Booster for E85 and farm knowledge joins MCGA Agvocate program

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Since high school, Leah Joy Johnson has made the rounds to different public events, creating posters and giving talks to tell people about the advantages of using E85 — the 85 percent ethanol fuel blend. To Johnson, the most important reason to use ethanol may be that it builds up the farm economy and keeps rural America strong.

So Johnson jumped at the chance to be an MCGA Agvocate, to make use of the platform it affords to speak to the public and educate people about issues she cares deeply about.

Minnesota Corn Growers Association started the MCGA Agvocates program two years ago. It offers college students the opportunity to speak on behalf of agriculture in a variety of settings, including via social media, and to meet leaders in agriculture and other industries. In exchange for a year’s commitment, each student receives scholarship funds.

Johnson, like the other two Agvocates this year, comes from a farm family. The Johnsons operate a farm in Evansville, Minnesota, near Alexandria, and they also travel the midwest doing custom harvesting each fall. Johnson is a junior at North Dakota State University in Fargo, where she studies agricultural economics, with a minor in ag communications. Eventually, she would like to be involved in the family farming operation, on the business side.

“I am really passionate about supporting agriculture, and I have become especially interested in this over the past year,” said Johnson. “I have a growing concern about the farming knowledge of people who live in urban and suburban areas. They didn’t know what a tractor is, when to plant crops and other information that’s very basic about producing food. It seems really weird not to know that stuff. I just think it is so important to know where your food comes from when you buy it at the grocery store.”

Johnson thinks education about agriculture is necessary for kids at every level–primary, secondary and even higher education.

“The ‘Food World Crops’ class I took last fall really opened my eyes about how much most people don’t know about farming,” said Johnson. “A lot of people struggled with this class. No one ever informed them what a wheat plant looks like or a corn plant–I think basics like that are very important for people to know. I want people to understand when they are reading a food label what it’s referring to, and also to be able to really think about the label, and not just trust the box, but to know more. People should ask themselves what does ‘whole grain’ really mean in the brand name of a food. Even though farmers here have gone far beyond subsistence farming and are often commercially successful, it’s still important to appreciate the work that farmers do and how we all benefit from it.”

A part of being an Agvocate is taking an active part in social media advocacy for agriculture. Johnson started a new Facebook page, ‘Ag News by Farmgirl’ to help attract attention to agriculture and spread information about farming. In the first couple of days she had 36 Facebook fans for the page, and by the end of a week it was 100.

“I hope it continues to build during my whole college career and that maybe I will continue it or hand it on to other people as a successful site for reaching the public with information about real farmers and the work they do,” said Johnson.

One of the key opportunities of the Agvocates program is the chance to meet other young, enthusiastic agriculture supporters and leaders. Later in June, Johnson and the other MCGA Agvocates will take part in the Minnesota Agricultural Ambassadors Institute–an annual gathering put together by Minnesota Pork Producers to help cultivate young agriculture leaders–will take place in Willmar.

Johnson is keenly aware of agriculture as an ongoing culture, handed from one generation to the next. Her summer job the past few summers at a local nursing home fits perfectly into Johnson’s view of the social value of the farming way of life. Many of her charges are folks who have been her neighbors, retired from farming, many of them still very interested in the doings in the old neighborhood. Johnson is able to keep her friends at the nursing home up with the specifics and the latest news about the farm places that these folks have lovingly placed into the hands of today’s farmers.

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