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A Dollar For Your Thoughts
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 usda.gov (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.