Friday, October 21, 2016

Politics, Halloween, and a Back-forty Bath

This election campaign has been good for those who enjoy cynicism, sensationalism, and hyperbole. I imagine sales of stomach antacids have risen, and psychiatrists have scheduled more therapy sessions: “No you weren’t hallucinating. That actually was a presidential debate you saw. But remember, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their ‘debate,’ so it could be worse.”

My unofficial polling—with an unusually large margin of error—has determined that a majority of Americans feel stressed about the election. But as Alfred E. Neuman said, “What, me worry?”

Farmer Optimism and Zen Bathing

Americans have been known for their upbeat spirit, and let’s face it—farmers must be optimists whether they admit it or not. When the weather, pests, or prices ruin crops year after year, it takes a hopeful outlook to plant those seeds each spring.

So even when the prospects of a “bountiful harvest” look mixed, it might be time for some positive waves--time to “take a bath.” The Japanese phrase shinrin-yoku roughly translates into “forest bathing.” The idea is that a person can take a nature hike—preferably in the woods—to replenish one’s peace of mind. This is not a walk to air out grievances or plan company meetings--it is designed to get us in a "forest state of mind." Many think the immersion not only calms the soul, it also lowers blood pressure and improves a person’s overall physical well-being. The senses get awakened and the troubles of a hectic world fade.

Depending on where someone lives, the location of this “bath” could vary. Most folks don’t have Pooh Bear’s Hundred Acre Wood nearby, but city dwellers and rural residents alike can still slip into the water. You don’t have to shed your clothes, but you do have to shed your digital security blankets. No smartphones in these waters.

Take a Bath

Obviously, the countryside offers prime bathing opportunities. For me it centers on a walk around my parents’ farm. Occasionally I hike across the back forty acres to the small virgin prairie at the far end of the land that’s been in the family for five generations. As I explain in this previous blog, the five acres don’t look special, but the untouched area features tangled bluestem grass swaying in the wind, gold finches flitting from milkweed to mulberry tree, and narrow muskrat trails in the mucky area near the middle. If I let my mind float, the place also features echoes of stampeding buffaloes, native Americans on horseback, and newly arrived pioneers ready to homestead.

During the walk I might see a combine harvesting corn—the machine’s silhouette against the red glow of sunset as the grain dust hovers and yellow kernels flow into the hopper. Maybe I loop back along the creek bed where poplar trees sway on the bank and a blue heron rises in a low, slow flight. As I walk back to the house, I might think of the World Food Prize I attended last week and the hundreds of people from around the world focused on getting food to those in need—the Hunger Summit, the visiting youth groups, and the scientists working on nutrition. In a time of toxic political banter, plenty of folks are working on ways to make the world better.

If I’m lucky, the bath ends with a golden rinse as a full moon rises in the east.

I Ain't Scared of No...

Not everyone has access to rural walks, but “neighborhood baths” in town might be feasible. If the scenery along the way includes intrusive political campaign signs, bathers can just think of them as Halloween decorations—a bit scary, but an American tradition that will end in a trick or treat session. Forest, farm, or back streets—a successful bath is filled with the serenity of nature and the knowledge that most people are doing good things.  

by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom pic from

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Moments in the Blue--FFA Reflections

It’s here. The 89th National FFA Convention and Expo have commenced! Are you ready to TRANSFORM?

Transform. Think about that word for a moment. Does anything stand out to you—does it make you reflect your time in the blue corduroy?

When I found out, back in August, that I had the honor of receiving my American Degree—I was thrilled. It has been a goal of mine, ever since I started my SAE project back in freshman year of high school, that one day I would walk across the stage to get that golden key. And now that time is here. Almost six years ago my journey in FFA began. Six years ago my passion and dedication to agriculture started, and now as I reflect on my time in the blue jacket—is it making me feel blue?

It didn’t hit me until I was sitting in class thinking about the trip I was going to take to Indianapolis, and I realized this was going to be the last time I wore that blue corduroy jacket. The last time I, as an FFA member, got out that black pencil skirt, donned that white button up, zipped up that jacket, and tucked my tallywacker in. I don’t mean to get sappy on you all, but where does the time go?

The moments I have had in this organization have been some that I will never forget-- my favorite high school memories, some of the best friendships I have made, and some of the most useful leadership skills I have learned. It’s the moments like these that shape us into the individual we are today. That’s what the word, Transform, means to me. It’s looking at where I have started and then seeing where I am heading in the future.

