By: Mollie Lastovica
Educating the public, promoting agriculture and standing up for farmers and ranchers across the nation, the I Love Farmers organization represents a culmination of efforts among young agricultural advocates everywhere and students in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications at Texas A&M are contributing to the nationwide mission of spreading their love for American agriculture.
“The goal of I Love Farmers is simple,” said Anthony Pannone, I Love Farmers Board Member and ALEC graduate student. “To engage people in conversation about American Agriculture—we want everyone conversing about their food and fiber.”
Pannone is part of the Texas A&M I Love Farmers catalyst group which also includes graduate students Caroline Black and Amy Dromgoole, agricultural communications and journalism students Damian Dominguez, senior, Josh Hardcastle, junior, Jackie Hill, junior, Mallory Mobly, sophomore and alumnus of the department, Oz Cantu.
“My goal is to spread the I Love Farmers movement to places where agriculture has never been,” Pannone said. “Places like NFL, MLB, NBA and other pro stadiums. I want I Love Farmers to have a presence in all sports because without agriculture, sports don’t exist. I want to see all types of celebrities wearing I Love Farmers gear in support of family farmers and ranchers. For agriculture to achieve the recognition it deserves, it must leave its rural roots and enter mainstream society.”
I Love Farmers is doing just that. Recently, the organization was featured in a nationwide media campaign entitled “Agriculture in America.” The campaign was conducted through the independent publishing house Mediaplanet who printed the publication in partnership with different mainstream media outlets including the renowned USA Today.
“Our work and campaigns are centered around uniting leaders,” said Hailey Pierson, Senior Publisher for Mediaplanet. “I Love Farmers was highly recommended by the American Farm Bureau and our partners at Ag Careers who took great stock and ownership in this campaign. After researching their efforts and work, we found a very strong synergistic fit and thought featuring I Love Farmers would be a great way to have a conversation with the next generation of agriculture leaders. We couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”
The Agriculture in America campaign was featured in many urban metropolises including Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Denver and Minneapolis. Through USA Today, the publication was distributed among a readership of 1.7 million. The publication is also available online.
“There are a number of different ways this effort could be considered positive for the industry,” Pierson said. “This is a center-stage dialogue not only in the general public, but also it is a way for farmers and ranchers that might or might not be engaged in dialogue to share their story. Being a conversation piece, it allows for more people to enter into that dialogue and start taking action. Online engagement in the agriculture community is very, very high and this offers a platform for folks to share their stories and to connect and feel connected to something very deep and important to them.”
For those involved in I Love Farmers, the campaign sheds positive light on their efforts and helps to promote awareness on a larger stage.
“I believe our presence in USA Today speaks to the hard work of the young people involved in this movement,” said Scott Vernon, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director of I Love Farmers. “It helps validate that we are making a positive difference and have gotten the attention of well-established agricultural organizations. We are seen as a credible source of advocacy among young people and have gained a national platform for our efforts.”
Vernon received his Ph.D. in agricultural education from the ALEC Department in 1991 and currently works as a Professor at California Polytechnic State University. He saw the I Love Farmers group to its fruition in 2009 and continues to volunteer his time with the organization.
“I Love Farmers began in California in 2009 after I saw how agriculture worked to defeat a ballot initiative in California using science and logic. It did not work. The initiative, Prop 209, was detrimental to production agriculture, but passed overwhelmingly because its supporters used a visual and emotional strategy to connect with voters,” Vernon said. “I wanted to advocate for agriculture among young people using a strong visual approach that gets at the heart of American family farmers and ranchers.”
Pannone started his work with I Love Farmers as a blog writer for the website while attending Cal Poly.
“As I learned about food and fiber, farmers and ranchers, I realized I had been ignorant of U.S. agriculture for 27 years,” Pannone said. “Can you believe, for 27 years, I never once thought about food and fiber beyond the grocery store and mall?”
He is thankful for the coverage I Love Farmers received through Mediaplanet and believes that it will greatly impact the organization’s growth in years to come.
“The coverage means I Love Farmers has street cred,” Pannone said. “We are an all-volunteer movement, so for us to be in USA Today with other national organizations that promote and support agriculture, it shows the power of first, social media, and second, the power of young people with passion for a cause.”
The publication in USA Today has been mutually beneficial for its coordinators, as they have been exposed to the passionate industry leaders of American agriculture who, in the past, have been wary toward media due to a history of negative coverage.
“At the end of the day, I have been inspired,” Pierson said. “We have been able to accomplish a model for how positive, impactful and motivating work can be done to benefit American agriculture.”
Vernon notes that I Love Farmers works on a number of college campuses with limited resources and that they organize using electronic communication and social media. He encourages young people to be active on the I Love Farmers Facebook page and volunteer as the need arises. Pannone stresses the need for engagement and encourages students to get involved.
“The first step in advocating U.S. agriculture is to be present,” Pannone said. “If you don’t show up then you never have a chance to compete. If you don’t compete then how will you know if you will win or lose? The kind of change I Love Farmers wants will not happen overnight, so you’ve got to stick with whatever you are doing. If you truly believe in what you’re doing then you will have no problem staying in the game while others drop out.”