For Ethel

5372D2CE-F0E5-4A81-A84A-04C26F567AFEIn memory of my childhood best friend and the most loved dairy cow I’ve ever known, Ethel:


At eight years old, I didn’t understand much about the world. All I knew was that I loved the farm that we lived on and I wanted to learn all about it one day just like my dad, uncle, and grandfather had done.

At this young age, the best way for me to learn about farming was through the 4-H program, in which I could learn about agriculture and everything that fascinated me. I started with a market hog project, then the next year, I began my dairy journey with a calf my dad picked out specially for me – Ethel.

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I remember the first time I saw Ethel in her calf hutch next to her twin sister in December of 2003. My dad explained that I would show one calf (later to be named Ethel), and Karen, my cousin, would show the other (later to be named Emma). He picked these two out because they came from a great family of cows and he expected them to do well for us as 4-H projects.

I named my calf Ethel because I had high hopes for what our friendship was going to be. I wanted to have a mischievous, genuine relationship like that of Ethel and Lucy from I Love Lucy. I also named her “Ethel Elizabeth” because I thought it would be cool to have an animal named after me. Sometimes I wonder about my eight-year-old self…

It turned out that the whole “friendship with a large animal” thing was more challenging than I expected, especially in moments when Ethel was learning how to walk on a halter, she saw food she wanted instead of listening to my father and me, and she got stung by bees and ran away. However, this bond turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

In the beginning, I was in awe of Ethel. She was unlike anything I had ever interacted with. We were forming a relationship – girl to girl, human to animal, large four-legged friend to small two-legged friend – and that was special. That awe never went away as she aged from a tiny calf into a sassy 14-year-old troublemaker.

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You see, Ethel wasn’t just a cow to me; she really was my best friend. It seems absurd to think about an animal making such a tremendous impact on a someone’s life, but she taught me about what’s important in life and she came at the most essential time when a girl needs a good friend. She taught me that there was more to life than school, sibling rivalry with my brothers, food, and my dogs as a small child. But even more critically, Ethel grew up with me as I struggled with all the things youth face – bullying in school, learning about what’s important in life, superficial friendships in the heat of middle school drama, and becoming somewhat of a grown-up. She was the rock I could always come back to for a hug when everything else seemed too hard. In addition to that, she taught me about agriculture, passion, responsibility, hard work, friendship, resilience, perseverance, and humility.

My love for agriculture came naturally to me at a young age because of my family, but I think it ran deeper in my heart because of my connection with Ethel. I wanted to understand her, what she needed in cow care and comfort, what made her happy, and anything I could about her needs…even if they mostly revolved around food. Because she fascinated me, I pursued learning about agriculture more and more, and I credit my passion for this industry and community to Ethel.

Ethel taught me about responsibility and hard work in more ways than one. Throughout her 14 years, my dad and those who helped us on the farm took care of her every day. However, it was up to me to get her ready for shows, feed her at fairs, and prepare everything in between. It took about 3 or 4 times of forgetting her veterinarian-signed health papers for the fair at home before I finally got the hint that I needed to be more responsible. It all paid off one year when I took full ownership of everything and worked diligently to prepare her for the show, and we, as a team, ended up winning our large showmanship class. It was the small wins like those that made me appreciative of how she taught me about myself, but how we worked so well as a duo.

 

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The beauty of my friendship with Ethel is that it was unique. It’s not every day when a little girl would rather play with a cow out back than be with her human friends. The true beauty shined through when I would sit and talk to her for an hour, and she would just sit there looking at me, letting me pet her like this is what we were made for.

When I left for college and only came home about every 3 months or so, Ethel got upset with me. Because cows can sense how you’re feeling, Ethel would always know when I was about to leave to go back to school because I was sad when I came to say goodbye to her. In these cases, she would walk away from me because she was mad, and would hardly let me say goodbye. When I came back from being away, she would look at me, then choose to ignore me like she was mad that I decided to come back and act like everything was normal. As days went by of me being home and seeing her every day, she warmed up to me more and more, until I said goodbye again. In the in between, she would rest her head on me for five or more minutes sometimes, seemingly just like she was saying, “I’m glad you’re here,” without moving an inch.

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It was a cycle that both warmed and broke my heart. She taught me that friendship can be hard, but it’s the showing up when you can that makes it count.

