I was thirty-two years old before I ever tasted a papaya.  Growing up in the 80’s in a small California town, the exotic things didn’t show up in our grocery stores.  I think the most unusual fruit I had growing up was kiwi, mostly because my pharmacist father would sometimes get paid in produce.  I loved those boxes of fruit, a lot more than the time he was paid with a bear roast.

Living in Iowa in the 90‘s didn’t exactly bring about more selection in the produce department, and even if it did, I wouldn’t have had the knowledge of how to select a papaya.  Do I buy them green?  Are those spots OK?  Should they be hard or soft?

Photo credit/Emma Stoltzfus

Photo credit/Emma Stoltzfus

It wasn’t until I moved to Hawaii almost a decade ago that I had my first taste of this delightful fruit.  One bite and I was hooked.  There’s nothing better for breakfast than a fresh slice of papaya sprinkled with a little lime juice, unless it’s half a papaya filled with yogurt, blueberries, and granola.  Either option is delicious.

While I was living my papaya oblivious existence in the middle of the Midwest, back in Hawaii a crises was occurring on Hawaiian papaya farms.  The ringspot virus was taking over farms on the Big Island, causing damage and death to both the plants and the fruit.  While farms were being devastated, Dennis Gonsalves was spending his time looking for a solution.  It didn’t take him long to develop a genetically modified plant that was resistant to the ringspot virus, and by 1999, the seeds were given, free of charge, to Hawaii papaya growers.  Today, about 77% of the Hawaiian papaya crop is genetically modified, and those farmers, once on the brink of closing their doors, are still in business.

In our house, we go out of our way to purchase the Rainbow papaya developed by Dr. Gonsalves.  They are, in my opinion, the tastiest papayas on earth.

June is National Papaya month, so if you haven’t already, try this tasty treat. Look for fruit of yellow/orange color, not too soft and not too hard, with a slight sweet smell.  A little green is not a problem, but an all green papaya isn’t ripe and may not ripen completely.  Slice it up, and save the skin for the compost pile.  When you go to scoop out the seeds, don’t throw them out!  Those seeds will make the base for a tasty salad dressing.  Aloha!

Rhonda grew up in Northern California, graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Horticulture, and was lucky enough to marry a farm boy. She established a fruit farm in SE Iowa before following her farmer, David, to Hawaii where he grows seed corn. Her life in Maui currently revolves around 3 teenage children and all things agriculture. The Stoltzfuses were recently honored as the Hawaii Farm Bureau Family of the Year.

Thirsty Land Proves to Be Powerful Connection Tool for AgVocates

The global release of the Thirsty Land documentary took place during the 2016 Water for Food Global conference on the campus of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Emmy-award winning director and producer, Conrad Weaver, aims to provide a conversation starter between consumers and the agriculture industry.

Thirsty Land is a conversation starter and bridge between agriculture and urban Lake Mead - Thirsty Land documentary - AgChat.orgcommunities. Water is a controversial topic in the western U.S. It is also a basic survival need for the entire U.S., and can be a common thread between consumers and the agriculture community.

“What I didn’t expect was that I’d still be thinking about it two days later. And I think about it every time I turn on the faucet. Every. Single. Time,” said Tracy Zeorian, Nebraska wheat harvester and film viewer. “To see people struggling to survive by doing whatever it takes to have water to drink and to bathe with was an eye opener. I see this in other countries, not in the United States! Water and food goes hand in hand for survival – for OUR survival. As with education of where our food comes from, we’ve got to impress the importance of water conservation. This film will make that happen.”

The AgChat Foundation is dedicated to empowering farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists with the tools to share their stories with those disconnected from agriculture.

“Its essential that agriculture advocates know and understand their ‘why’ and ‘what.’ Conrad has captured both and framed this information in a way which connects with consumers,” said Jenny Schweigert, executive director of the AgChat Foundation. “Thirsty Land includes various perspectives which will correlate the fluctuation of agriculture to local economies.”

