Sophomore U of M student shares her passion for agriculture

Some say the biggest crisis facing farming is that 98.5 percent of the public don’t farm and most of those people have no connection at all with agriculture, even though they depend on its products every day of their lives.

That’s where Kelsey Gunderson, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota studying agricultural education and specializing in leadership and communications, comes in.

Gunderson, along with fellow college students Leah Joy Johnson and Greg Tusa, has taken up the banner of agriculture as an MCGA Agvocate–an agriculture ambassador to the general public, especially to college-age and young people. The three students have agreed to communicate about farming over the next 12 months over social media and at public events, to help connect people to the farmers and the agriculture that they depend on. In exchange, the three Agvocates each earn a college scholarship and take part in leadership skills development and network building that will help them build a foundation for their careers in 21st century American agribusiness.

When it comes to talking farming, keeping it simple and starting with the basics can be a very successful strategy.

Kelsey Gunderson’s first communication to the public as an MCGA Agvocate was to send a compact electronic message, known as a tweet, via Twitter. (You can find her on Twitter by the handle ‘AVoiceofAg’. The limit of 140 characters in Twitter messages are both a challenge and a virtue. It forces the communicator to boil things down to the essentials.

Gunderson said, “I tweeted a definition of agriculture: ‘Agriculture is the science, art, or occupation concerned with cultivating land, raising crops, and feeding, breeding, and raising livestock’…it may sound obvious, but so many students I meet, when I tell them I am studying agriculture they really don’t know what that is.”

Gunderson comes from Raymond, Minnesota, where she grew up on a farm in a family of three kids. That experience provided a well-rounded picture of agriculture today: her family’s farm includes a farrow-to-finish swine operation, they milk 44 head of cattle, and they raise 800 acres of crops, mostly for silage and feed, but also some of their row crop product is for market. They grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa, as well as a small plot of wheat.

Gunderson is no stranger to public speaking, having taken an active role in 4H and FFA as a teen. The wheat grown on the family farm makes a good symbol of Gunderson’s interest in sharing her passion for agriculture. The family takes part in an antique threshing show in October where people demonstrate how farming was done with authentic 19th and early 20th century farm equipment. She has gotten used to showing the equipment and telling young people in an engaging way about how farming is done. The threshing show is also a vehicle for caring for the world. Through a church mission group, the threshing show raises money to fund farming education and assistance for communities in Africa.

Gunderson relishes opportunities to hone her communication skills. Since meeting the eminent agriculture advocate Michele Payn-Knoper last fall, Gunderson has set her career sights on becoming just such an advocate.

“That’s one of the things that really excites me about the Agvocates program,” said Gunderson. “I’m looking forward to opportunities to meet with major leaders in the ag world, and also meeting the public to spread the word about agriculture. I like to talk, and I like to use my communications skills to help other people know about agriculture. It’s a story I never get tired of telling–that the world couldn’t do without what farmers provide.”

Payn-Knoper conducts a very well subscribed ‘agchat’ every Tuesday via Twitter, ranging over a variety of topics and helping the network of farm supporters build its sense of community and create a vital flow of information. Payn-Knoper uses ‘tweets’ to create traffic to her web log. MPK, as she is known to her web fans, uses hash marks to direct her ‘tweets’ to audiences that will be interested. For instance when she is blogging about nutrition and how farmers focus on producing nutritious food, she includes the hash tag #mom in her message. Everyone searching Twitter on the topic of ‘moms’ will see her message and be able to click on a link that brings the viewer right to MPK’s site, “Cause Matters.”

Gunderson is picking up all these tricks of the trade, in order to become an effective advocate for farming. She has already found for herself that using social media–Twitter, Facebook and the internet as a whole–provides a rich environment for cultivating awareness of farming. Even in the stream of ‘tweets’ Gunderson is building her base of knowledge and researching different aspects of the agriculture industry, which she can turn around and share.

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