In my family’s eyes, Ethel Galbreath was the definition of resilience. There were at least three times in her life when we thought she wasn’t going to make it, and every single time, her sassy attitude and strong will helped her power through. After a C-section (thanks for saving her, Jen Trout!), cancer scares and cancer spreading, many infections, and her old age catching up to her, she still fought every single day. I’ve never seen anything like it. My mom jokingly said one day before Ethel went down that Ethel was “the cow with nine lives,” and I think that summed it up perfectly.

To put this in some context, Ethel was in rough shape leading up to her death. Ethel went “down,” meaning she couldn’t get up, more than two weeks before she died. Most dairy cows we’ve had don’t make it past three or four days of being down, but Ethel fought for as long as she could, surpassing any expectations we could’ve had for her. Most American dairy cows live for about eight years, but Ethel (and her twin sister, who’s still going) lived for 14. Her extraordinary perseverance was a blessing to see.

My favorite thing about Ethel, I think, wasn’t the fact she was sassy or that she loved meeting new friends who came to our farm for field trips and tours, but rather that she was the rock in my life for 14 years. Ethel was the most important thing in the world to me, but she was a cow. What I mean by that is that Ethel wasn’t anything huge (okay, maybe literally she was) or regal. She was a farm animal that was as real as it gets. There’s no sugar-coating anything on a dairy farm, and I learned that quickly. It hits you hard when the circle of life is part of your day frequently and there are lots of flies, smells, and weather-related events involved. Ethel was a humble reminder for me that the most important things in life aren’t elegant, ravish, full of money, or extravagant. The most beautiful things in life are in God’s individual creations, if we’re lucky enough to be able to truly see and appreciate them, and that’s exactly what Ethel was to me. She was a gift from God to my dad and I who gave us little sprinkles of His love every single day.

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One reason I tell you the story of Ethel is to remind you that dairy farmers love their animals, and this industry pours their hearts and souls into what they do. I’ve heard what animal rights groups have to say about dairy farming being inhumane, but here’s a real glimpse at the love farmers have for their animals: I have never seen any person love an animal like my dad loved Ethel. He took better care of her than anything I’ve seen or could’ve imagined. Every single time Ethel was a little “off” or hurt, my dad did what he could to keep her healthy, happy, and safe. Until she died, he was giving her individual care like she was in hospice for cows, picking her buckets of clover by hand because he knew how much she loved it. Although I wasn’t there to see her at the very end, I know he gave her everything he could, and he kept her around for years longer than she would’ve been without his unconditional love. Those two were real pals, and it was the coolest friend trio to be a part of. And no matter what Ethel and I went through, my dad was always there to help us along. My friendship with Ethel wouldn’t have been anything without my dad’s love, diligence, and support.1005813_10201177266066724_1555369900_n

The other reason I tell you about Ethel is because she was important to me (if you couldn’t tell). Something I learned from you all – family, friends, agriculture community, and even strangers – was that you are the best version of yourself when you live pursuing your passions. When I would light up and talk about Ethel for the past 14 years, everyone welcomed it. People were excited to hear about something that I cared so deeply for – and what a beautiful life lesson that is. Others craved to hear about Ethel, asking about how she was doing sometimes before asking me about how I was. I am so thankful for people welcoming me for loving Ethel, but going even further to care for Ethel themselves. It means the world to know that people love me for who I am, but my closest friendships have been even more special because my friends chose to make Ethel a part of our bonds, too. Thank you all for that love and for letting me be who I am (even if I’m seemingly a crazy cow lady).

I could write a novel about Ethel (and maybe I will, but that might take a while) and what she meant to my family and I, but this was just a small part of our long story. I hope that you know that this world is full of struggles and hardships, but what matters most is who you go through those with. For some at this point in life, that’s a spouse or significant other, and for others, that might be a dog or a cat. For me, that was Ethel, and I’m forever grateful that she was my partner-in-crime growing up.

I hope you’re encouraged that you will be loved for who you are and what matters to you, no matter what that is. If I can create community with others who know and love me while being best friends with a 1,900 lb dairy cow, I think anything is possible.

Thank you for all your love and for sharing in this journey with me for the past 14 years. Ethel loved you a whole lot, too.

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The last sunset I ever watched with Ethel in April 2018 – it looked like God was calling her home. Pretty beautiful, if you ask me.