As the in-kind, fiscal sponsor, the AgChat Foundation assists ConjoStudios, Inc., with fund raising for the project, providing tax benefits to donors. Fundraising will continue in an effort to market and distribute the film. Screenings of the film can also be coordinated by visiting


There’s a time and a place for everything – insight on the #AgChat & #AgVocate hash tag

There’s a time and a place for everything – insight on the #AgChat & #AgVocate hash tag

“There’s a time and a place for everything,” was a comment my mother often made. This statement has magically become one of my popular pieces of advice for my three boys. A perfect example is the time my youngest son and I were waiting in line to checkout at the grocery store. To make the time go faster, the woman in front of us struck up a conversation with my son. They began talking about his lambs. She asked him to share their names and what he will do with his pets. He quickly corrected her and explained, “that we will be probably be eating the lambs,” and went into much more detail. The woman’s tongue became temporarily frozen as she finished the transaction and quickly left without an opportunity for my explanation. Based on the woman’s reaction, I feared we would be met by the Department of Child Welfare once we arrived home.

He was truthful, frank and did accurately describe our intentions for the lambs. He shared the information with pride because of the time and care he has taken to ensure the lambs were treated humanely and to the best of our ability. If we had been sitting with family around the television on Sunday afternoon, the conversation would have been completely normal. The right place and the right time.

The grocery store check-out line was neither the right time nor place to be discussing his ‘pets.’

What determines the right time or place?

Generally speaking, the audience. The woman sharing the grocery line was not the right audience to be sharing as detailed information at that point in time.

The same can be said for the use of the term agvocate. People who are outside of the agriculture industry have been known to comment that the word includes a typo. It’s not a familiar term to them and carries very little value. Social media profiles used across multiple platforms are required to fit into a small set of characters. When working with limited characters, every word counts and must include words which clearly connect with your intended audience.

I’m proud to be an agvocate

In my years at the AgChat Foundation, I’ve met many farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists who are proud agvocates – and rightfully so. Whether you are first generation ranchers or seventh, there is pride in what you do. It’s an inherited gift we all share and should continue to celebrate, among the right audience.

My intended audience includes a targeted group of people, generations removed from the farm who share common interests such as the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, home renovation, hunting/fishing and parents of all boys. It’s a crowd which has no connection to the term AgVocate, so I choose to avoid using the word with my communication to this audience. It is simply not the right place.

It is also not useful to include the #AgChat hash tag when I’m trying to reach beyond the choir. Moms of boys and St. Louis Cardinal fans are not searching for AgChat, most will use hash tags such as #boymom, #momofallboys, #StlCards, #GoCards, etc…

If your intended audience is other farmers and ranchers telling their stories, then the use of the #AgChat and #AgVocate hash tags will likely draw the attention of those individuals.

How do I determine which hash tags to use to reach my intended audience?

This is fully dependent upon your target audience. Visit our blog post, “Non-Ag Hash Tags You Should Watch,” for suggestions and ideas of useful non-agriculture hash tags.

My mother also told me, “choose your words wisely,” and I’m often reminded that not only is there a time and place for everything, we need to pause and think of what we say, or type, before we speak or push the enter key.

After all, we want to engage with our audiences and inform them where we can; not leave them more confused that when we started the conversation.

written by Jenny Schweigert


Be kind. Be tested. Be open-minded.

written and republished with permission from Laura Daniels

Be kind.

Today I was tested. On the plane to Arkansas I sat beside a tall women with sporty clothes on. She just Flying - Jenny Schweigert The Magic FarmHouse.comlooked like a basketball player and she seemed nice so I introduced myself and shook her hand.

I asked what she did, she said she was a teacher and a coach. I asked what sport (never assume) and sure enough basketball. I was ready to ask all sorts of questions since my Julia loves all things basketball… But, before I could interrogate her for tips, she asked what I do. With my usual pride I said, “I am a dairy farmer.”

She said, “Oh, tell me more about that, about a year ago I stopped eating all animal products, I am a vegan.”

So, I think to myself, “Well. OK. Now I have a choice here, what do I say? Stop. Think first Laura. Be kind.” Not that I would be mean, but I could have easily become defensive, or promptly ended the conversation.

