Thursday, August 29, 2019

Building Relationships and Memories in Rome

The question I am always asking myself is, “Where to next?”

During the fall semester of 2018, I was looking for a challenge—a new opportunity with a new destination that I had not yet experienced. (I have been able to blog about my previous travel experiences to Argentina and Brazil on the CAST blog). I wanted to grow my understanding and professional experiences in my discipline of global resource and horticulture systems. With that in mind, I applied to the annual Dean’s Global Food and Agricultural Leadership program in Rome.

This program is a special partnership between Iowa State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. It focuses on giving undergraduate students the opportunity to work with professionals on real-world issues in agriculture and gain a new cultural perspective by living in Rome during the four-week program. Students are prepared through a semester-long pre-course that allows them to team build and use their critical thinking skills for important discussions about agricultural issues and learn how to improve as a team of professionals.

Caryn (far right) with her Iowa State peers during their free time in Rome.

I applied to this opportunity with some key things in mind. I wanted to gain more research experience, learn how to work in a high-functioning team—especially how to handle conflict in professional situations—and increase my competency of world issues, specifically those relating to food production. 

I was in Argentina on winter break when I heard the news that I was accepted to the program. I was ecstatic. In that moment, I was reminded that each decision I make to better my future I do with purpose, critically thinking about how I will grow and how it will benefit me or how I will use that experience later on. That moment reminded me how passionate I am about living and traveling internationally to contribute to advancements in agriculture, and what an honor it is to work with FAO as an undergraduate student.

Preparing for an Adventure
During the spring semester, we met twice a week with our leading professors to prepare for the program in May. We discussed working together over the next few months towards a final product to present at the end of our stay in Rome. This preparation was vital to our team’s functioning by grasping the issues that we would be researching, improving our skills in comprehension of science literature, and practicing presenting that comprehension.

One of the most exciting moments was finding out what our project topics would be. As a team of nine, we would split up into two groups and work on researching the upcoming and innovative technology of in vitro meat as well as a potential global shift to plant-based diets and the impact on livestock. We started our research and literature reviews by contacting professors with expertise relating to these topics at Iowa State for background knowledge and their opinions on these topics, then continued our research in Rome and guided our writing through the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) framework.

Working Hard
Arriving in Rome was surreal. After months of research and preparation we were ready to take on the biggest task. Each week, we met with our FAO mentors to discuss the progress of our research, ask any questions, and adjust to any redirection necessary. We worked diligently on our deliverables for the project: A 40-page literature review, a detailed slide deck based on that literature review, a shorted presentation for our FAO seminar, a policy maker slide deck, and a one-page summary of the results of our research. At the end of those four weeks we presented our findings to FAO staff members at a special seminar. Each team performed extremely well, growing professionally, handling conflict maturely, and we had a lot of fun together.

Caryn, center, with fellow students at the FAO.
Another special opportunity that arose while in Rome was the opportunity to meet the newly elected US Mission to the UN FAO, Ambassador Kip Tom. This was a unique moment for students as we met with Ambassador Tom to discuss our views and what we are learning about issues and agriculture and specifically what we were working on in Rome. It was an honor to meet with such a respected individual and for him to take time out of his day to learn about undergraduates’ interests and work, and he encouraged us to strive forward.

‘Wine Is Not a Drink, It Is a Food’
Because of the intense nature of this course, we took “brain breaks” to do some touristy activities around Rome. Of course, at the top of our list was the Colosseum, Roman Forum, many of the important Italian monuments and fountains, the Pantheon, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, the Spanish Steps, and many more of the must-see attractions around the ancient city. 

I always enjoyed history and learning the stories behind important pieces and places because that helps me understand each place I visit better. Every day that we would walk the city, I was in awe that I was walking among ancient ruins and imagined what life was like when they were occupied. We also took a trip out to the countryside to Tuscany where we went on some farm tours to learn about the smallholder farm operations, and wine and olive production. We were met by warm and happy host families that cooked the most amazing pasta. It was an honor to dine with these families and learn up close the important things they value in their culture. One quote I remember from our tour guide Silvio, who has been a part of the program for ten years was that “wine is not a drink, it is a food” as he was explaining the importance and symbolism of wine to Italian culture.

There were so many special moments during this experience that I could probably go on writing forever but I would like to summarize this study abroad experience as a unique opportunity to grow as young professionals by working loosely with college professors, building relationships with peers, and making worldwide connections. Also, there was at least one gelato run a day (sometimes two, thank you Dean Colletti and Drs. Steven and Elizabeth Lonergan), many nights of wine and laughter together and admiring the beautiful art of Rome.

