What is your role in agriculture?
I married into agriculture onto a third generation beef, poultry, and crop farm in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Coming from a city, I didn’t know a thing about the hard work, dedication, and passion that farmers & ranchers have for their craft, and I’m constantly learning!
Professionally, I work for Virginia Cooperative Extension, a resource through Virginia Tech and Virginia State that takes university research and puts it to work practically in communities across the state. With them, I am the Farm to Table Coordinator, working with Farm to School activities, facilitating farm to institution procurement, and working with area farmers for best management practices.
I also “agvocate” through my personal blog – PaintTheTownAg.com – where I share our family’s chapter in the big book of agriculture.
What was your inspiration for becoming an agvocate?
Prior to working in Cooperative Extension, I was a preschool special education teacher in an urban school system. I began to notice the disconnect that the kids and their families had with agriculture, even though the city was surrounded by rural area and farms. I started small by bringing agriculture into my classroom on a regular basis, and that evolved into “Farm Friday” for us, a regular partnership with other grades and community members to learn about different aspects of agriculture.
From there I started a school and district-wide program called Farming in the City to connect the elementary kids with agriculture – I’m happy to say that this is something still going strong at the school where I used to teach, even though I am no longer working there.
What is your favorite part of being an agvocate?
My absolute favorite part is being able to answer questions and dispel myths about the “American Farmer.” For most groups or individuals that I encounter, my short hair, glasses, and stylish clothes completely throw them off when I tell them I’m from a farm. It has led to some great conversations!
What is the most challenging part of being an agvocate?
I find two things challenging when advocating for agriculture. For one, Americans in general are very passive about the source of their food, fiber, and fuel. It’s hard to agvocate when the majority are not concerned. The second challenge is being a voice in a sea of passionate individuals who are either 1) working for a cause, or 2) have passion (and speak loudly!) with little factual information.
What advice do you have for other farmers or ranchers who would like to become more involved in agvocacy?
Don’t hesitate to jump in, but also think carefully about 1) what you want to advocate for within agriculture, and 2) make sure you have resources to support you when questions start rolling your way!
If you married into the farm and are representing the farm at all on social media – make sure you have a pow-wow with the decision-makers on the farm to clarify and come to a consensus on what you will post.
What is your biggest takeaway or memory from an AgChat event or twitter chat?
I attended the #AgChat conference in Austin last year, as well as hop onto the weekly Twitter chats as much as my schedule allows. The Twitter chats are great for connecting farm/ranch bloggers with consumers. The conference was a way to bring SoMe to life – literally! I met so many people that had only been Gravatars to me before! J This was by far the biggest takeaway, as well as some AMAZING keynote speakers.
What does the AgChat Foundation mean to you?
The AgChat Foundation is another “tool in the toolbox” so to speak. I look to the Foundation as a resource and model for conversations, posts, and other engagements.
Lauren Arbogast is an avid agvocate and blogs about her story in agriculture at www.paintthetownag.com. Her description: City girl meets farm boy. Asks no less than 7 million questions. Has first date on a tractor. Says “yes” atop a Ferris Wheel. Passes farm wife bar exam. Sprouts 2 mini-farmers. Trades religion for a relationship. Finds the joy in life. Realizes she has a chapter to tell in the book of agriculture. Catch up with Lauren on her blog and on Twitter @PaintTheTownAG.
Featured image photo credit to Anna Spears Photography