30 Days: Rockin’ Photography Tips

I am asked quite frequently how I make my photos good. While some of it does have to do with the camera you use, more of it actually has to do with how you utilize the tool(s) you do have – be it a point and shoot digital camera, a fancy DSLR or a smartphone. The tips I’ll share below work for any of the above mentioned devices, and I’ll share a mix of smartphone (iPhone5) and DSLR photos.

 

  • Be closer than you think you need to be.  This is done by moving your feet, and getting in tight! Don’t be scared!

 

  • Avoid the junk.  You want the focus to be on your ranch/animals/product/yourself – not the unsightly corrals, or poop on the ground, or (fill in the blank).  I often tell people – I don’t care how cute your kids is, if you take a photo of them in their dad’s cowboy boots, but you’re in the living room with dirty laundry, trash, or toys scattered about in an unsightly manner, the photo will not be as powerful.
Clear out the trash...

Clear out the trash…

south dakota cowgirl photography, south dakota, longhorn photos, longhorns, west river cattle

This one is much better, because you focus on the pretty, bull calf and his mom. Not the old, decrepit corrals.

 

  • Do not use the digital zoom. I have no examples of this, because I never do it. So, I’ll tell you what will happen. The photo will get “noisy”, and then it’s not as clear as it would be if you just moved your feet a little closer to the subject. See the first point above! I realize that when you’re shooting wildlife, this may not be possible, but for everyday shooting on the farm or ranch, you’ll get a better quality photo by simply moving closer. You destroy the data on the photo by using the digital zoom and reduce image quality. You’ll want to crop the photo for the best maximum impact, and I talk about that, below.
  • Shoot into your shadow. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a way for a beginner or budding photographer to learn the best use of light. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see my shadow near the black and white calf. When you’re in mid-day sun it’s not as important as it is a dawn or dusk. Don’t be afraid to move around, but generally you’ll find the best light when you’re shooting with the sun over your back.
south dakota cowgirl photography, south dakota cowgirl, agchat, equine photos

Mares stand by a dam in early June- you can see their shadows, are almost directly under them.

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Shadows in the clouds, show the sun behind me. Utilize the clouds when possible, because they make things more interesting and lead the eye.

 

  • Lead the eye with lines. You can make a very powerful impact leading the eye with lines. Think lines of dairy cows, or fattened yearlings at the feed bunk. This also allows you an opportunity to avoid junk by focusing on the cows closest to you.
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Where does this fence go? I lead your eye right to the gray, foggy, overhanging cloud.

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Cows head to the corral at a summer branding.

 

  • Tell a story. I am constantly dreaming up new shots/ideas/things I want to photograph. While it might be weeks/months/years before I’m able to make them happen, I know I’ll be ready when the opportunity presents itself. I try to avoid setting up shots on the ranch as much as possible, because I’d like to capture life as it happens.
south dakota cowgirl photography, south dakota cowgirl, cowboy, calving, a cowboy carries a calf

What is he doing? Why is he carrying the calf? This gives you an opportunity to educate with a photo.

  • Don’t take a snapshot – take the time to compose the shot.  By thinking about the story you want to tell, you will be ready when the chance happens, because you will have seen it play out in your mind at least a time or two.
south dakota cowgirl photography, equine photography, horses in the snow, south dakota

Tell your story – This one is called, “you got somethin’ for me?” The ranch mares are always looking for oats or cow cake in the winter months.

south dakota cowgirl photography, equine photography, horses in the snow, south dakota

Hello there!

south dakota cowgirl photography, equine photography, horses in the snow, south dakota

I’m still looking for some goodies! Don’t you know it’s snowing?

south dakota cowgirl photography, equine photography, horses in the snow, south dakota

Faces in the Snow. Of all the photos in this series, this is the one I’d dreamed up in my head many years before I ever got the chance to take it. But I was prepared when opportunity presented itself.

 

 

 

  • Think about angles. This makes the photograph more interesting and will capture the attention of your audience.
south dakota cowgirl photography, equine photography, south dakota

Looking up at horses lounging.

south dakota cowgirl photography, equine photography, south dakota

Do you see just the feet of horses or is there more to this photo than that?