Thank You!
Many thanks to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University for the opportunity to participate in such a prestigious opportunity, especially to Dr. Colletti, as well as Shelley Taylor, our travel coordinator. Many thanks also to Ted MacDonald for the lectures and instruction that prepared us for Rome, and Pia Schneider, Rome program resident director, for welcoming us into the design studio, sharing the yummy prosecco and being available to help us! Last but not least, many thanks to Drs. Steven and Elizabeth Lonergan for believing in us as students and young professionals, having patience with us through the hard parts, and for the hard work they put into this program.

By Caryn Dawson
Photos provided by Caryn Dawson

Monday, August 26, 2019

Cuddling Cows and Caring for Pet Pigs

When it comes to cuddling cows and owning pet pigs, we were way ahead of the trends on my 1960s boyhood farm. In my early teens, I'd have a personal-therapy session with a stubborn Guernsey every morning. And when I was younger, my brothers and I cared for three runt baby pigs--not realizing these little squealers would end up as bacon in the breakfast frying pan. 

Nowadays, comfort seekers apparently pay good money for the chance to snuggle up with a cow--something about the zen-inducing heartbeat and breathing patterns. Maybe it's the rhythmic cud chewing or the fragrance of dried milk and cowhide, but some think the therapy sessions are the best thing since goat yoga. 

Bossy was our milk-producing bovine. The trite name did not disguise the fact that she had her own strong personality, and cuddliness was not one of her traits. Before school, I'd position myself on a three-legged stool and lean my head against her side as I tried to squeeze out a bucket full of warm milk. The sound of the liquid hitting the stainless-steel pail might lull me into a zen stupor, but Bossy knew how to keep me grounded. A sudden back-leg kick could send the bucket flying, or a slow wave of her tail could fling mud and manure at my face.
Most sessions ended with a certain bucolic aura--Bossy would grind away at the grain mixture, the barn cat would lick off the milk I'd squirted onto its fur, and I'd lug the milk to the kitchen before spending time getting the smell of a cow's udder off my hands before boarding the yellow school bus.
Cows do have a certain amount of cool, and I guess the therapy sessions might help some achieve a bovine peace, but I wasn't sad when Bossy dried up and my cuddling days were over.

The pet pig trend has also intrigued me. Teacup piglets are cute, but--like adult humans--they grow bigger and "less cute." The movies have shown us that Wilbur was "some pig" and
Babe was a talented actor. But I'm not sure I'd want the hooved creatures tapping around my kitchen floor.  Some city councils are also dubious, as municipalities deal with neighbor complaints and pet-zoning laws

The closest we came to pet-pig care was when my two brothers and I promised Dad we'd do chores for three runt pigs that had been bullied to near death in the feedlot. That was before we were old enough to get into the pattern of Saturday morning manure-pitching sessions in the hog house, so we still thought pigs were fun.

Dad built the little pen out of wooden end gates, and we probably moved small buckets of feed and ran a hose for water in the best manner we could at that age. I'm sure we had some cartoonish names for the three, but in the end, the porkers headed to town on a truck with the others.

For us, cuddling cows and caring for pet pigs merged with the taste of fresh milk on cereal and the smell of bacon in the kitchen. I guess a certain amount of zen was achieved.

by Dan Gogerty (top photo from, middle pic from, and bottom pic from

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

7 Radio Clips, Episodes, and Shows About Current Ag Issues

Here is a little tidbit about the CAST staff: A couple of us are former radio broadcasters, which means the medium (podcasts, too) reserves a special place in our hearts. 

And, naturally, we enjoy sharing various forms of ag communication. So, here are seven episodes, clips, and shows that we’ve shared in Friday Notes or on social media throughout 2019 that talk about current issues in agriculture.

Dr. Alison van Eenennaam - Animal Genetics, Food Marketing, and World Hunger
The Canteen Podcast with Ally Houston
From the website: “Dr. Alison van Eenennaam is a public sector academic at the University of California Davis using science to improve the efficiency of agriculture. I really think that this is a dynamite episode that reveals some truths about beef and dairy production that are not widely known, but should be. We talk about world hunger. GMO, food marketing, and how ruminant agriculture has its place at the table.”

'I Rue The Day We Ever Became Farmers': In Rural India, A Struggle To Survive
This story aired in early 2019 and displays the struggle of Indian farmers in a time when farmers across the world are feeling the stress from poor crop yields and low profits. 

176: Jan Libbey of One Step at a Time Gardens on Scaling Up, Scaling Down, and Partnerships and Networking
Farmer to Farmer with Chris Blanchard
While new episodes have not been produced since the podcast creator’s passing in 2018, these episodes (like the one above) provide insights from real farmers about their production and marketing practices for their small-farm businesses. The episode above was the last produced.

Newsline and Features
The USDA provides daily clips of ag-related stories ranging from farm computer usage data to crop conditions to nutrition advice. 