 

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The Food Effect – Tying it All Together

I’m always ecstatic to share authentic posts and resources about agriculture. Check out this interactive website by National Geographic showing a modern day dairy farm and its technologies, and other agriculturalists in 2018:

https://thefoodeffect.com/

You can see what a dairy farm, algae farm, vertical farm, and a chef’s kitchen look like these days. This resource pulls all of food production together to show that it takes all kinds of kinds of agriculture to make and produce the food that we love and enjoy, and it takes talented people to prepare it for us in new, inventive ways.

It’s important for us to take a step back from what we’re doing to remember why we’re doing it and how all the small pieces of the food production puzzle come together to provide a safe, nutritious, and delicious food supply.

Take a look around at the website and learn something new – I know I did!

My Problem with GMOs

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Pop quiz. Do you know what genetically modified crops are grown and sold in the United States? (Hint: there are only 10!)

Answer: Canola, corn, cotton, alfalfa, apples, papaya, potatoes, soybean, squash, and sugar beets. (Yes, that’s it. Only 10.)

Let’s be real for a second. Genetically modified organisms, nicknamed “GMOs,” are controversial in the United States. Why? Because many Americans believe that genetically modified crops are linked to health issues. It’s believed that these crops are modified with only the end goal in mind so that their end product isn’t as safe or even nutritious compared to other crops. And frankly, many people don’t know that genetically modification of our food has been happening for thousands of years.

There’s a part of the controversy that points to a lack of understanding about what genetically modified organisms are, but I believe there’s even a larger misunderstanding about why we genetically modify crops. From my many conversations regarding GMOs with various people, it seems that there’s a negative stigma associated with GMOs because we’re doing it for the wrong reasons as an agriculture community. It seems the population believes we’re only thinking about higher yields, more income, and saving resources on our end, and that we’re completely disregarding the health of the American consumer.

On top of these beliefs from the consumer perspective, the heat that farmers face regarding genetically modified organisms turns the agriculture community off completely. We immediately get defensive about the work that we do and feel neglected by the consumers, when we firmly believe in providing a safe, nutritious product to them. We feel disrespected and misunderstood.

Combine these two perspectives together, and you get a large divide surrounding the controversy of the use, legality, and safety of GMOs. To add onto the confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration, companies will use marketing strategies to scare consumers out of GMO products by placing “non-GMO” labels on products that couldn’t even be produced with a genetically modified organism. These companies are smart marketers to play into the fear that consumers feel about the safety of GMOs, so they scare them into buying a “non GMO” product “just to be safe.” Check out this Forbes article on how Hunt’s Ketchup did this, and it backfired almost immediately.

We’re at a point where the American population is so removed from food production and agriculture that there is already confusion surrounding food. But when we add this GMO debate to it, things get even more complicated. And this is where I have a problem with GMOs.

I am a 22-year-old American young woman who supports genetically modified organisms. I believe in the power of genetically modifying crops in order to feed a growing population across the globe. Here’s why:

From my lifelong involvement with agriculture, I understand the challenges farmers and ranchers face every single day in order to get food into our homes. These people risk everything just to be in the business of farming and ranching. Helping agriculturalists reduce risk in their jobs by protecting their crops against drought, pests, and disease could make a world of difference.

From my travels around the world, I have seen families and communities in Tanzania, Africa plant corn sparsely on the side of a mountain and hope they get a small fraction of usable harvest from it. These people would love to have the option of planting a crop better suited for their soil quality and environmental conditions to have a more stable food supply.

From my collegiate degree program in agricultural sciences and economics, I have studied economics of food enough to grasp the huge problem that we have with food distribution and waste. By modifying crops, we can help this by reducing food waste by eliminating superficial browning of foods that cause people to throw their food away when it’s still good. (Example: GMO apples)

From my love of food, I need to believe in what I’m eating and I want it to be good for me. Enhancing the nutritional content of food is something that could not only help the food secure, but could save lives of people who are hungry in the most desolate areas around the world. (Example: Golden Rice helping in Vitamin A deficient populations)

My problem with GMOs doesn’t come from their believed effects, but in the power of how our world can benefit from them and how we seem to ignore that. My problem with GMOs comes from the fact that companies and individuals have made “GMO free” and “non GMO” labeling a status symbol. My problem with GMOs is knowing that people around the world would die for the options of food that we have here, but we have made these options into something that defines or stereotypes us. My problem with GMOs is that we are lucky to have the option to choose how our food is grown, but at the end of the day, we still aren’t trying to understand it more deeply than its labels.

