MCGA Agvocates, 2010-11: Katie Zenk

“We hear all the time that agricultural producers are a small fraction of the population, so you know young people in agriculture is an even smaller group,” said Katie Zenk, 20, a junior at the University of Minnesota who joined Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s “Agvocates” program this spring. She said, “We need to make connections with our peers—it helps strengthen our ability to speak up for agriculture.”

One of her first opportunities in the program was attending the recent Minnesota Agriculture Ambassadors Institute in Mankato, organized by Minnesota Pork Producers Association to teach young people effective ways to reach out and teach the public what really happens on the farm.

She said, “Being an MCGA Agvocate and attending events like the Ambassadors Institute helps someone like me develop relationships and develop the network of people my age involved in agriculture. When we get together we find that we can be as different as the different types of production and commodities out there, but we also find a lot of commonalities. It’s great to share ideas with other young people who want to speak up and support agriculture.”

MCGA created its Agvocates program this year as part of its ongoing commitment to develop leadership, especially among the next generation of farmers and people involved in farm business. MCGA, a 6,000-member grassroots commodity organization, selected Zenk and three other college students to participate in the Agvocates program, which is a year-long series of trainings, leadership experiences, networking opportunities, all wrapped together with a scholarship towards their education.

Zenk grew up on a small farm north of Danube, Minnesota where her family raised Hereford Beef cattle. Throughout her growing up, Zenk raised poultry as part of her participation in youth agriculture organizations. She has culminated her seven years in FFA with a role as a state officer, and plans to run for national office. She is studying applied economics at the University.

Zenk attended a social media workshop conducted by Michele Payn-Knoper at MCGA’s headquarters in Shakopee, and she enjoyed the chance to expand her knowledge in that area, with one of the most well respected agriculture advocates working today. Payn-Knoper runs a weekly Internet-based chat that attracts people across the whole spectrum of agriculture to talk about the important issues for farmers. Zenk has participated in some of those online chats and looked forward to meeting Payn-Knoper in person.

Katie’s first big advocacy-via-Internet opportunity came this spring, when she helped with the Ag Awareness Day on the main campus of the University of Minnesota. Zenk helped establish the Facebook companion page that promoted the event in advance and continues to develop agricultural awareness among university students. The Facebook page is laying the groundwork for Ag Awareness to be an ongoing event. (See the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/AgAwareness)

Katie’s next opportunity as an Agvocate will be FarmFest, where she will have the chance to interact with people at the event, to tell them about all the products made from corn and the economic impact of corn and its value-added products here in Minnesota.

However, her Agvocate work takes up only part of her summer schedule. Zenk is spending the summer interning in the government relations department at Land O’Lakes, Inc., the Minnesota based company that is America’s second largest farmer- cooperative, serving 300,000 producers through a thousand member cooperatives.

“It’s an interesting view of the political realm and offers quite a wide range in what to get involved in,” said Zenk.

Katie noted that her degree program has a trade policy emphasis, and a mass communications/journalism minor. Depending on the outcome of her run for national office in the FFA, Zenk is considering applying to intern next year at the USDA, which would help her in her career goal of attaining an agriculture-related government position or work in public relations at an agricultural company.

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