COLLEGE STATION — Texas A&M University agriculture students united on April 12 across campus promoting and educating people on the importance of agriculture by using live demonstrations of animals, fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products.
These students are part of the Farmers Fight Advocacy Group at Texas A&M, a student-led movement formed to reconnect society with American agriculture that has gained notable attention and has challenged others in the agricultural community to speak out and stand up for agriculture.
Farmers Fight was formed in January and has gained astounding momentum in a short amount of time. Mason Parish, a freshman agricultural economics major, founded the group and together with eight lead advocates they have united 220 agricultural students from 22 student organizations within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Lead advocates are Parish, Jasmine Dillon, graduate student in animal breeding; Victoria Pilger, freshman animal science; Caroline Black, graduate student in agricultural leadership, education and communication; Josh Hardcastle, sophomore agricultural communications and journalism; Eric Evans, agronomy; Bo/David Williford, junior agriculture business; Bobbi Frieda, freshman ag leadership and development; and Leighton James, sophomore ag business.
Parish, who grew up on a Santa Gertrudis cattle operation near Cut-n-Shoot, Texas, has a great appreciation for his agricultural background. His passion for agriculture along with his desire to correct misinformation about agriculture inspired him to start the Farmers Fight movement.
“Farmers Fight was started because there were a lot of students in the agriculture community who were frustrated with the myths that were being told about agriculture but they really didn’t know how to direct their passion. It was created after there was some negative publicity both on campus and in the media across the nation. We realized we need to be telling our story because if we don’t someone else will, and they will tell it wrong,” Parish said.
Training, Outreach, Connect
Through a three-phase process including training advocates, community outreach “Ag in the Classroom” and the campus connect day, the group has raised awareness about agriculture on campus and within the community, encouraging consumers to ask where their food comes from and to give students, faculty, public officials, farmers and ranchers an opportunity to become “agvocates” for the agriculture community.
Students participated in advocate training on March 21. Three community and industry leaders, Gene Hall, Texas Farm Bureau, Misty Martin, Texas Beef Council, and Anne Kimmey, Cultivate Agency, spent an evening preparing the students on how to become effective advocates and the proper ways on engaging consumers in discussions about agriculture.
“Ag in the Classroom” was presented to first graders at College Station elementary schools. Advocates discussed what agriculture is and brought samples of wool, hay, egg cartons and milk cartons and also presented each first graders with a coloring book featuring images of animals, farms and agricultural products. The coloring book was created by Aggies Jacy Johnson, Rachel Bedinger, Molly Dutton and Victoria Pilger.
“I believe it is extremely important that these students begin to learn about agriculture at a young age. They need to know that their food does not come from the grocery store but rather that there is a process for each commodity,” said Pilger. “An additional bonus to the coloring book for this age group is that they enjoy coloring and this physical interaction requires them to focus on the material at hand.”
For the culminating Farmers Fight event, campus connect on April 12, the student organizations set up booths around campus and showcased agricultural products and distributed educational material.
In addition to these efforts, lead advocate Jasmine Dillon has grabbed the attention of more than 27,000 people on YouTube with her performance of Stand Up for Agriculture, a spoken word poem written and performed by Dillon.
In a powerful performance of Stand Up, Dillon challenges agriculturalists to stand up and advocate for agriculture. Through this non-traditional form of advocacy, the video has sparked excitement with students and the agricultural community.
“This is a nonconventional way to reach groups we normally do not reach. Spoken work (also called slam poetry) gets a message to someone in a different way. It gets people to think about things in different ways. Stand Up encourages people to reconnect in our circle and what agriculture does for them,” Dillon said.
On April 24, Dillon performed Stand Up for Agriculture live during a flash mob held outside of the newly renovated Memorial Student Center.
“The flash mob was another nontraditional way to bring awareness to Farmers Fight, to agriculture students and to the Texas A&M campus,” Dillon said.
Support from Community
Support for the Farmers Fight effort has been strong on campus and with department heads and administrators in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Bourlaug Institute, the Aggie Yell Leaders, the President of the TAMU student body Jeff Pickering and President of Texas A&M University Dr. R. Bowen Loftin.
Dr. Russell Cross, head of the Department of Animal Science, said the students showed outstanding initiative and should be encouraged to move forward.
“Farmers Fight is a prime example of how our students can play a major role in informing our consumers as to how agriculture feeds the world. Imagine the impact they can make if this effort was spread on a national level.”
In addition, Farmers Fight has garnered quite a support system off campus from agriculture groups like the Texas Farm Bureau and Southwest Dairy Farmers and has been popular among online social media sites and news organizations. The movement received an overwhelming message of support from Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples (Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of ’84).
In a video message, Staples said, “It makes me proud to hear of events like Farmers Fight where Aggies are taking the lead to educate all consumers that agriculture is your culture. In a world where feeding and clothing 7 million people continues to be a noble profession, it is crucial that we keep the public informed on where our food and clothing come from and how these items are produced.”
Parish and other lead advocates are thrilled to have received this support and are motivated by this following.
“The response has been resounding, all the way from department heads to the board of regents. We’ve truly been motivated to continue this because people on the outside are looking in and realizing that students are coming together to tell the story of ag,” Parish said. “These people are uniting behind the students of the College of Ag and Life Sciences and are saying ‘keep going, don’t quit’.”
Lead advocates already are making plans for next year and hope the movement spreads nationally across college campuses.
“We hope to increase this movement into a place where people can come for honest and truthful information along side empowering organizations and campuses across the nation to do an event either similar to Farmers Fights or to take the name of Farmers Fight,” Parish said.