Reaching out across ACES disciplines

Nov 6
Leia Kedem, Agricultural Communications Instructor

As physically close as we may be on our side of campus, ACES disciplines can be worlds apart in understanding each other’s fields.

This hit home for me in early October, when I attended FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo) in Nashville for professional development through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Naturally, I was drawn to a session on antibiotic use in humans and animals. I was taken aback (yet not surprised) when a texting poll revealed that the majority of the audience believed that meat products contain a significant amount of antibiotic residues.

Having worked in Extension prior to my current position, I knew there were strict government regulations in place regarding antibiotic residues in food – if present, these would be miniscule amounts unlikely to have an impact on human health. But if I hadn’t had the experience, would I have known? Maybe not.

Antibiotic use in agriculture is a hot topic these days; just a few weeks ago, Subway announced they would be moving toward all antibiotic-free meat within the next ten years. Of course, all meat is virtually antibiotic-free, but many consumers (and evidently, dietitians) don’t know that. Apart from the residue issue, though, people are also interested in how their meat was produced. What is the purpose of using antibiotics in agriculture? Does this contribute to the growing antibiotic resistance problem? How does it relate to animal welfare?

These are all excellent questions that the average person probably could not answer accurately (sorry, information yielded from a Google search doesn’t count!).

As current president of my local professional group (Eastern Illinois Dietetic Association - EIDA), I was inspired to leverage my Ag Comm connections and organize one of our monthly meetings around this topic.

I reached out to Jill Johnson, Director of Communications for the Illinois Beef Association and ’12 Ag Comm alum, who rallied several people involved in the industry to come answer our pressing questions. At our October 26 meeting, Johnson moderated a discussion with panel members Sara Prescott (Prescott Angus), Alan Adams (Adams Family Farm; U of I Agriculture Science alum, ’73), and Dan Shike (U of I Professor of Animal Sciences; U of I Animal Sciences alum, ’05 and ‘07).

EIDA attendees were not shy and questioned the panel on production practices, including the use of hormones and of course, antibiotics. A key message was that there is no right or wrong way to raise livestock; there is a market for all types of niche products (e.g., grass-fed or USDA Certified Organic). Another was that antibiotics and hormones have both benefits and drawbacks.

I even learned a few new facts! Organic farmers can and do treat their animals with antibiotics; however, those animals are then marketed as conventional, not organic. I also found out that hormone implants help the animals put on muscle mass more quickly, which results in leaner beef (good for heart health!).

Dietetics is really just an extension of the agricultural field, so why aren’t we talking more? If you’re a student, I encourage you to take ACES classes outside of your own major to gain a broader understanding of the issues you’re passionate about. And for everyone else, well, it’s still not too late! Make an effort to learn from others in related fields and most importantly, ask questions. One of the best things about the College of ACES is its interdisciplinary nature, so let’s make the most of it.

Reaching out across ACES disciplines
Ag Comm Alum Jill Johnson moderates a discussion with panel members Sara Prescott, ACES alum Alan Adams, and U of I Professor of Animal Sciences Dan Shike.

A glance into global collaboration

Nov 5
Anna Kanfer, Sophomore in Agricultural and Consumer Economics

Upon arrival in Rome, I was starstruck. Our whole group jumped out of the cab and practically skipped all the way down our hotel’s main street to the Colosseum. It was 10:00 a.m. after spending ten hours on a plane without sleep, but we were energized. There was an hour and a half before our first appointment at the conference venue, so it was mandatory to squeeze in at least a “breakfast gelato” and a couple of pictures beforehand. We didn’t know what we’d gotten ourselves into at that point, but this wouldn’t be the last of sleepless nights and jam-packed days.

For the next four days, we were immersed in a world so far from anything I’ve seen before.The First International Congress on Postharvest Loss Prevention convened 260 people from 62 different countries to share their research, findings, and ideas on what can be done to solve this important component of world hunger. My favorite aspect of the event was getting to meet and learn about people from all different areas of the world--from right there in Rome, to as far as Ethiopia or Thailand.

At the reception on the first evening, our group met a presenter from Ghana named Mammie, whose research focused on expanding food processing capacity. We talked about her various trips all over the world, and studies during her college years in the familiar Midwestern USA! Mammie mentioned that she hadn’t had much time to do any exploring, so Chelsea and I walked with her down to the Colosseum during our lunch hour the next day. We had a great chance to learn all about the experience and culture of living in her home country, and shared experiences from our own.

