BY LAUREN CHASE, YPC Communications
I was sitting in the 2013 Young Producers’ Council meeting in Tampa, looking around at all of my peers and noticed one face in particular. I knew I had seen this woman before….but from where? Then it hit me. That’s Jasmine Dillon…she made a really great “ag-vocacy” video that went viral on YouTube. I had to meet her. And I’m glad I did. She is one super beef and agriculture advocate and today we feature her story on the Cattle Call.
Jasmine: I was born in Newington, CT and grew up in Plano, TX. My Dad is from Jamaica and my grandparents used to have a few goats and chickens on their property in Florida, but my real connection to agriculture came when I was in high school. Even though we lived in the suburbs, my school had an FFA chapter and I joined it so that I could show animals, as I loved them.
Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinarian and through FFA I discovered that being an animal science major as an undergraduate in college would prepare me for vet school. I decided to major in animal science at Texas A&M University-Commerce, and transferred to Texas A&M University in College Station my sophomore year. About halfway through school, I decided I wanted to explore options other than vet school and while I knew they existed, I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do. I studied abroad in Brazil for a semester as a senior, an experience which opened my eyes to the breadth of opportunities available to me as an animal scientist and the passion I had for being part of a system which, at the end of the day, allowed me to care for animals and by doing so help bring nourishment to people.
I am currently finishing up my Master’s in Animal Breeding. My research is investigating a phenomenon in Bos indicus x Bos taurus crossbred birth weights.
LC: You created a really powerful “ag-vocacy” video…could you tell us about how you got the idea to produce it and what it’s all about.
The idea for the video was born out of a movement which started last spring on Texas A&M’s campus called Farmers Fight. Farmers Fight is a grassroots movement with the mission of reconnecting American society with agriculture, starting with our campus and our community. We aim to do this by providing a space for students to develop their ability to innovate and communicate through agricultural advocacy. It is built on three pillars: community outreach, connection with campus, and advocate preparation.
The video started out as a spoken word poem, which is a form of art where you perform your poems. I was with a friend, Mason Parish (the student who started the Farmers Fight movement), planning for events that semester: specifically for a conference where industry leaders were coming in to help us learn how to better communicate the message of agriculture to an audience from a non-agriculture background. I had written a couple of poems in the past, and I performed one for him. Mason prompted me to write my first poem about agriculture, and he along with other friends provided the encouragement and motivation I needed to get it done.
The idea behind the poem was to one, rally the Texas A&M College of Agriculture & Life Sciences student body behind the idea of making a difference for agriculture on our campus and beyond. My hope was that students would feel empowered, and realize that they are capable of making a difference if they would only “stand up” for it. The second idea behind the poem was to share agriculture with people from non-agriculture backgrounds through a new, innovative medium. I hoped that the poem would encourage people to pause and reflect on the many ways in which agriculture touches us day in and day out without our being conscious of it. While calling attention to agriculture’s role in our lives, I wanted to bring attention to the breadth of disciplines directly and indirectly tied to it.
The poem became the “ag-vocacy” video that it is when we decided to record it so that the message could be spread further. We were able to do so with the gracious help of friends of ours at Wieghat Graphics. We released the video through a number of social media outlets (YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) the night before our campus wide advocacy day. Our hope was that it would create a buzz for the event. We also knew that social media would be a powerful tool in spreading the message, and that a video would allow it to be heard far, wide, and long after our years here at Texas A&M.
LC: What do you think the bridge between farmers/ranchers and consumers looks like? How can we make it better?
The bridge right now is broken; there is a chasm in the middle. The folks on one side speak one language, while the folks on the other side speak another. Really, the folks on either side represent two different cultures. There are a few brave souls approaching the chasm and attempting to create a way across it, and some have successfully done so. As a whole, however, we need to do a better job of engaging in “intercultural” communication so that we can work together to rebuild the bridge across the gap.
What will it take to cross the gap and what will it take to make it better? I like to think of what we’re talking about here as intercultural communication. So, how do you go about learning and interacting with a new culture? You get out of your comfort zone, you give careful consideration to other points of view, you seek to understand why someone thinks or believes what they do the way they do – all of this you can accomplish by engaging in honest conversation. I strongly believe in the idea of seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.