 

  • Crop your photos for maximum impact. I don’t want to talk about what makes a great B/W photo now, because that’s another blog post in and of itself (hint hint), but I can say that cropping a photo can make a big statement! Always keep that in mind when you’re getting ready to share your photo with the world.
south dakota cowgirl photography, south dakota, equine photography

This is the “SOOC” (straight out of the camera) version.

 

south dakota cowgirl photography, south dakota, equine photography

This is the “after” version.

 

  • Utilize the focus/exposure feature on your smartphone.  If you learn to tap the screen where you want your phone to focus it will help you either make the setting brighter, or focus on what’s closest to you. Either way, it’s a win!

I truly hope you found these tips to be helpful, and if you ever have photography questions, don’t hesitate to look me up.

Happy Trails!

written by Jenn Zeller

_____________________________________________________Jenn Zeller 30 Days of Agvocacy and Social Media - Photography Tips - AgChat.org

 

Telling her story through photos, Jenn Zeller draws a portrait of her life as a cowgirl, photographer, horse lover, columnist and agriculture advocate. You can find her talking about brandings on Twitter as @thesdcowgirl, chatting about gorgeous jewelry and barrel racing on Facebook or lovin’ on her horses at her blog TheSouthDakotaCowgirl.

30 Days: How do people find you on the internet when they don’t even know you exist?

Of course, the answer is via Search Engines (which is really just Google) or via Social Media.

When it comes to being found, you should think of Google as your home page – not your blog’s home page. Because if someone doesn’t know you they aren’t going to search for you – they are searching for what they want to know about which is hopefully what you are writing about.

i.e. They are looking for answers – maybe they hear something about pus in cow’s milk. You, as a dairy farmer, are an expert in cow’s milk. If you write about it then hopefully they will find it.
is-there-pus-in-cow-milk

Google Search Engine Results Page

 

But that doesn’t mean that just because you wrote down what you know or maybe did a little video about it that Google will magically put you at the top of the topic you are taking about.

In fact, there are over 200 different factors that Google has in its algorithm to determine who makes it to the top of their search page called SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

So how do you know what topics you rank for right now?

You need Google Webmaster Tools installed on your website or blog.
google-webmaster-tools

Search Queries that lead to people finding your website

 

Once in Webmaster Tools, you can see a lot of information about your website – what you are ranking for, what impressions you have, what missing pages or broken links you have, etc… This tool is a must if you plan on understanding anything about your website and SEO. So go install it now and then come back. I’ll wait. Seriously.

Once you have your webmaster tools installed (you did it, right?). Don’t just cheat and keep reading. Let’s talk about SEO.

First, what is SEO?

Well, according to the guys at Moz who rock at SEO, they say that SEO or Search Engine Optimization “is the practice of improving and promoting a website in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines.”

I will try to simplify it by saying doing SEO is like learning the search engine language. You speak English or Spanish or whatever to the people around you and they understand what you are saying. You need to do the same thing for Google. SEO is Google’s language and the better you are at speaking to Google, the higher your chances are for showing up at the top of their SERP.

BTW, does it matter if you are on the first page of a search term?

A BIG FAT YES!

If you are on Page 2 then you might as well be non-existent. The first page means everything – very, very few people move past the first page.

The search query is a term within SEO you should be familiar with. This is what people type or speak into the search box.

Now search queries have changed over the years – it used to be that people only used a few words when typing into Google. But now, people speak or type entire sentences and they revise a lot when they aren’t getting the results they want.

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You may have noticed that Google uses Autocomplete to try and guess what people are looking for – and they are getting very smart and accurate about these search queries. They will present you a list of 3 or 4 options as you go along and try to lead you in your search pursuits.

Blogging tip – write blog posts based on other people’s search queries and you could find yourself getting more traffic.

So those websites that show up at the top of the search queries on SERPs, how do they get there? How is Google ranking these websites?

Well, there are a lot of factors and Google gives you a high level explanation of search on this website.

google-search-history-60-trillion-pages

But I would say there are just a few things you should worry about.

Google loves relevancy and popularity combined with your location. Pretty simple, huh?

Actually, it’s a lot more complex and if you want to see how the SEO experts break it down, you can check out the Search Engine Ranking Factors from moz.org.

But here’s how I would define.