If it weren’t for the moments I have had in the blue corduroy, I wouldn’t be sitting in this agricultural education class at Iowa State University. I wouldn’t be working towards a teacher certification in agricultural education, and I wouldn’t be writing this blog. That is where I have transformed--from that freshman in high with a dream to be on stage at Indy to working to be an agricultural educator and communicating the story of agriculture, and there is no doubt that my moments in the blue were well spent.

Each of us in FFA know how this organization has shaped us. It’s more than agriculture—it’s learning how to be the leaders of tomorrow; how to communicate about the food, fiber, and fuel of this industry; it’s learning about your strengths and weaknesses and more importantly, it’s about finding your purpose through the experiences you’ve had in this organization. It’s about the moments of being in the blue.

So as the 89th National FFA Convention commences, think back to the memories you made and share your stories with this organization. Whether you’re a member, advisor, alumni, or an agriculture enthusiast—there is not a better time to feel the love of blue and gold than right now. It’s a bittersweet moment for myself and for many others I’m sure, but I wouldn’t trade any of those long nights and early mornings of CDE practices, road trips with my crazy officer team and advisor, boxes of fruit sales to the community, or those five memorized paragraphs of the FFA Creed with anything else. I believe in the future of agriculture—so remind me again FFA members… why are we here?

by Hannah Pagel (Iowa State Univ. Junior, CAST intern, and proud FFA member)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ag Communication--Be Passionate, but Be a Listener Too

One way to communicate!

**Ag/education student Hannah Pagel (right) is a junior at Iowa State University and an administrative assistant intern at CAST. She attended the recent World Food Prize CAST side event in Des Moines, and here she explains how the words of Kevin Folta and Julie Borlaug Larson helped her consider the important role she and many others take on when they communicate about agriculture.

Listen, Understand--then Explain

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Borlaug CAST Communication Award Breakfast at the World Food Prize. At the award breakfast Julie Borlaug Larson, grand-daughter of Norman Borlaug, kicked off the event with some food for thought. She stated, "We cannot be silent or silenced. We need to work for solutions for food security." 

Words can be very powerful and together we can use communication to answer crucial questions. This was one of the many messages shared at the World Food Prize this week that has had an impact on how I view the agricultural industry.

Julie Borlaug Larson and Kevin Folta
As I reflect on the 2016 Borlaug CAST Communication Award Breakfast, I am filled with many messages from the leaders of the agricultural industry. This year Kevin Folta was the recipient of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award. This was the first time I have heard one of Kevin's speeches, and I think that it is fair to say that I, along with many others, were moved by his message. You know it is a good speech when someone is communicating effectively to an audience about communication. 

Being an agricultural educator, it is one of my main goals to tell the story of agriculture. At the award breakfast, Dr. Folta opened my eyes to the world of communication and how to effectively share one's story with others. "It's not enough to talk to people; we have to talk to them in a language they understand. Build their trust." Dr. Folta explained the keys of effective communication in a 5-step process: audience-empathy-values-satisfaction-action.

1. Audience: Know your audience and who you are communicating with.
2. Empathy: Understand your audience’s concerns, and show you are interested in listening.
3. Values: Share your values and establish a common ground between yourself and your audience.
4. Satisfaction: Gauge consumer understanding of the information you provided or help them gain more resources to answer their questions.
5. Action: Explain the next steps of action they can take to learn more.

We as agriculturalists have a strong passion for this industry, and sometimes that passion can get in the way of effectively communicating with others. We want to express our love for this industry, but we also want our audience to engage with us to learn more; that is what gets the message across to them.

Now don’t get me wrong—I have done this before. I get so excited that someone wants to engage in “Ag-talk” with me that I start to control the conversation; sometimes I barely leave room to listen to the concerns that person might have. Instead of sharing my passion, I end up turning people away because I am talking at them. I say I want to educate the general public on agriculture, but am I actually getting through to them effectively and personally?

The problem “Ag-vocates” have is that we do not take the time to establish that relationship, to connect with the people we talk to. Dr. Folta said, “We need to lead with our ethics—our shared values. This is the way to start, and our story can communicate itself from there.”

Dr. Folta is right; actions speak louder than words and taking the time to listen and understand where a consumer is coming from is what is going to make that connection even stronger and build up consumer trust.

It has been a journey for myself to figure out the best way to tell agriculture’s story. There is so much that I want to share with others all at once. But I know establishing a connection can last longer than starting one on a whim.

So my challenge for you--the next time you talk to someone--is to listen. Listen to what they are asking and then share your experiences in this industry that has helped you learn more about what agriculture does. Don’t be afraid to speak out, but listen and communicate your love for this industry by establishing the connection first.

As Dr. Folta said, “We need to listen, understand, then explain.”

by Hannah Pagel