You don’t have to agree with me. You may totally not believe in the safety or use of genetically modified organisms. I respect your beliefs, but what I want you to know, as a lover of food myself, is that American farmers and ranchers are in the business of raising and growing food because they love it and because they want you to have a safe, nutritious product. Additionally, we want your kids to be safe, we want your pets to be safe, and we want you to enjoy what you eat. Food is culture. It’s more than just a way to give ourselves nutrients, but it matters. It matters from the moment as it starts the growing process until it gets to your plate, and there’s nothing that will change that.

Genetically modified organisms, organically grown food, conventionally grown food…whatever it might be, we are lucky in this country to have options to choose how our food is grown. Don’t take that for granted.

My challenge to you is to go to www.gmoanswers.org to learn more about GMOs and for you to think twice next time when you see a “GMO free” or “non GMO” label. But don’t stop there, go to a farm, learn about American agriculture, talk to a farmer, and ask questions. We’re all in this together for the long haul. Let’s connect producers to consumers and support each other in our love for food, on either side of the supply chain.

 

Other resources to explore:

USA Today, “Academies of Science finds GMOs not harmful to human health”

Futurism, “After Two Decades of GMOs, Scientists Find They Live up to Their Promise” 

Texas Farm Bureau, “Our Food” Campaign 

A Look at 2017 Through Quotes

2017 was a tremendous year for me. Life was beautiful, celebrated, and cherished in so many ways. It also was incredibly challenging, personally and professionally. I learned more about myself than ever through jobs, experiences, and relationships that were life-giving and damaging, sometimes both. Throughout the year, I learned a lot from quotes that crossed my path from the internet or books, and I’m sharing them with you and my perspective on this post. They helped me learn about life, myself, love, service, fear, and everything in between. My life is better from these quotes, and I hope they help you in some way, too.

(Disclaimer: these tidbits are all over the place. They might not make sense collectively, but I hope they do individually.)

“Deep feelings of joy and fulfillment come from service, which isn’t always easy and isn’t always happy. But my goodness, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world…That comes entirely from the relationships that we devote ourselves to and maintain.” – Simon Sinek

We need to serve others, not just in a big way, but in small ways through our relationships. Love others. Be kind.

“When you’re wrong, you should just say so.” – Eric Church, “Three Year Old”

This makes life sound super simple and easy, right? It should be, but we make it more difficult. We’re human. Admit when you’re wrong, and move on from it.

“Step outside yourself and into the hard stuff, because the hard stuff is the heart stuff and the heart stuff is the Holy Spirit.” – Jordan Lee Dooley

Pride can keep you distant from people and things you love the most. The best way to connect with someone is to break down your walls, to be vulnerable, and to be a human. There is enormous freedom in honesty, even when it hurts.

“Hustle is the opposite of heart.” – Shauna Niequist

Running away from something, ignoring it, or staying busy will not ease or solve your problems. Admit that you need to do something. Make the first step to resolving the issue. Confront them. Have the conversation. Living a life on “full speed ahead” can lead you to avoiding the important things in life. Take heart in every moment. Slow down.

“If we only do what we’re familiar with, we might miss what we’ve been made for.” – Bob Goff

Take chances, try new things, and go out of your comfort zone. You’ll never know if you never try.

“Be good to the grass and the grass will be good to you.” – Irish Teagasc (Extension) Agent

This Extension agent was talking about how the grass takes care of them in their agricultural system, specifically in dairy farming. From this, I learned that there’s no “right” way to do anything. It’s all about perspective. When it comes to agriculture, we don’t farm in the US like they do in the UK, and that’s perfectly fine. Irish grass contains about 19% protein (pretty high) and farmers are able to effectively feed their cows with it as the primary part of their diet. It works for them. We don’t do things exactly the same, but we’re connected by a common purpose, and that’s what matters.

“Once upon a time you were a little girl with big dreams that you promised you’d make real one day. Don’t disappoint yourself.” – Unknown

Believe in yourself. Don’t give up. Know that you are the one who’s going to make those dreams possible. Look to the long-term and know the challenge will only help you be better. Keep dreaming.

“I choose to believe that there is nothing more sacred or profound than this day. I choose to believe that there may be a thousand big moments embedded in this day, waiting to be discovered like tiny shards of gold…The big moments are in every hour, every conversation, every meal, every meeting.” – Shauna Niequist

Take advantage of the times that seem “tiny” because they can be the ones that really mean the most. Believe in the power of one day. It can change everything.

