April 2015
Youth Matters

Ag in the Big Easy

  Emma Williams, food science major, teaches students about germs through the use of GloGerm.

Auburn’s Ag Ambassadors visited New Orleans to get a feel for the differences in agriculture between Alabama and Louisiana and found the experience eye-opening.

Not many people think of New Orleans as a place to visit and learn about agriculture, but a group of students from Auburn University did just that. The Auburn University Ag Ambassadors planned their first-ever service and professional development trip to New Orleans.

Sonja Cox, president of Ag Ambassadors, explained that New Orleans was chosen because the agriculture would look very different than in Alabama. While the trip was primarily a service trip, the group still wanted to learn; and New Orleans provided a unique conglomeration of both. The group participated in various service activities, visited area schools, toured museums and agricultural venues, and networked with alumni and agricultural leaders from Louisiana.

The first night of the trip the Ag Ambassadors visited the Zatarains plant to discuss daily operations and how to succeed in future endeavors.

"We saw actual Zatarains products being made – massive machines full of crab boil, rice mix and other yummy New Orleans-type food. It was a great reminder that not only do we have to thank the farmers for producing the food we eat but we have to thank the plant workers, too. They keep those products we love coming to the grocery stores, and seeing their hard work reminded me of that," Marlee Moore said.

While the group was there the plant manager and a food scientist shared their background and then explained that finding a company you love that shares your passion and values is extremely important.

The following day the Ag Ambassador team divided into groups and spent time in local schools around New Orleans spreading their love for Auburn and agriculture. One group of students led an Ag in the Classroom program at Folsom Elementary School. This program educated 130 elementary students about the different breeds, sizes and colorations of horses; food safety; and the anatomy of a lima bean. Ellen Rankins, education chair for Ag Ambassadors, planned the curriculum and all of the activities for the elementary school trip.

"My favorite part of our trip to New Orleans was getting to work with the elementary school students. It was a great experience to share what I am passionate about with the students in a way that was fun and engaging to them," Rankins said.

Another group went to a local high school and taught more than 230 students about the opportunities available at Auburn University and the College of Agriculture through recruitment presentations. The high school they visited had the largest FFA program in the state, so it was a unique experience.

"This year we did high school presentations at the top feeder schools into Auburn, and most of them did not have an agriculture program. This school was unique because it allowed us to talk to students who either had a background in agriculture or were currently learning about it," John Allen Nichols explained.

A third group spent their morning at the Second Harvest Food Bank giving back to the community. The group agreed that the food bank was by far the best experience in New Orleans.

"The impact they’re having in the community is astounding to me. The number of children they feed every summer with their Summer Feeding Program is growing exponentially. After seeing some of the city’s needier places, I was uplifted to see how much good the food bank is doing," Cox said.

This group spent the morning sorting 5,000 cans of food to be distributed to people in the city.

GrowDat Youth Farm was another location the group had the chance to visit. GrowDat is an urban farm that helps students by providing a steady positive influence in their lives.

"I loved seeing agriculture being incorporated into the lives of inner-city students who wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to it. What was even better was GrowDat building leadership and business skills with these kids, while providing accessible produce for the community!" Libby Knizely said.

GrowDat uses agriculture to teach hard work, dedication and strength that can help give students a sense of purpose and hope for the future they had not felt before.

The group ended their trip at Kent Farms, where Amelia and Russell Kent raise Braford cattle while advocating for the future of the agriculture industry. Amelia said any spare time not spent on one of the 12 farm locations where they keep their cattle is spent at local Farm Bureau and Young Farmers meetings. She never misses a chance to advocate for agriculture - whether through social media, at the hair salon or to legislators, every part is extremely important. She has traveled to Washington numerous times to meet with legislators to teach them about how bills will affect her and her farm. The ambassadors enjoyed this visit because it helped them realize they could have the best of both worlds: they could run a farm while still positively affecting change in the agriculture industry. Her biggest piece of advice for the group was to get involved in groups at the local and state level, and do not be scared to speak the truth about what you do for a living!

The trip the Auburn Ag Ambassadors took to New Orleans was eye opening in many aspects for all of the students involved. They learned what was important when choosing a job and company, how to relate to students of all ages and get them engaged in the agriculture industry, along with completing multiple service projects at different locations throughout the trip. The trip for next year, to a different location, is already being planned and the team says they cannot wait.

Michelle Bufkin is is a freelance writer from Auburn.