For the past five years, Northwest students have participated in an agriculture competition hosted by College Aggies Online. This past fall, students earned first place for their agriculture advocacy project for the group competition. As a prize, the agricultural sciences department was given a $2,750 scholarship.
In the fall, for their project, Northwest’s agriculture advocacy class hosted a food and clothing drive Nov. 9-13 at Hy-Vee in Maryville, Missouri. A group of students from the agriculture advocacy class created the food drive to support the Nodaway County Ministry Center. While this food drive was not their only contribution, it was a big part of what helped them receive the national award; it gave them the most points out of their other events.
The agriculture advocacy class held other events throughout the fall semester such as scavenger hunts, information booths and a trivia night. Rod Barr, director of the agricultural sciences department for Northwest, said they have had guest speakers in the past, but they weren’t able to visit this year due to COVID-19.
Junior Sydni Akey said there was quite a bit of work that went into the food and clothing drive alone.
“It took a lot of hours outside of class to make the event work,” Akey said. “We did a lot of prep for flyers, handouts and even going and having meetings with Hy-Vee.”
Akey said that all of the students each spent hours working the drive and making sure the donations got to the ministry.
Barr said contestants are graded on their goals, project plan, target audience and scope, the accomplishment of the goals and documentation of the event through pictures and social media. Each event is graded separately, then the points are totaled at the end of the competition in December. Every week teams sent in screenshots of their posts for submission and to have the points count. The College Aggies knew which posts were made on social media for the event because they had the hashtag #CAO20 on them.
College Aggies Online is an initiative of the Animal Alliance that aims to encourage students to share factual information about agriculture. Clubs and agriculture groups, like the agriculture advocacy class that did the project for Northwest, receive awards for hosting the best events either on campus or online. Northwest had 32 students take part in the competition.
Barr said when the department started the agriculture advocacy class, he saw the contest as an opportunity for the students to earn money to help with their education, especially since they would already be doing those things in class.
Junior Kayla Cornett said that agriculture advocacy, as a whole, is about connecting people and showing why agriculture is needed.
“There are so many myths, misconceptions and confusing things about agriculture when you don't know much about it, and being an agriculture advocate is all about giving people the facts,” Cornett said. “That's what people are looking for, so that's what we want to give them.”
Agriculture advocates aim to give people a reliable source that can give them information, such as how food gets to their table. Cornett said they want to be seen as trustworthy by the people who wonder about that information.
Cornett said part of the work was coming up with creative ways to get their information out to the people. However, she said the biggest challenge was research.
“We were all learning more about agriculture throughout the competition, but we also had to make sure that the information that we were providing other people with was accurate,” Cornett said.
Barr said that for him, it was about being a mentor to the students and getting students to understand the importance of promoting the agricultural industry.
Cornett said that she was excited to win such a big award.
“It's still hard to believe that it was a national competition that had so many people participating in it, so it was a pretty good feeling after thinking about how big it was,” Cornett said.
Akey said that even though she won awards at national junior cattle shows around the country, this award felt different for her.
“I felt very honored to receive a national award, especially through a program and competition such as College Aggies Online,” Akey said. “It was a great feeling to be able to receive alongside many of my fellow classmates and friends.”
Barr said that it is always good to see students recognized for their work and success while also understanding today’s agriculture industry.
“It allows them to start building their portfolio, so to speak,” Barr said.
Akey said participating in the competition helped prepare her for a future in agriculture. She said it helped her to have conversations with individuals who may not know much about the agricultural industry.
“It will help me be prepared in tough situations and help me be better prepared to advocate for the industry as it moves forward,” Akey said.
In addition to the Northwest class placing first out of 16 other collegiate clubs, 11 Northwest students, including Cornett and Akey, received the College Aggies Online Excellence Award for winning the individual competition. The College Aggies Online Excellence Award goes to 20 students who completed post requirements each week of the competition.
Barr said that for this spring, they have 29 students in the agriculture advocacy class. While they don’t compete in a contest like College Aggies Online, he said they still do the same activities that they would do in the fall semester.