When Mammie presented her poster the following morning, our group was able to hear a new side of her interests, and feel what it was like to gain knowledge from a colleague at a conference like this. It was interesting to learn about the types of research she’s done, and the solutions she proposes--like spreading education so that processing plants can be developed in rural areas, eliminating the need for and danger of transportation from harvesting sites to urban plants on gravel roads. When much of the Ghanaian postharvest losses occur during transportation because of bumps and carelessness on harsh roads, this solution could drastically change outcomes for farmers and traders.

The experiences we had with Mammie were similar to those with many of the other participants, and that was my favorite part of our week in Rome. The congress introduced us to a whole new world of collaboration, where people from all over the globe were able to come together and make a difference. In just a few short days, I learned about postharvest loss in Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh--only to name a few of the many countries. I learned about personal experiences of people, like Mammie, from each of those places, and about how they were shaped by those experiences. The congress taught me more than anything else, that a global view is important when it comes to being effective in solving problems you’re passionate about. Open-mindedness and collaboration are two of the key components to success in anything. I walked away from the congress with knowledge not only of postharvest loss, but with a refreshed ambition to work hard in hopes of future systematic efforts, just like this one, to organize solutions to any world problems that come our way.

Mammie, Chelsea and I at the Colosseum during lunch on the first full day of sessions.
Mammie, Chelsea and I at the Colosseum during lunch on the first full day of sessions.

Winter-Nelson joins ag delegation to Cuba

Nov 4
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

I always enjoy hearing about and reporting on my boss’s travels, but I was especially curious when he recently returned from Cuba, an island so close yet one that few Americans have visited.

Dr. Alex Winter-Nelson traveled to Cuba during mid-October as part of a high-profile delegation that included Congressman Rodney Davis (R) and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D), who both serve on the IL House Agriculture Committee. The trip was organized by the Illinois-Cuba Working group and focused on expanding agricultural trade opportunities.

I was surprised to learn Illinois already supplies at least 20% of Cuba’s corn and soy, and the recent thawing of relations between our two countries opens possibilities for even greater economic opportunities for Illinois. 

Specifically for ACES, it could mean opportunities for academic exchange that are mutually beneficial for scholars in Illinois and Cuba.

You can read more about Dr. Winter-Nelson’s perspective here.  

Small details

Nov 3
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

Those who know me well know that I am a detail-oriented person. At times, I struggle to see the “big picture,” but I’ll always notice the tiny details.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, I remember the first time I walked the steps in Mumford Hall. I immediately noticed the slight grooves worn in the marble steps, all of which were located near the inside railing. Although this seems like a small detail to many people, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of students who walked those same steps through the years. I immediately felt like a small part of the immense history of the University of Illinois.

The buildings that make up the College of ACES are full of details that reflect the character of this university. In our rush to get to class or go to our next meeting, we sometimes miss the details that surround us each day. These miniscule features are often nestled in the beautiful architecture and landscape of this campus.

No matter where you are, take a few minutes this next week to notice the small details. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that mean the most.

University of Illinois

Rising to the challenge

Oct 30
Jesse Thompson, Assistant Dean, Academic Programs

As I have been actively engaged in the recruitment of the next undergraduate class, many things have come to mind as I travel around the state about why students should come to the Urbana-Champaign campus. Students express that they are hesitant to apply because of what they may see as a restrictive environment based on race, gender, geography, and other concerns. I beg to differ. 

U of I strives to build a campus environment which allows students to develop an array of skills that will make them productive citizens and problem-solvers for the future. The diversity of this campus is what energizes the learning process. The quality of experiences that students gain allow them to demonstrate that no matter what the environment that they came from, they can engage with others and free themselves of the stereotypes about themselves and their groups.

When you exist in the highly charged and challenging academic environment of the University of Illinois, the focus is on academic growth and discovery, and students tend to perform based on the highest expectations which are placed on them by faculty, staff, potential employers, and their peers. 

Field & Furrow Club to celebrate 80 years!