Relevancy – means how much you talk about your topic.

Popularity – means you have a lot of links to your website from outside sources that say you are a trusted source for this topic. It also means more likes and shares from popular social networks (Google+ is the highest so that can help you decide whether you need to be using that ghost town of a network) and the power of the pages that are linking to you.

With popularity, there are also negative things to consider and that might work against you. If you add lots of videos (not embedded from YouTube – those don’t count) and images on the page causing it to load slow that could be a problem.  Or if you have links coming from websites that are known to be spam or maybe you have URLs with a lot of numbers and your URLs are very long. Google has issues with these things.

Location – the closer you are to the person searching, the better chance you have to coming up. This works really well for local shops and restaurants.

So this is a lot of stuff and you probably don’t have a lot of time to learn a lot of new stuff and do a lot of new stuff. It’s hard enough just coming up with new content so I’ve made a quick and dirty list of SEO things that you should know.

How to do SEO for yourself quickly.

1. Don’t DIY your website. – I know that a lot of people who like to have things look their way on their websites/blogs but you are better off to pick a popular well-used template and install that vs. hiring a graphic designer / coder who may not understand SEO very well.

They could set up your website with some bad SEO practices and then you’ll be hiding things from Google by accident.

2. Install Google Webmaster Tools on your website. – This will help you tremendously in determining how Google views your website. Yes, I’m repeating myself here – it’s that important.

3. Use Xena or Screaming Frog to check for broken links. – Even Google Webmaster Tools can help you find broken links. Once you find them, try and fix them.

4. If you are using wordpress (not wordpress.com or blogger/blogspot), you can use SEO by Yoast to help you fill in the necessary meta data. – Many websites I notice have the same meta data for each page of the website – meta data should be different for each page – that is an easy fix and benefits the website a lot.

5. Make sure you are spreading your blog posts across multiple networks as well as email if you have that. – Your post isn’t done when you hit Publish – it’s just starting. You need to actively push the post through your social networks to your audience. Some cool tools to help you do this are Buffer or Social Oompf.

inserting-image-into-wordpress

6. When adding images and video to your blog, make sure you are adding Alt. Text, Captions and Titles as well as naming the image and video with keywords of what it is. When I build a photo or image for my blog, here are the steps I follow.

  1. Make the photo/image.
  2. Label the photo using keywords with dashes. Like an image of our offices might be labeled dairy-management-inc-newsroom-2014.jpg
  3. Upload to my blog.
  4. Put in the meta data and the caption.
  5. Mark it as the featured image on the page (if necessary due to the template)
  6. Make sure when I share the blog post on social media that the image comes up as part of that post and not the other images on the page.

7. Guest blog on other websites and link back to yourself via your bio. – Guest blogging can sometimes be difficult to do because you have to have trusted relationships with those in charge of the blog you want to be a part of but trust me if you get the opportunity you should do it (but only on websites that are associated with the same topics as your website). Google is cracking down on guest blogging black hat techniques so be aware of that.

How do you begin guest blogging? Follow the blogs you want to be on and reach out. Simply Google things like “best farming blogs to follow”, “best food posts 2014”, “top agriculture blogs to follow”, etc… They will pop up.

8. Take some time and add your website to directories and lists. – Is your blog listed in any directories or lists? It should be. There are many places to add your blog and make sure it gets listed. You can also use tools to “ping” these directories to let them know you updated your post recently like Pingomatic.

9. Longer text is found more often than short posts. – People are scanning the internet still – but they want deeper content. Writing over 1000 words can seem like a lot but I’ll bet if you get going on a post, the words will just flow.

You should edit and keep people interested (adding images and video will do that) but a longer post will be seen as more relevant – that you put more time into it and has a better chance of being linked to and indexed by Google.

10. Quote the experts in the field you want people to find out about you. – If it’s about farming, there’s nothing wrong with quoting from other farmers, government, organizations, foodies, etc…

This marketing technique of calling out the most popular people on the internet has been going on forever but it still works. A lot of real celebrities will probably ignore you since they rely on other media to generate their popularity but internet famous people are usually right there to talk to and get information from. They are also usually very aware when someone talks about them online because they are using monitoring tools like Mention.com or Talkwalker.com/alerts. BTW, you should start using them too to monitor when people talk about you.