Nowadays, the consumer or food buyer typically has little connection to the agricultural process behind the ingredients that make up their food. They are, and rightfully so, curious about what happens, how, and why. On the other hand, the agriculturalist is not always able to relate to the way their customers think or why they think that way. This causes frustration between both parties. The fact of the matter is that we are as much a part of the problem as we are a part of the solution. We live in an information age, so while it is our responsibility to make sure that accurate information is available and easily accessible, we are also responsible for learning about what our customers want, why they want it, and responding appropriately. It is with this approach that we can seek to understand our customers before we seek to be understood by them.
LC: Why is it important for youth to get involved in local/state/national ag associations like the NCBA Young Producers’ Council?
It is important for youth to get involved in local/state/national ag associations because youth, us, WE, are the future. We will be taking the places of decision makers in agriculture today. I believe it is important for us to connect with those who have made their careers in agriculture so that we can learn from the wealth of wisdom they have to offer us, in order for us to make educated decisions that move us forward.
I also believe that it is important for us to be empowered in order for us to make sound, effective decisions. It is important for us to understand that we have voices that are worth hearing, and we need only “stand up” for them to be heard. There is a generation of people in agriculture right now waiting to empower the next generation of leaders, we just have to make ourselves available to them.
Local/state/national ag associations like the NCBA Young Producers’ Council provide spaces for youth to begin the learning and empowerment process. They also have the potential to create a space for us to bridge the very gap we’ve been talking about. Our generation better understands the next generation of customers, because they are our peers. There is value in our ability to relate to them, and connecting with organizations like the NCBA Young Producers’ Council can help connect us in the ways we need to in order for us to make things happen.
LC: What are some of the ways you are working to advocate for agriculture…especially being from a “non-ag” background?
I believe that advocacy is my responsibility, as a student and lover of agriculture. It’s not work to me, it’s life! I read agriculture, I study agriculture, I plan to build a career in agriculture. So naturally, I talk about agriculture. I try to make it a point to consciously engage people in conversations to understand what it is they want from their food system, how they currently feel about it, and why it is that they feel the way that they feel or believe the way that they believe. My personal preference is to have one-on-one conversations with people, because it allows you to get to know them more deeply.
When given the opportunity, I also perform the “Stand Up” poem at spoken word events to reach folks who care about where their food comes from but may not have as direct a tie to its production as they would like. I also like to share some of the musical parodies that have been made, just to get people thinking and talking about ag in different ways. One of the things I think I do most is ask questions. Asking questions allows you to get to know someone, while also encouraging that person to explore their own thought processes and rationale. In some cases, a person may realize that the opinions they hold are not based on fact or reason but rather, on popular opinion. And you never know, you may find that you end up challenging yourself to reconsider what you think and why you think that way.
LC: What is the one thing you wish consumers understood about the production of beef?
I think I would like most for food buyers to have perspective on the rigors of the measures our food system has in place to ensure that food is as safe as possible. By safe I mean that we are consistently working to have a product that provides nourishment to the person who eats it while also minimizing its chance of making them sick. I would also like food buyers to know that our production system isn’t perfect, and we know that. That is why there are thousands of us working in agriculture day-in and day-out to continuously improve beef production.
I honestly am not a big fan of this question, not because it is a bad question, but because I feel as though it takes the focus off of us, the agriculturalists, and puts it on the food-buyer. I do wish that customers understood these things about beef, but I believe that it is our job to make sure that it is understood. There is power in words, and language like this encourages us to view the situation as though the problem is not with us. It almost, in some ways, encourages us to look “down” on the customer as opposed to valuing them and their wants and desires. This kind of thinking encourages us to be reactive as opposed to being proactive. I would love to see us take a proactive stance in approaching this problem: seeking to understand our customers and reflecting on what we can do differently so that we can begin repairing the bridge.
A friend of mine says we should rephrase the question to be “what do we wish we understood about the consumer?” I tend to agree, and would go so far as to add, “and how can we meet their needs?”
LC: What does the future look like for you? And when can we expect the next video?
I want to be a productive part of what I see being a global body of people working to solve our international challenge of feeding 9 billion people sustainably in 2050. Specifically, I would like to see the inclusion of livestock production systems in that solution. In the process, I want to encourage people who may not traditionally think of agriculture as a career path to consider it. I honestly don’t know exactly what this will look like yet. I believe it will involve sound science, good policy, and improved communication between all sectors of our industry.
As for the next video, we’ll see. :) I can’t make any promises, as my first priority is getting my thesis completed so that I can wrap up my graduate program.
If you would like to learn more about Jasmine, you can tweet her at @jashdillon.