Instead, I asked her question after question, about her life, and her “life’s work” of teaching. I took an interest in her. I really liked her. We found that we are both advocates of choosing the positive when ever possible. We are both trying to make the world a better place, we both worry about how girls are often over protected by parents, while boys are pushed to succeed. We talked non-stop for an hour and a half.

We did talk about farming, but it came after we both knew we respected each other and had more, (much more) in common that we first realized.

Will she drink milk? I think maybe. I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure she will remember the dairy farmer who reached out a with a kind handshake.

‪#‎shareyourpassion‬ ‪#‎shareyourstory‬ ‪#‎bekind‬ ‪#‎leadwithlove‬ ‪#‎commonground‬‪#‎farmHer‬ ‪#‎farmlove‬

___________________________________________________________Laura Daniels, presenter at the 2014 Cultivate & Connect conference Aug. 21-22, 2014

Laura Daniels is a wife, mom and farmer with the most beautiful cows on the planet, dream chasing and cheese are her hobbies. She is the founder of the Dairy Girl Network, an organization established to support women dairy farmers and professionals.

What Story Will You Tell? Guest FFA Week Post

As Indiana FFA State Officers, my team and I have gone through many trainings. We learn about facilitating conferences, working with sponsors, and working together as a team. However, you might Indiana State FFA Officers 2015-2016be surprised to know the most valuable training we have experienced this year was training on how to tell stories. Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal.

For thousands of years, humans have been passing stories on to one another—stories of wisdom and failure, of heroes and villains. Why are stories so effective? Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have found that stories stimulate different parts of the brain at the same time. When a story is being told our brains track each aspect of that story. We literally immerse ourselves in the world created by the storyteller by creating the setting, characters, and sensations in our own minds.

I find this information very interesting, especially for people involved in the agriculture industry. Oftentimes, the agriculture industry is on the defensive. We have to defend our practices, motives, and ethics constantly. The main thing we like to share in this defense is factual information—statistics, studies, and surveys. We hurl fact after fact at the American consumer; hoping, eventually, they will catch the information and absorb it. In the mean-time, the opposition goes straight for the emotional jugular, sharing erroneous stories of abuse in slaughterhouses and poisonous chemicals being leaked into our water supply.

I don’t believe this battle can be fought with facts alone. Agriculturalists must utilize the power of the story. Our stories show our values. Our stories show we are human. Oftentimes, we are told to take the conversation as far away from the emotional side as possible. Why can’t we mix the emotional with the factual? If they hear your story first, people will be more likely to accept your facts. In this Age of Information, anyone can access the facts in seconds. The sheer amount of data available is astounding, but it’s also incredibly overwhelming.

In this sea of information, the only thing floating is stories. So get out there, and share your story. It’s easier than ever. We have so many mediums to communicate through—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. Type out your story and post it. Don’t have any of those things? Talking is great too. Talk to people everywhere you go—the grocery store, the mall, at work, at family reunions. You may think your story alone won’t make a difference, but it will.

We all love a good story. It’s in our DNA. We have an innate need to share our experiences with others. This is what makes us human. It’s not something we should run away from, but embrace. During National FFA Week and for the rest of our lives, my teammates and I will be telling the story of agriculture and FFA. What story will you tell?

submitted by Annalee Witte, Indiana State FFA Secretary

Indiana State FFA Secretary Annalee WitteAnnalee Witte, 18, is thrilled to spend the year serving the 11,000 members of Indiana FFA as the State Secretary. Annalee grew up in the small town of Wilkinson, Indiana with her big family of six. She is a graduate of Eastern Hancock High School. Growing up raising sheep, cattle, and hogs, Annalee was an active member in 4-H and completed 10 years. But her true passion has always been FFA. Annalee was a four-year member of the Eastern Hancock FFA Chapter. This year she was named the National Champion in Extemporaneous Public Speaking at the National FFA Convention.  After her year of service to Indiana FFA, Annalee plans on attending Purdue University to double major in Agriculture Communications and Agriculture Marketing and Sales. Annalee hopes to continue to tell the story of agriculture wherever life takes her.