“Sometimes we need others to walk with us, imagine what’s possible through our lives.” – John O’Leary

I didn’t believe in what’s becoming of my future, but my mentors and others did. Now I have them to thank for who I’ve grown into and how I’ve challenged and believed in myself. Find your tribe. Walk with people who better you.

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says ‘Make Me Feel Important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” – Tracy Brown

We all want to feel included and loved. It’s not others’ jobs to “sell” themselves to you, but learn about them and why they’re special.

“Communication is not about saying what we think. Communication is about ensuring others hear what we mean.” – Simon Sinek

Many times, the message sent is not the message received. Humble yourself to be able to ensure that what you said/meant is what was heard by someone.

“May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” – Thomas S. Monson

Doing the right thing at all times isn’t easy, but you won’t regret it. Seriously ask yourself what the right thing to do is in any situation, and you will lead a life with strong integrity.

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“Indecision is one of the most popular tricks for staying stuck within the boundaries of what’s safe and familiar.” – Jen Sincero

Make a decision. Don’t stay safe. Sometimes making the jump can seem like the biggest thing in the world, but making the decision to jump is halfway there. There is power in making a decision you can stand behind. Don’t say “what if” after you make it.

“Most of our decisions are driven by either love or fear. Figure out who’s doing the talking, then decide what you’ll do.” – Bob Goff

This is something to think about every single day. It’s helped me figure out my intentions and how to best love others and myself.

“We don’t love as much as we expect.” – Ashley Stahl

We expect so much from others. But what would happen if we changed that and instead of judging others or expecting a lot, we gave love freely? Think about it. It would change everything.

“The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” – Jim Carrey

Every interaction counts, folks. How you treat others says a lot about who you are. Never burn a bridge. You never know the impact you can have on someone.

“Fear is rooted in what may happen, something that does not even exist in reality.” – John O’Leary

Don’t be anxious about something you cannot control or what hasn’t even happened yet. Have faith that you will make it through whatever you’re experiencing or struggling with.

“Don’t let other people decide who you are.” – Bob Goff

It’s so easy to stick to the status quo or to give into what other people think we should do, but do the world and yourself a favor and shine like you were meant to. Success and happiness look so different to every single person. Don’t be fooled by what you think the rest of the world is telling you.

“Real growth is often unwanted, extremely painful, and ultimately completely worth it.” – John O’Leary

I didn’t want to experience all of the challenge I felt this year, but I am SO much better because of it. I’m thankful for the trials and tribulations in my life in retrospect, but I could do better at being patient and hanging on in the times of struggle.

“The individuals who attain the highest forms of achievement in life don’t spring toward success, but significance.” – John O’Leary

Do not aim to make the most money or to have the most “public” career. Make a difference. That’s how you can truly achieve.

“Faith smothers your fear of the unknown.” – Jen Sincero

Believe that there’s more. Believe that things will work out. Believe in God’s plan for you. When you believe and have faith, there is no room for fear.

“It’s about no longer acting like a victim (letting your circumstances control your life) and instead acting like a superhero (creating a life that has you waking up in giddy disbelief that you get to be you).” – Jen Sincero

Own your life. Be accountable for what you say and do. Be excited about your life. It’s a gift to be you.

6 Tips for Your Post-Grad Job Search

After a full year of searching for my first job after college, there are a few things that I wish someone told me during the process of looking for the right job for me. Here’s a little bit of insight into what my job search has been like, and I hope it provides some honesty into the search you may be experiencing now or you will experience in the future.


People warned me about how tough filling out job applications was for them, but I never thought job searching as a whole would be as emotionally draining as it turned out to be for me. I don’t say that to be dramatic, but when looking for a job, I learned that sometimes you fall in love with a position and organization, and it doesn’t work out. Usually it doesn’t work out because of things out of your control, whether that’s their decision or it’s the timing, but you can’t help but feel like it’s in your control. And when that happens, it hurts. It can really stink to get rejected from a job you thought would be absolutely perfect for you, and it can be tough to apply for jobs when you’re not sure of what you truly want. As a new grad, each part of applying for, interviewing for, and negotiating your first job offer is not only challenging as you start a totally new journey out of school, but it feels like the pressure of the rest of your life is sitting in this decision. Like I said, it’s emotionally draining.