How do you measure this is working?
Google Webmaster Tools combined with Google Analytics will help you answer this question but that’s another post coming down the road.

What about you guys? Any fun tips for handling SEO on your blogs?

written by Don Schindler

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30 Days of Agvocacy and Social Media - Don Schindler - How do people find you even when they don't know you exist? - AgChat.org

As Senior Vice President of Digital Initiatives, Don Schindler is responsible for the digital

architecture and integration of all digital properties at Dairy Management Inc.  He is also training farmers, DMI staff and dairy industry professionals in digital communications and social media. Connect with Don on his website.

30 Days: Agvocacy Rehab

Is it just me or do things in the food world seem to be getting worse? When I say ‘things’ I mean attacks on toxic wheat, misleading videos of a dairy farm, artists doctoring aerial photos of beef feedlots, celebrity spout outs, statements arguing glyphosate is to blame for autism or celiac disease {or any number of ailments}, the Food nut, passionate teenage girls fighting against GMOS, attacks against an organic farmer due to an increase risk of listeria, a blog post touting brown eggs are a healthier choice over white or my personal favorite, the end of Thanksgiving because turkeys are poisonous. When you put all of this together in one sentence, or even one Facebook timeline it can make even the best of agvocates become overwhelmed. Even though it may seem like the issues are becoming more frequent, it may be that the food world has been the same as always – it could be that I’m perceiving it to be worse because I’m overwhelmed.

So, as agriculture advocates how do we gain a better outlook? Here are some pointers I keep in my back pocket for the days when I need some agvocacy rehab:

1.) Sometimes the next best step, is a step back. This past summer I went on a planned butAgvocacy Rehab - 30 Days of Agvocacy and Social Media - AgChat.org unintentional semi-black out during our county fair. I wasn’t searching for perspective. I was being a 4H mom, volunteering as a county photographer and department superintendent and doing my share to keep our heifers’ stalls clean and still maintain our home. Sitting down at my desk wasn’t realistically possible. Compared to most years, our barns had increased traffic from residents all over the county. I found myself spending time answering many questions. There were many of the common ones such as why are your cows so skinny, can I pet one, what are they? I like to extend those questions to cover the difference between a cow and heifer, hay and straw and eventually encouraging parents to sign their children up for 4H in the coming year. The craziest thing happened. By taking this unintentional step backwards I remembered why I began advocating for agriculture. My passion was refreshed, revived and I was revved up to tell my story.

2.) Detox: For some its knitting, others running, and many enjoy baking – I find that spending time on Pinterest helps my mind relax. My goal is searching for my non-agriculture interests. Of course, you run across pins which might contain misinformation or questions about dairy or even a great tip you could pass along to other agvocates. I have a secret board where those are pinned. When I’m feeling refreshed, I sort through the pins on that board and choose which are worth addressing.

3.) Throw the negativity and drama to the curb. There will always be people who thrive on being negative and creating drama. The best way to keep yourself energized is by avoiding these types of people. Surround yourself with trusting friends who will pick you up and dust you off when you’ve had a bad day.

4.) Answer this question – Why do you advocate for agriculture? Before you begin, give yourself some time, a cup of coffee or hot tea and a notebook. Look deep inside, peeling back all of the layers, and write your intentions on paper.

5.) Kill three birds with one stone – After you’ve finished considering why you advocate, reflect on your social media use thus far. Determine what you love and what you hate. Write these answers down. Once you’ve completed answering these three questions, hang the piece of paper in a prominent place such as your desk or where ever you are mostly likely to sit down to advocate.

6.) Be proactive and have a strategy. Help yourself before you become overwhelmed. Develop a list of hot topics that your readers may address – decide how you will respond. Research and identify commonly asked questions about your segment of agriculture – brainstorm about how you will answer those questions. Prepare a process so you know what you will do in a certain situations – you’ll avoid much stress by having answers readily available rather than running around like a chicken with your head cut off.