Oct 29
Marise Robbins-Forbes, ACES Director of Development, Crop Science and NRES

On this beautiful fall day, I am excited about the upcoming 80th Reunion of Illinois’ award-winning Field and Furrow Club November 6 and 7! The 75th gathering was wonderful and the 80th will be even better. Please join us! Thanks to the generosity of a F&F alum, invitees will not be charged for the luncheon at the 77 Club or for the Saturday banquet.

Save your pennies for the silent auction that night! More than 20 items to choose from with proceeds supporting F&F student conference travel. We are trying to help crop sciences students get to the SASES regional and national meetings to share their posters!

Anyone who has given to the Turner Hall Project is also invited as we are also using this occasion to showcase the completion of the first phase of construction. Registration ends soon so sign up and we will hold your spot. Check out the schedule of events for the weekend.

Change is in the air...

Oct 29
Angie Barnard, Illinois 4-H Foundation Executive Director

When the temperatures change and the leaves transform into beautiful color, it is the sign of new opportunities. The youngest members of my family are quite excited for their newest opportunity - finally becoming Cloverbud 4-H members.  My 5 and 7 year olds see their mom leave our home every day to be a “4-H worker” and, for them, going to their first 4-H meeting this week signals new friends, new experiences, and new fun!  I couldn’t be more proud and full of anticipation of what their 4-H years may mean to them!

The Illinois 4-H program is experiencing a few changes, as well. The start of the new 4-H program year moved from September 1 to October 1 this year. Illinois youth, ages 5-18, all over the state began their new 4-H year with plans of learning new things, trying something that they wouldn’t normally do, spending time with people that maybe their paths wouldn’t cross if it wasn’t for 4-H. It was an exciting change that allowed Illinois 4-H to launch their new year while celebrating National 4-H Week!

As young adults across the state start to select and purchase animals for the 2016 Illinois State Fair, fair officials announced that junior livestock shows will be expanded to include individuals age 8-21.  Previously, junior livestock shows were limited to individuals age 10-18. It is important to note that participation age for junior livestock shows will now be open to all 4-H members for the 2015-2016 program year.

For my family, harvest has concluded and we are grateful for the bounty it has provided. Much like the agricultural growing year, the new 4-H year will bring exciting growth for youth and a harvest of personal experiences! I look forward to seeing what’s in store for my two Cloverbuds, as well as the thousands of other Illinois 4-Hers.

Angie and her kids
Angie Barnard, Executive Director Illinois 4-H Foundation, with her daughter Brecke and son Alex, new Cloverbud 4-H members.

ACES students attend World Food Prize Conference

Oct 28
Amber Adams, Crop Sciences Marketing

Tom Poole, sophomore in the crop sciences, shares about his experience at the World Food Prize Conference

“Food is a moral right.” - Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Food Prize Founder 

From October 14 to 17, Angelica Lee (FSHN), Charles Herrera (ABE), and I participated in the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa. This an annual conference in which agricultural leaders from all over the world come together to focus on global food security. The main event is an honorary recognition of a global leader dedicated to fighting world hunger. This year’s World Food Prize Laurate was Sir Fazle Hasan Abed from Bangladesh. Abed is a Bangladeshi social worker and founder of BRAC, one of the most successful development organizations aimed at alleviating poverty.

Angelica, Charles, and I were able to attend the World Food Prize through our internship with the USDA Wallace –Carver fellowship program the previous summer. We also had the opportunity of acting as group leaders for the Global Youth Institute. This is a program within the World Food Prize in which domestic and international high school students learn about global food security and how they can make a difference in the world. We met several well-known public figures, such as Chelsea Clinton and Sheryl WuDunn. Attending the conference was an unforgettable experience that was very inspiring. I am further motivated to pursue a career working in international agronomy to improve global food security!

Charles Herrera (ABE), Angelica Lee (FSHN), and Tom Poole (CPSC) at the World Food Prize Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.

USDA Wallace-Carver Fellowship recipients at the World Food Prize Conference.


The Next 500 Agricultural Communicators

Oct 27
Marla Todd, Associate Director of Advancement Communications

Dr. Jim Evans, Agricultural Communications Professor Emeritus, shares his thoughts about “The Next 500” agricultural communications scholarships. The major fundraising effort was announced Saturday, Oct. 24 during the agricultural communications homecoming huddle.

