horses at my grandparents (Bill and Judy Laures) in Chatfield during my free time. As a teenager, I embraced the value of farm life while learning from my dad (Todd Ristau) and grandparents (Vern and Kay Ristau) in the cornfields and pastures of sheep and beef. In our community, I have been heavily involved with both 4-H and FFA. My time with 4-H led me to countless early mornings at county and state fair shows, political offices in Washington D.C., and plenty of servant leadership opportunities. Starting with my first agriculture class, I became a part of another youth organization involved with agriculture: FFA.
This past spring, I finished my first year studying agricultural education at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and retired from a state leadership position within FFA, where I had the opportunity to promote agriculture and agricultural education. This fall, up to 52 candidates (one from each of the 50 states, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico) will spend roughly seven days interviewing, in hopes of being elected to an officer team of six to represent National FFA’s 700,000 members and our country’s over one million 7-12 grade agricultural education students.
As I represent Minnesota as it’s National FFA Officer Candidate, I look forward to sharing my journey with you through this series of articles!
In the upcoming weeks, I will be sharing what I have learned and continue to learn from my experiences and conversations across the state. Topics will range from local stories to understanding the relevance of policies and current events in agriculture. Literacy is listening. To share any questions, story ideas, or comments on published or potential articles, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.