7.) Minimize your time on Facebook – People in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks, right? I’m as guilty as the next guy and spend too much time on Facebook. I do make a conscious effort to make the time I am there count. Even with the best intentions, I get sucked into becoming annoyed with the mom who has the beautiful, do-no-wrong kids – even when you know that one of her kids was just in detention last week. Or, another misleading blog post has been shared by a friend. Its one which contains zero credibility but all of my non-ag friends feel its the best thing since sliced cake.

I think we’ve all read these types of posts and they tend to breed negativity and boiling blood. Don’t get me wrong. There are many people who I’m so thankful to be connected with on Facebook. I love seeing old friends’ kids growing up, watching someone be congratulated for a nobel achievement and even those ugly weather reports. Its the negative posts which cause burnout and essentially make us feel overwhelmed. Aside from minimizing your time on Facebook you can also use lists which will thin out some of those ‘Negative Nellys.’

8.) Shut down your email – Email can contribute to becoming overwhelmed in a couple of ways.

  • The feeling of urgency. As a society we’ve been tuned to respond to emails, situations, comments, etc… immediately. Its almost as though we are expected to respond as soon as the email lands in our inboxes, regardless if it is something that can wait. For some time, I’ve prompted people to understand that in situations which warrant a legitimate, immediate response, they should send me a text, Facebook message or phone call. When the mode of contact changes to text, message or phone call, people are more likely to pause and determine whether the response is truly urgent.
  • Spam and subscriptions – Even with the best filters and tightest security, the spam emails can pile up quickly. Add all of the blogs you’ve subscribed to and bam you have extra messages to sort.

8.) Set your Key Performance Indicators – Your key performance indicators or KPI, are how you are measuring your success. These indicators will likely be different from everyone else and unique to you based on which social media channels you use and your goals. Its key to remember these are your goals. Compare yourself to you. Know which KPI’s are meaningful to you and don’t worry about comparing yourself to someone else.

Some examples of KPI’s:

  • The number of followers on Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram
  • The number of likes on Facebook – due to Facebook’s algorithm its more useful to look at your engagement rather than who follows you. A quick way to measure this is by dividing the number of people talking about your page by your total page likes. This will tell you the percentage of followers who are engaged on your page. Percent engagement - 30 Days of Agvocacy & Social Media - AgChat.org
  • The amount of referral traffic your blog is receiving from Pinterest (refer to Google Analytics for this info).
  • Take a look at the last 5-7 photos you’ve published on Instagram – how many likes have you received? How many comments?
  • Using a program such as SumAll determine the number of Twitter mentions received on a daily or weekly basis.
  • The number of comments received on your blog per week or month.
  • Measure based on your blog’s bounce rate

There are many more indicators you can use. These are just a few examples.

Becoming overwhelmed can lead to the demise of your agriculture advocacy efforts. As we’ve discussed there are many proactive ways to prevent becoming overwhelmed. There are also techniques you can use which will relieve current stress. Keeping stress under control will also keep all of those issues from appearing to be worse or more frequent than they truly are.

written by Jenny Schweigert

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Jenny serves as the AgChat Foundation Executive Director while helping manage her family’s Jenny Schweigert - AgChat.org photo courtesy of Keiser Photography https://www.facebook.com/KeiserPhotographysmall hobby farm and in-laws dairy farm in central Illinois. In addition to AgChat.org, she can be found blogging about life on the farm, Jersey dairy cattle, hunting and her boys, all at TheMagicFarmHouse.com.

30 Days: The Best 6 Twitter Tips

Twitter is by far the best social media platform around. The best thing about using Twitter for agvocacy is that you are able to reach a whole new audience. Clearly this is just my opinion but check out these 6 tips and you may just agree with me by the end of this post.

Here are 6 tips to make the best out of your agvocacy adventure:

