By Hillary Hibbard, Former intern for Arizona Farm Bureau: Have you ever imagined your childhood being different than what it was? How about a childhood in agriculture? Well, when I think about the word agriculture, I think about the lifestyle and childhood I am thankful to live by. Whether it was helping dad feed the cows, doing vet check with grandpa every Thursday morning, helping mom feed the goats, horses, chickens, and donkeys as a child or raising my own livestock in 4-H and FFA, I am confident that agriculture shaped me into who I am today.

Agriculture was never a choice for me to be a part of or not. I was always able to see it as a blessing. It was the best opportunity any person can have. Many people in today’s agriculture industry have been blessed with the opportunity to be introduced to this amazing industry and have chosen to follow their newfound passion. Luckily for many of us that were raised in the industry, we have obtained many great supporters and employees that have furthered the industry as a whole.

Former Arizona Farm Bureau intern Hillary Hibbard (in pink) with her cousin, Zoe Dailey, believes we must do a better job bridging the communication gap that exists between consumers and farmers.

I attended college at the University of Arizona where I earned my bachelors and just completed my masters. It is here where I began to find my true interest within the agriculture industry: agricultural education. This is not the education in the classroom kind of an interest - instead it is more of a, convince the grown-ups in the world of why we do what we do and why it’s not a bad thing.  But let me take a step back and explain to you where this all started.

It was when I was a young teenager, when my grandfather told his story about growing up. Sitting there as every young child, I was intrigued with every word he spoke. He was 19 years young and decided to move across the world – Spain to America. With his permanent residency card and hardly anything else except his exceptional appreciation for hard work – he was striving for that “American Dream.” Starting out in Arizona, herding sheep from one city to another. I know what you are picturing – a young man driving a semi hauling a trailer, but no, he did this all on foot.

Manuel Caballero sheep herding in Utah. Agriculture has changed with the times. One thing has not changed, farm families' commitment to the care of their animals. In fact most livestock farmers would tell you their methods of caring for their farm animals has improved thanks to technology improvements.  

Here, in Arizona is where he found the love of his life. Nope, sorry this would not be my grandmother quite yet – actually it was dairy farming. He began his journey as a milker in the barn. And in March 20, 1958, he began our family dairy in Gilbert, Arizona.

So why did I tell you that little story about my grandfather, you ask? Well first, to introduce myself but more importantly to share with you the power of finding your true passion in life and pursuing it. Since the day I heard this story I found the power of communicating the agriculture narrative and the passion I found in that exact moment in my life.

Today, Manuel and wife, Dorothy, continue the agriculture legacy.

There are many anti-agriculture activist groups in the United States – having an agenda that is entirely opposed to ours. These groups are well-funded and are able to create disturbing videos while also hiring celebrity endorsers to help run their strategized social media campaigns. Groups like the Humane Society of the United States is recognized as one of the best social media marketers in existence today – according to many marketing articles.

So how do people like myself fight against them? We get better than them. We push to educate our side of animal agriculture through social media. I have found that many Americans do not come from family farms – making them detached from American agriculture. But many of them are fascinated by agriculture.

In order to make a difference in Americans’ lives and intrigue them into becoming supporters,  we need to become relevant, educated, transparent, and proactive. The industry has realized that these groups are only becoming more prevalent and are not going away any time soon.

Small animal agriculture company owners have stepped forward and have started blogs. For example: Barbara Martin, a 3rd generation dairy farmer who started her own blog – A Dairy Goddess. Her blog within a few short years has become one of the top 50 farm blogs to follow. Her blog goes into detail about the benefits of dairy in your daily consumption.

Another outstanding example of modern agriculture communications are companies like Arizona Milk Producers who have gone to individual dairies in Arizona, to show that not all of agriculture are “factory farms” but are family owned and operated. Even showing their vets and nutritionists, they explain how well the animals are taken care of on a daily basis.

Smithfield Foods has even done their own video series, Taking the Myth out of Pork Production. The series helps the company not only explain who they are, but also increases transparency in the meat industry, allowing consumers to see the truth about how safe and humane the food supply in America is. These videos are not “undercover” or “fictional” but are in fact, the truth about the company, its employees, and their mission.

Finally, my latest communication stint with Arizona Farm Bureau has shown me how broad and diverse you can be with the agriculture story. Plus, combining new (social) media channels with traditional communication channels for maximum benefit means we're reaching audiences we never considered before. Arizona Farm Bureau's Fill Your Plate has become the hub for everything related to direct-to-market Arizona agriculture including searchable recipes, products and farmers' markets in the state. Fill Your Plate's cache of videos includes a dairy video featuring my younger cousins, along with several dairy-related videos. 

Our next generation of farmers and ranchers are enthusiastically taking on our modern-day challenges in agriculture. The key, according to Hillary, is to keep telling our story.

Agriculture needs to effectively bridge the gap that exists between consumers and farmers and ranchers through meaningful, thought provoking blog stories that help serve as a glass window into what happens in agriculture. My goal is to relate stories about things that are familiar to a farmer or rancher, and share them with the general public - allowing everyone to see first hand that the animal agriculture industry mission is to humanely raise and process animals for human consumption – feeding the world! 

Editor's note: Hillary was recently picked up by Cargill, a provider of food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services around the globe. And yes, Arizona Farm Bureau is looking for another content creator for our digital channels, though we hope Hillary will toss us a blog or two along the way as her career moves forward. 

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