November 2015
Youth Matters

Beefing Up the Next Generation

 
Paige Teague, one of the contestants, is interviewed by Randall Weiseman while the judges take notes.  

The Alabama Beef Ambassador Program offers youth an opportunity to educate consumers about beef.

The future of agriculture lies in developing today’s youth to not only become better farmers but to also be better advocates for agriculture. In today’s society, most people are four generations removed from the farm. This means there are numerous consumers who have little-to-no idea where their food comes from. The best way to change that is to educate farmers and ranchers on how to bridge that gap. The Alabama Beef Ambassador Program strives to provide that education.

The Alabama Beef Ambassador Program is a state level of the National Beef Ambassador Program. At both of these programs, participants are evaluated in four categories: media interview, issues response, consumer demonstration/simulation and another interview focusing on their education and outreach activities. In the last category, participants have the ability to choose three equally weighted activities/events designed to advocate for beef with youth and/or millennial audiences. Contestants may choose from social media outreach via Facebook, campus event or youth classroom presentation.

 
  The judges take time to deliberate over contestants’ scores. The judges (from left) are Jenny Britton, Bob Britton, Darrell Stokes and Caleb Beason.

Beef Ambassadors located across the nation go into classrooms, daycares’ after-school programs and attend youth-organization activities where they make presentations about their personal experiences with beef and the beef industry, including industry messages on nutrition, animal welfare, environment and other key topics. National Beef Ambassadors increase consumer reach through their attendance at promotional events during consumer expos, health fairs and in-store demonstrations.

Alabama has become one of the leading states in supporting this national program. Alabama Beef Ambassador is an amazing program directed toward the youth of our state to help develop them as beef promoters.

This year, students had the unique opportunity of being interviewed by Randall Weiseman, network program director for Southeast Ag Net. This put the students in a situation where they were forced to think about their answers more thoroughly and provided them with real-world experience about what to expect from a media interview. Following the conclusion of the program, Weiseman and other judges explained the best way to answer questions for the media - by answering them completely, focusing on the positive and always reiterating your point.

From the ABAP, Amanda Reeves was selected as the senior representative and Shaler Hankins was selected as the junior representative to the NBAP. Participants were also selected to serve on Alabama Beef Ambassador Teams. The senior team selected was Reeves, Coffee County; Jeffery Calvert, Lauderdale County; and Paige Teague, Clay County. The junior team selected was Wyatt Walker, Lauderdale County, and Hankins, Lauderdale County. These teams will not only promote the beef industry but will also provide the students with necessary advocating skills. The emphasis of the ABAP is to provide the students with education, youth development and adaptive leadership skills - all while they share their stories of the beef industry.

"The ABAP strives to provide an opportunity for youth to educate consumers and youth about beef nutrition, food safety, the economic value of the beef industry and stewardship practices of the beef industry," said Dr. Donald Mulvaney, a professor in Auburn University’s Animal Sciences Department.

"I learned two things from programs like this. I learned how to make a decision and how to back it up with logical reasons. I hope y’all learn this as well," Darrell Stokes, Montgomery Stockyards and one of the judges, told the participants.

Logical reasons are much easier for consumers to believe as opposed to opinions. This program provides youth with researched information they could use to help convince consumers that beef is safe, healthy and important. Bob Britton, director of the research units at Auburn University, was another judge. Britton’s favorite part of the program was seeing the young students describe their passion for the beef industry.

"This program is essential because today’s youth are bombarded with anti-beef messages," Mulvaney said.

So many people are unaware of where their food comes from. They look online for answers, but most of the links are sharing negative information. We, as agriculturalists, are greatly outnumbered and that gap will continue to grow. This is why equipping the next generation with the information and skills to promote the beef industry is absolutely necessary.

Evelyn Brown’s passion for the ABAP started strongly in 2011. She says the program is built on the strong ethics of leaders in the beef community and it has proven to strengthen youth development. That is the reason she believes so strongly in the program. Brown is the chair for the ABAP and currently sits on the board of directors for the American National CattleWomen; she is also the past president of the Alabama CattleWomen’s Association.

The ABAP represents a partnership among the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, the Alabama CattleWomen’s Association and the Department of Animal Sciences at Auburn University. Any Alabama youth between the ages of 9 and 20 with current abilities and potential to be trained will be eligible to be nominated to the 2016 Alabama Beef Ambassador Program Workshop that prepares youth for the state contest, membership on the Alabama Beef Ambassador Team and the national competition. The program is supported by the Alabama Beef Check-off Marketing plan.

Michelle Bufkin is is a freelance writer from Auburn.