Over the course of the next few months, I want slowly to share the key experiences that have shaped me in terms of food and agriculture. My story isn’t linear. Only when my love of food and agriculture began growing in college did I begin to see the significance of my childhood and family history. And only when I realized my own personal (albeit untraditional) ties to food and agriculture, did I find the deep energy and passion to pursue a career around these topics. This week we look at my college years.
I did not grow up on a farm. I did not begin college thinking I would study agriculture in any way, shape or form. I had considered ag communications in high school at the suggestion of my mom, but speech therapy was my focus, chosen major and desired career path.
Imagine my shock when I did not like my speech therapy intro class and realized I needed a different major. At the time, I was working as a research assistant for a professor looking at environmental movements in post-colonial countries. Though it was a mixed experience, I loved thinking about the physical world and studying how people relate to it.
Long story short, I met with the ag comm academic advisor, changed majors and graduated with my B.S. in agricultural communications. Feel free to stop reading now because that’s the story in a nutshell. But if you want to know what it was like for suburban, locavore loving, barista, international-traveling Abby to study agriculture with folks from every nook and cranny of Indiana, read on.
I officially began studying agriculture my sophomore year of college. The transition from Purdue’s college of liberal arts to the college of agriculture (CoA) was a bit of a culture shock (I wrote about that experience for a World Magazine publication here). And thanks to my viewing of “Food, Inc.,” I had a pretty good idea about what was right and what was wrong with modern agriculture, despite never being on a farm or talking in-person to a farmer criticized by the film and its groupies.
As I sat in classes with young men and women who were “those” farmers, my views began to change. These people – whom I now counted as friends – loved their animals, cared about the environment and were deeply motivated by feeding the world and leaving a better world for the future generations.
I witnessed all the good that “Big Ag” does in the world and heard about the “bad” from a different perspective. Profits and ROI play a role in agriculture, as they should. But money isn’t the primary driver of “Big Ag” in my experience. At the heart of modern U.S. agriculture (from Monsanto to the hog farmer in northeast Indiana) is a desire to feed the world and preserve a lifestyle centered on integrity, hard work, stewardship and investment in future generations.
My “aha” moment during this season was simple: I realized that agriculture is a diverse field, and the controversial issues of agriculture are more like a diamond than a coin. Instead of there just being two sides, most issues in agriculture have many facets.
My pastor at Purdue would always remind our Bible study that sanctification – becoming more like Christ – happens in the context of community. I would add that growth in character and understanding of the world happens in community too. I am so thankful for the young men and women I had an opportunity to know and work with through the CoA.
It took time to earn my place in certain conversations since I didn’t grow up on a farm and I was initially quick to judge. As I sought to understand before being understood, as I listened and as I grew, I slowly carved out a space among my CoA peers and I was heard and respected. I learned which convictions to hold tightly and which convictions to hold loosely. My Purdue CoA community changed me and made me the ag professional (and person) I am today.