  1. Follow and engage with people who are in your ideal audience. Retweet people that you are interested in connecting with and they may notice you and start following back. Engage in conversation with people that have a lot of followers in the audience you are targeting. If you engage in conversation with someone who has a large audience, their followers will notice you as well.
  2. Create Lists! This will make your life easy, promise me. If you are following a large number of people, building lists will keep things organized. I have many lists such as, friends, Ag, fitness, food. It is also great to start a list for certain conferences you are attending as it allows you to get to know and see all those who will be attending with you.
  3. Keep your tweets interesting. No one wants to listen to you whine, complain, or list out your daily tasks. The more interesting or funny your tweet, the more interaction you will get. Six Tips for Using Twitter - Taysha Reitzel - AgChat.org
  4. Use good photos. There is something to be said about a good, quality photo. People love looking at pictures and sharing pictures for that matter. If you have a good picture that goes with your tweet be sure to add it! People are more likely to stop and look at your tweet when there is a photo instead of scrolling right past.Six Tips for Using Twitter - AgChat.org
  5. Third party tools to help keep you up to date and organized.  Bit.ly is a great tool to let you tweet a URL without it showing the whole length of the web address. You only have 140 characters so it is a great tool to utilize! SocialOmph and Buffer allow you to schedule tweets so that you aren’t filling your followers with a ton of tweets at a time. Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are great at keeping multiple profiles in one place. You can be following a hashtag and newsfeed all on one screen.
  6. Don’t be the egg. Nobody follows an egg head. Your picture and bio are more important than you think – don’t risk being called an egg head because you left your profile as the default egg image provided by Twitter. Use a picture that allows people to connect and relate to you. It makes you more approachable and “followable”.  Be sure to have a bio. When someone follows me, the first thing I do is find their bio and see if they are someone interesting I would like to follow back. Give your followers a quick idea of who you are and what you’re about.

Six Tips for Using Twitter by Taysha Reitzel - AgChat.org

 

I hope you find these tips useful and help you utilize twitter to its fullest!  It is one of the easiest platforms to help you “reach beyond the choir”.  Enjoy!

written by Taysha Reitzel

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Taysha Reitzel - AgChat.org

A midwestern girl, Taysha Reitzel dedicates her life to making the most out of every minute. She works full-time in the Ag industry while also frequenting cattle shows, advocating for agriculture, being a rockin’ aunt and new puppy mom. She is passionate about sharing her experiences and passions in agriculture while competing for a record in owning the most cowboy boots EV-ER and obsessing over the Michigan State Spartans, the color turquoise and of course, bacon! Connect with Taysha on her blog Dirt Road Charm, Twitter and on Facebook.

30 Days: The Right Way to Agvocate

I started participating in the Tuesday night #AgChat conversations nearly five years ago and have been on the AgChat Foundation 30 Days of Agvocacy and Social Media: The Right Way to Agvocate - Agchat.orgboard for three years. Throughout those years I have encountered AgVocates from across the country that have found success, big or small, in telling their farm or ranch story through social media. These successful AgVocates are more than happy to share their tips and tricks on the best ways they have found to accomplish their AgVocacy goals.

Here’s always my biggest takeaway from these success stories: EVERYONE AgVocates Differently.

There is no RIGHT way. There is the way that works best for you.  The way you find that is most effective for you & your audience. Do not force yourself to do anything that does not feel right for you because then the authenticity of your story is lost.

AgVocacy is a lot like farming.

We have probably all visited our neighbor’s farm and wondered why in the heck they organized their tools or parts in a certain way, why they planted that crop, or what they’re going to use that new implement for.  Everyone farms slightly differently and everyone agvocates slightly differently.

As farmers we have also learned from our neighbors.  We have borrowed that new implement or piece of equipment to see if it would work for us.  We have planted that new crop to see if it fit into our crop rotation.  Some things we have adopted and molded from our neighbors to fit our farm and vice versa.  And, somethings just do not work for our farm.

That is farming and AgVocacy.

Realize that you don’t have to blog, tweet, facebook, instagram, YouTube, etc… exactly like those AgVocates who have found success. You do not have to be on every platform. Choose the ones that work for you and fit your AgVocacy style. As long as you strive to do it well and you will find success!

Diversity makes the agriculture world go ’round. Diversity also makes the AgVocacy world go ’round.

written by Marie Bowers

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Born and raised in southern Willamette Valley, Marie Bowers is the fifth generation who is farming on her family’s century old Marie Bowers AgChat Foundation - AgChat.orggrass seed farm. She is a Washington State University alum who hails from a long list of agriculture advocates, beginning with her great-grandmother who helped found Oregon Women for Agriculture. As a second grader, her dad took her to the Capitol to listen to field burning legislative hearings. As a fourth generation agvocate, she blogs about her story and information about farms and forests at OregonGreenBlog.com