#88: Our Food Choices & Climate Change. The Science & Facts ~Frank Mitloehner
From the website: “Dr. Frank Mitloehner joins us to help unpack the reality of all things livestock, agriculture, and the industries’ associated planetary impact. It’s a complex multi-faceted subject, yet easy to follow with Frank at the helm.”

Organic Food
Science Vs.
From the website: “It’s an epic three-way battle this week -- organic vs conventional vs …science. Three out of every four American grocery stores sell organic products, but what are you really getting when you buy them? Better taste? Fewer toxic chemicals? A cleaner environment? Farmers Mark, Andy, and Brian Reeves, nutritional epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Bradbury, Prof. Cynthia Curl, and Prof. Navin Ramankutty help us sort it all out.”

191 – Indian Farmers Protest for Technology Access
Talking Biotech Podcast with Kevin Folta
While Dr. Kevin Folta, the 2016 BCCA winner, produces many insightful episodes featuring the various ways biotechnology can or could impact agriculture and medicine, we’re pretty fond of his interview with Dr. C.S. Prakash, the 2015 BCCA winner, about the current genetically engineered Bt crop use issue in India. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

This is How We Do It: Learn About CAST's Work

In honor of National Nonprofit Day (August 17), we are sharing how CAST operates in order to fulfill our mission.

CAST is a designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which means we rely on charitable contributions from our supporters and members (along with grants) to accomplish our work. Without that support, we wouldn’t get very far. 

What We Do
CAST focuses on communicating research 
addressing some of today’s challenges in agriculture and food sciences. 

We synthesize credible studies to provide a balanced, comprehensive look at the challenges and recommendations that are part of topics such as food waste, animal ethics, gene technology, food labeling and so much more. 

Communicating science is part of our mission, which has remained largely unchanged since CAST came into being nearly 50 years ago. 

How We Do It
Our authors--experts and researchers in industry and academia who specialize in our paper topics--volunteer their time to write, edit, fact-check, peer review, and find funding to ensure these publications can reach our audiences--legislators, the media, farmers, students, and anyone interested or impacted by the topics we cover. We want to provide credible, balanced resources to aid the decision-making process for complex issues.

We want to provide these publications for as long as possible and remain a reliable source for those who look to CAST as a non-affiliated authority on agricultural and food science issues. 

3 Things You Can Do
Whether you're a member or just interested in staying in the loop, we have a few ways you can be more involved with CAST:

  1. Use our free reports, issue papers, and commentaries to spread awareness and information about agricultural issues. 
  2. If you think others would benefit from our publications, share our information with them. Follow us (@CASTagScience) on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop about our upcoming publications and announcements. 
  3. If you really like us and believe in what we do, please donate or become a member--we have a lot of options. And your contribution may qualify as a tax-deductible gift!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

CAST Announces Science Communication Scholarship

In 2018, we launched the first CAST Science Communication Scholarship*. This year, we’re getting more hands on.

We’re encouraging graduate students at the University of Arkansas to show us how they want to communicate their research to audiences outside their research community. By creating a 90-second video or podcast, or an infographic, students will creatively convey an exciting component of their research. 

After students submit their work, a panel of judges will provide feedback to the students to help strengthen their science communication strategy. Selected students are invited to the CAST Annual Meeting, held at the University of Arkansas, to network with like-minded scientists from across the nation, as well as participate in the sessions focused around trends in agriculture and communicating important ag-related issues.

Selected students will also receive a stipend as part of the scholarship and have their work displayed on CAST’s social media pages.

If you are a graduate student at the University of Arkansas:
Check out the application process, resources, and other useful information in our Google folder.

If you know a graduate student at the University of Arkansas:
Send the scholarship information along:’d love your help spreading the word and getting in touch with the next generation of science communicators.

2018 Scholarship Winners
Five students from the University of California Davis received the scholarship and attended our annual meeting held at the UC-Davis campus. You can read why they believe science communication, especially in their research areas, is important to them below.

Maci Mueller -- Gene editing in livestock production systems
Mackenzie Batali -- Food science, specifically coffee sensory research
Sarah Klopatek -- Beef sustainability 
Alonna Wright -- Microbial communities within crop soils
Rylie Ellison -- Agricultural and environmental chemistry

*CAST rotates its scholarship eligibility based on the location of its annual meeting. As the scholarship grows, we hope to include and support more students, regardless of the location of our annual meeting.

Friday, August 9, 2019

4 CAST Publications to Watch for This Fall

We are very pleased to share that we are working to finalize four papers for release this fall. 