Of course, I can’t speak to everyone’s experience in job searching when I describe it as hard. I know plenty of people who have had things lined up early, seemingly with more ease, for after graduation. But my experience speaks to the person who doesn’t have it all figured out, doesn’t exactly know where he or she wants to be in five years (let alone 20), and can be scared about knowing which step is the “right” one to take next.

I had a bit of a different mindset, I think, when going into my job search. I didn’t narrow it down based on role or position description. I looked around at everything from administrative assistant positions to HR roles and production jobs to marketing roles. I wasn’t limiting myself to a position title, but more so was looking at the experience I could gain from the position. This could be stressful and made me feel overwhelmed at times because of the variety in what I was looking for. At one point, I thought, “I have diverse experiences that could translate into many different roles. I don’t know exactly what I want to do at this point, but I’m not going to know what I do or don’t like until I do something.” I felt lost and wanted just one job interview or application to be fruitful at the time.

I also never said “no” to an interview (which I highly advise to anyone looking for a job to do) because it’s always at least worth the practice. I ended up traveling and learning new things about industries I never thought I would, and for that experience, I’m grateful. My job search ended up taking me on a journey where I had to book my flight for interview the morning in which I had to be in the city for the interview. Saying “yes” in my search to things I didn’t know a lot about actually taught me that it’s great to say “yes” to other things in various parts of my life. Turns out, that job interview that I was offered on a whim a couple of days prior to the actual interview is the job offer that I’d accept a month later. If I didn’t take a chance on that trip and the company didn’t take a chance on me last-minute, who knows where I’d be next?

My experience in the job search taught me a lot about myself, but also how to do “job searching” well. In effort to help other people through that process, here are some tips on what to do as you look for your first (or second or third) job.

1) Be patient.

Waiting can be immensely challenging, but I do have to say that the wait for finding and accepting the right job for you will absolutely be worth it when the time comes. You can wait weeks before you hear back from a company after applying for an internship or position online, and my best piece of advice is to be patient. You are not the #1 priority of the company or organization (as much as we want to be as applicants), and they will reach out to you when you’re ready. However, there is value in reaching out to them, too, which brings us to…

2) Be persistent.

Showing that you’re interested in a company or an organization can be a really good thing. After you apply for a position somewhere, it can show your genuine interest if you call a couple weeks later to understand the timeline of the application process. If you haven’t heard from a recruiter or hiring manager for many weeks or longer, it doesn’t hurt to send the person an email following-up on the application process or to see what the status of your application is. Don’t go overboard, though. Show your interest, but don’t bombard the HR representative. There are lots of people applying for one position, so keep that in mind.

3) Edit your resume for every job you apply for.

Your resume will not look the same for an HR job as it will for a sales job, and more so, jobs in the same realm have different descriptions based on the company or organization. You need to sell yourself to an organization or company based on the position they have available, their mission & vision, and what you can bring to the table. Use keywords from the job description to sell your experiences to show them that you can do the job well. Make sure that your resume doesn’t throw off online Application Tracking Systems with your punctuation or designs. (Check out this webinar by AgCareers.com for more details on that.) Using keywords in your resume that are on the job description will help you advance in the process. Watch out for preferred formats (PDF or .docx, etc.) the company wants the resume in. Don’t get lazy. Save them with different names on your computer if you have to. This pays off, I promise.

4) Send thank-you notes after your interview(s).

I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of a written thank-you note. A lot of people think sending an email is good enough, but a written thank-you goes a long way. I personally recommend sending an email to the people you interviewed with (individually) within 24 hours of the interview, and sending a thank-you note in the mail as quickly as you can. Interviewers hold onto those notes for a long time, and they show your sincere interest in the position and appreciation for their time and consideration.

5) Always be kind.

If there’s anything that was evident to me throughout my job search, it’s that people know people. It’s a small world out there, so not only is your kindness important for you in your current job application process, but it’s vital for your personal brand down the road. Handle yourself with poise and grace, especially when rejected from a position or turning down an offer. It seriously matters.

6) Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Asking a friend or a mentor to look over your resume or cover letter can be incredibly useful. Getting feedback can not only help you do better in the application process, but it can help you learn things that you never thought you needed to know. They also can connect you to people in the organization or company to help you get your foot in the door.


My job search and decision were two of the hardest things I’ve been through, but I’m positive that what I’ve learned from these experiences will make me better as an employee and person down the road. My decision came down to what is best for me in the long run and the experience that can get me to where I want to be at the end of my professional career. It wasn’t easy for me to make such a huge decision for many reasons, but I know I’ll be grateful for the choice I made down the road.

