Western Courier

Advocating for Agriculture

Talis Shelbourne

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 Western Illinois University’s Agriculture Department has been busy producing a series of student-run advocacy projects designed to raise awareness about food safety and production throughout the semester.

 Agriculture Instructor Jana Knupp, discussed the department, several of its advocacy projects, and the importance that food education has in our daily lives.

 “A major component of the Communicating Agriculture Issues course is advocating for agriculture,” Knupp said. “Customers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, but more consumers are removed from the farm than ever before.”

 Consequently, the class spends time researching and informing others on the intensive practices that go into food production.

 “Our goal is to educate the public about today’s agriculture practices and show them that farmers work tirelessly to make sure that the food they produce is safe and sustainable,” Knupp said.

 Knupp said such education often helps clear up the average food consumer’s myths or misconceptions.

 “Agriculture is sometimes the target of unfair criticism on the web and social media and therefore people get a skewed view of reality,” Knupp said. “We want people to hear the information from the people who produce the food themselves.”

 Knupp gave an example of random information leading consumers to misplaced conclusions by explaining a recent statement about Subway’s meat being sourced from animals that have never been given antibiotics.

 “They might think that everything (they’ve) eaten up until this point hasn’t been safe — no, that’s not true at all,” Knupp said of consumers. “It’s safe, it’s tested, it’s tested several times, and it has been for many years. So our goal is to make sure that people understand what they’re hearing in the news and understand where our food comes from.”

 Mackenzie Buyck, a senior agriculture major, acknowledged that the education she is receiving in the department helps her learn to more accurately communicate the food culture’s role in society.

 “It is our job to keep people informed and show them that our industry is safe, and that we are always doing the best thing we can to ensure that the consumer’s food is safe and our animals are comfortable,”Buyck said.

 Knupp believes the advocacy projects go a long way in supporting students learning how to effectively educate others, which is the reason most projects are largely student operated.

 “Each of the projects the students conduct are entirely student run, with the exception of acquiring funding, which I assist with,” Knupp said. “One reason I believe in these projects is that it forces students to sharpen their communication skills. When they are in the business world, they will need to have these conversations with consumers. Students also work on working as a team, navigating group dynamics.”

 Knupp expressed a specific desire to reach out to students who may not be aware of the process food must undertake on its way to
grocery shelves.

 “Because there is a diverse population of students on campus, some come from areas which are very urban and may have never seen a cornfield until they drove down to Western — our objective is to educate them about where our food comes from,” Knupp said.

 Buyck described her experience on the Scary Meat Myths advocacy project sponsored by the McDonough County Farm Bureau.

 “What we did was we attached meat myths to a piece of candy and handed them out to students and staff on campus,” Buyck said. “Our hope was to educate the WIU campus about meat and what is true and what isn’t. We handed out candy to over 500 students.”

 Events like these also allow everyone on campus to gain knowledge of the agricultural industry.

 “To date, we’ve reached over 2,000 people through these projects,” Knupp said. “We are always interested in having that number grow. We want people to engage in a conversation about agriculture.”

 Knupp also conveyed the department’s special importance to the town of Macomb, which is heavily reliant upon the agricultural field.

 “(Agriculture) is one of the largest industries and one of the largest employers in Macomb,” Knupp said. “There are several chemicals and large farms around here, so it’s a main employer and a main entity in Macomb for sure.”

 Currently, the department is involved in a nationwide contest being sponsored by the Animal Agriculture Alliance. Knupp believes it will provide a useful additional incentive for her students.

 “The winning group (or) team will receive a $5,000 award and the contest runs through the end of November,” Knupp said. “Each project is awarded a set amount of points. Successfully hosting an event earns you that amount of points.”

 There are more similar projects to come in November and Knupp remains optimistic about their impact in serving the community and the school of agriculture’s students.

 “Because we’re a small population of the people who are producing the food, we don’t have the time or the resources to tell people this is safe or this is sustainable,” Knupp said. “We will always need to share the story of agriculture, or someone else will share it for us, often to our detriment.”

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Advocating for Agriculture