All of these papers are the culmination of work by various task forces that are comprised of scientists, engineers, legal scholars, economists, sociologists, and other subject-matter specialists who generously contribute their time, energy, and expertise to help us assemble, interpret, and communicate balanced, credible, science-based information about food and agriculture. 
The titles and expected release dates of these new CAST papers:

September 2019:  Protecting Food Animal Gene Pools for Future Generations--A Series on The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050

October 2019:  Interpreting Agricultural Chemical Residues Measured in Food or Milk

November 2019:  Impact of Recruitment and Retention of Food Animal Veterinarians on the U.S. Food Supply

November or December 2019:  The Microbiome's Positive Impacts on Crops

From Kent Scheske, CAST Executive Vice President

Share Your Ideas With Us!
We want to hear what agricultural, food, or environmental issues matter most to you. If you have ideas for future publications, let us know! Your ideas might end up as the basis for a future CAST publication. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Agvocates Play Important Role on Social Media

Agvocates. Ever heard of the term? 

It’s the name many agricultural advocates (get it?) give themselves to describe what they do--support and champion for agriculture. Anyone can be an agvocate: farmers, agronomists, animal scientists, 4-H students, nonprofit organizations, Grandma Beth, Uncle Joe. All you need is a passion for agriculture--and maybe a social media account.

Some studies suggest social media is one of the best places to connect with people who share similar values, especially when it comes to emotive topics (i.e., topics that generate strong feelings and, I would add, are often spun as controversial). That’s why so many agvocates are actively involved on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram--even TikTok. They want to have a conversation and raise awareness about the facts, challenges, initiatives, or research in the field.

Let’s look at an example...
Many people eat meat and other animal products, but there is a lot of tension around their welfare. The topic especially becomes amplified when news breaks about the mistreatment of animals

Since most of what we see is the end product of animal agriculture (e.g., milk, meat, bone broth, etc.), we’re mostly left in the dark about how they’re treated unless we are directly working with them. We have an idea of what the animal went through for us to enjoy that end product, but when we read about actions (e.g., abuse) that violate our norms, our feelings intensify and we react negatively. This is when an agvocate's role matters most. 
Brandi Buzzard Frobose, a.k.a. Buzzard's Beat,
regularly weighs in on heated topics in the news,
bringing in her own knowledge and experience
 to explain what's going on.

Agvocates have the ability in that moment to insert their voice and experience into the conversation and influence the reactions of those who feel society’s norms have been violated. As Stevens, Aarts, Termeer, and Dewulf (2016) put it: 

“Social media offer a stage for all actors involved, such as farmers, citizens, consumers, politicians, and experts to engage in the conversation and voice their opinion.” 
This, in turn, generates more news and diffuses insight to a larger audience through social engagement with the agvocate’s content.

Of course, social media creates echo chambers in which individuals use their personalized space to reinforce their group’s norms. And sometimes this can turn out for the worst. 

But there is evidence that argues social media allows for an understanding of someone else’s life that would otherwise not be accessible to them. Studies focused on social media’s influence on empathy and perspective taking suggest younger people, such as adolescents, are able to understand and share emotions of those they follow on social media. And the type of content shared may invoke varying responses to how we perceive ourselves. In other words, staying connected might help us develop empathic skills.

This is why agvocacy matters--building relationships with people who are interested (even for a moment) that you could not otherwise reach may help build empathic skills. 

The takeaway: Agvocates, keep doing your thing. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Student Member Spotlight Q&A: Hannah

Our members are the lifeblood of our organization. They are students, farmers, researchers, department heads, industry experts, food scientists, agronomists--the list goes on. No matter their background, we all have the same wish: to assemble, create and share credible, balanced, science-based information. 

Read about who makes up CAST in our Member Spotlight series. In this post, you will meet  Hannah, a recent graduate and CAST student member.

Meet Hannah
A 2019 Iowa State University graduate who received a Bachelor of Science in global resource systems, environmental studies, and Spanish.

What agricultural issues are most important to you?
The top two agricultural issues that are most important to me are international trade policies and climate change effects on crop growth, yield, and revenue. 

How did you hear about CAST?
When I was a student at Iowa State, I was a member of the club IAAS (International Association of Agriculture and Related Sciences), and a CAST representative spoke at one of our meetings. He encouraged us to apply and become student members. 

Why did you decide to join CAST?
I decided to join CAST as a student because it allowed me to develop a perspective on professional societies and understand their importance to society, especially after undergrad graduation when most people lose access to academic resources.

What role does CAST play in our society?
Communicating agricultural sciences to interested professionals, students, and the general public. CAST helps our communities have access to important and credible research and news. CAST allows student members, young professionals, and experienced researchers to stay involved and up to date.

Thank you, Hannah, for sharing your story and supporting CAST!

Stay tuned for the next installment of our Member Spotlight series.

(Photo courtesy of Hannah)