As our young Collegiate Farm Bureau organization has grown at UW-Madison, we have strived to add new opportunities for students to get involved with promoting agriculture. Trying to make connections and move the needle in a meaningful way for agriculture can seem like a daunting task on a campus with more than 40,000 students.
Late in October, we created an event called “Get the Scoop on Your Food” to remind the campus community about the importance of food and the people who produce it. While it was by no means a large event, it was a chance to remind students about the importance of the food that we so easily take for granted every day, and to start conversations about farming and food production. We partnered with UW’s Food Science Club, a group of students studying food processing, preservation, nutrition and safety.
A group of CFB members set up shop on the steps to Ag Hall (home of the largest lecture hall on campus) and handed out “Bucky Puck” ice cream sandwiches to students, staff and others hurrying to and from class, lunch and work. Many people simply stopped and asked why we were standing outside on a cold October morning. Others grabbed a sandwich and simply said thank you. A select few stopped to converse about what food means to them.
One conversation stands out in particular. A sophomore approached our group and sparked up a conversation about factory farms. We took time to listen to his questions and share how we’ve been involved with large and small farms alike. We shared our own story in agriculture, and tried to fairly address the concerns and misconceptions he had.
He talked about a paper he’d written for a class about Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, and some of the videos he’d seen online. As our conversation progressed, it was clear that we had opened up a whole new side of the story for him. As students and people who could both acknowledge his concerns and discuss our own experiences, we had put a face on farming that had not existed before.
Before we parted ways, he mentioned that a student organization he is a member of might be interested in seeing a large Wisconsin dairy. With no shortage of members willing to open the door to their family farms, I’m confident we will be able to make that happen in the future. These are the partnerships that groups like ours need to foster. After all, there’s no better way to gain trust in farming and food than by meeting farmers and seeing firsthand how they care about their animals and their land.
It makes me wonder how much we could move the needle for agriculture if we all took it upon ourselves to “talk ag” all the time. After three years of leadership in our campus Farm Bureau group, I’ve learned that it’s not the size of your message or how loud your voice is, it’s the quality of your connection that truly moves the needle.