“We need to plow back into our field of interest,” my long-time mentor Hadley Read used to say.  His metaphor of returning ground cover to enrich soils for the future has resonated with me, as with many others who have discovered the importance of communications in the huge, vital world of food and agriculture. Over the years, I have been inspired by our graduates and others who generously “plow back.” They do so through guest lecturing on campus, hosting student field visits, offering words of encouragement, advising, spearheading the campaign for sustained faculty leadership, providing internships, lending financial support, teaching in communications workshops for FFA reporters, leading and helping professional ag communicator organizations, and many other ways.

In that spirit, I am honored to help announce and encourage scholarship support for “The Next 500” Illini agricultural communications students. Some 50 years ago, we initiated annual agricultural communications scholarships. They have provided funds and encouragement to hundreds of our students. Today, with escalating expense of a college education, scholarships based on merit and career interest are more important than ever to students and their families. I am proud to help launch a new, forward-looking “plow back” effort that will continue the tradition and serve “The Next 500.” 

Learn more about how you can support agricultural communications scholarships.

Dr. Evans pictured with several agricultural communications students who received ACES scholarships. Students completed the phrase “To me a scholarship means…”

A Dollar For Your Thoughts

Oct 27
Debra Korte, Teaching Assistant Professor, Agricultural Education

Katie Burns, a student in Agricultural Leadership and Science Education, shares her thoughts about a recent experience she had on the University of Illinois campus.

As a third-generation beef producer from Southern Illinois, my life goal is to educate consumers about the truths of modern agriculture. During my walk across the University of Illinois campus a few days ago, I noticed a brightly colored food truck asking students to “Watch a 4-minute video and earn $1.” Upon further inspection, I realized this truck was operated by an animal rights organization. It’s part of a campaign that travels the country to connect with consumers and in this case, students. They wish to convince consumers that switching to a vegan lifestyle will “save over 100 innocent animals’ lives.”

I wanted to learn more. So I watched the video. I felt sick to my stomach when I watched the four-minute video. I couldn’t believe that a truck would travel the country and display these false videos with inaccurate facts to consumers. Then I really started to listen. I heard false claims about agriculture. I knew I had to do something.

At first, I was nervous to talk to the lady who was handing out the brochures. But then I heard her tell other students standing around that “all animals that are raised in the U.S. are mistreated.” I had to collect myself for a minute. I knew if I got angry with her, she would not listen to anything that I said. If I got frustrated with her, I would just fall into the stereotype of the ill-tempered producer in the video who would harm animals.

When I mustered up the courage to walk over to her, we had a conversation and she told me "only 5% of the farms involved in large-scale animal production are family-operated farms." Then I showed her a statistic that I looked up on (while I was watching the video). It said 97.6% of farms are family owned and operated. She didn't have much to defend about her weakly supported claim. The woman quickly realized she was talking to someone who knew what they were talking about. She knew I had knowledge about something that was very important to me and she was trying to attack what I had to say.

She quickly shoved the flyer and dollar at me so I would stop talking to her. The students around me started to ask me questions about REAL agriculture. I told them my story. I stressed the extreme safety of agriculture practices and discussed the precautionary regulations enforced by our government. I told them, “Every decision a farmer makes is for the best interest of the farm and animals. Farming is our way of life -- our livelihood -- and it is absolutely a business. It is how we earn our money and put food on our family’s dinner table.”

After I finished talking to these students, I overheard part of their comments as they walked away. “I can’t believe that information the truck is giving out it is false.” “Someone should stop them.” I wish I could have stayed there all day to share my story with other students.

After reflecting on the experience, I realized their clever marketing tactics. The truck was parked a good distance from the Agriculture Quad. They chose a location where they were less likely to run into students majoring in agriculture. Wisely, they likely chose this location to hopefully avoid conflict. Walking away from that truck I had a feeling of validation. I got the chance to talk to people about what really goes on in agriculture and share my side of the story.

Now, I realize agvocating and sharing our personal ag story can be, at times, extremely frustrating. Don’t give up! As agriculturalists, we have to stand up for our livelihood. We need to assure the consumer that their food is safe and explain how our livestock are raised humanely. It's situations like this that reassure my decision to be an agriculture education teacher. I want to inform people about the REAL ways agriculture is practiced. I encourage you to do the same.

Katie Burns