Hopefully at least one of these tips provides some encouragement or help to you as you look for a job. Believe in yourself and what you’re capable of. Apply for jobs you are genuinely interested in, be open to new opportunities, know that anything is possible if you work hard enough, and let the job search process take you for a ride. You never know where you can end up or what you’ll learn.

 

Four Years Later…A Glance at My Virginia Tech Career

The car ride to Blacksburg in August 2013 was full of anxiety for me. I remember writing a letter to my best friend from home and 4-H in the back seat while crying, thinking moving away for college was a huge mistake and that I’d never see or talk to her again. I was convinced I’d lose all connections to home and I ruined everything I had by moving six hours away.

At this point, I had also told myself I was only going to join two organizations my first semester. This was due to my fear that I’d join too many organizations in college, be overcommitted, and drown in involvements. The good news is that I can say now that I’ve learned how to combat both of those fears and I’ve come to understand how to say “no” and how to stay connected to life at home in different ways since I’m not there often. These are only two of the things that college taught me.

Other things I’ve learned are how to cook, how to study effectively, how to be a good friend, how to lead with grace, how to challenge myself, how to do my taxes (thanks Dr. White), how the Cooperative Extension System works across the country, what half (or maybe a little more) of FFA’s acronyms stand for, and how fragile both technology and water bottles can be. I firmly believe in four years being the perfect amount of time for young people to learn, challenge themselves, experience adversity, get comfortable and then leave to experience new things, all while discovering their strengths, passions, and who they are.

Sometimes four years didn’t feel like enough time at a place as special as Virginia Tech. Right now is certainly one of those times as I look to football seasons where I won’t be sitting in North End Zone at any football games. Four years at VT means only four football seasons, The Big Events & Relays for Life, 3.2 Remembrance Runs, International Street Fairs, Ring Premieres & Ring Dances, first days of class in Litton-Reaves, and baseball seasons. It’s only four years to enjoy one of the best and happiest places in the country with incredible food, and it’s only four years of living in one of the most resilient, loving communities the world has ever seen.

My time at Virginia Tech hasn’t just been your average “college” experience, it’s grown me into a better person, friend, leader, and Hokie. Virginia Tech has given me the opportunity to fully love on others as a mentor and friend, to rediscover my faith through the love of others, to develop as a young professional through various programs, to connect with some of the most admirable and knowledgeable people in the state/commonwealth and country, and to become the person I believe I was meant to be. Virginia Tech itself is so unique and special that because of being here, I learned more than what I would have anywhere else…like how to live a life dedicated to serving others daily, how to honestly and truly be who I am and to love others who do the same, how to wholeheartedly forgive someone, how to encourage others, how to lead with a heart of grace, how to make every interaction count, how to never take an opportunity or day for granted, how to stay connected to others and show them you care, and how to be my best self.

I came to Virginia Tech thinking I had everything figured out and that I had a pretty decent head on my shoulders, which wasn’t entirely true. I’m broken. I need to ask for help. I’m not always right. I don’t execute things well every time I try. I don’t always react or try as best as I could. But the beauty in my time at Virginia Tech isn’t that I learned how “human” I really am, but that along the way, I was loved, I was learning, I was encouraged, and I was challenged. And because of that, I’ve come out on the other side of four years better and stronger than ever. What means the most to me about my Virginia Tech career is the relationships I’ve built with others. There are people from this community who know that I’d do anything for them at any point- now or in 50 years. It’s not my GPA or how many things I can put on my resume that matter most. It has been finding “home” in my friends that I love so deeply.

That’s what makes leaving so hard, yet so easy. I will always carry these connections with me (the easy part), but saying goodbye to the place that brought us together is dreadful, quite frankly. It will never be the same for me, but what encourages me is as my chapter in Blacksburg closes, thousands of new Hokies are about to embark in a life-giving, life-changing experience. And at the end of the day, Hokies are rooted in caring for and serving others, which means it’s now my turn to come back in another way and to serve as an alumnae so students can have the absolute best experience possible at Virginia Tech.

There are no words I can use to rightfully express how much the Hokie community and Hokie spirit mean to me, or how grateful I am for the people who have made these four years the most phenomenal ride I could’ve ever imagined. I’m eternally thankful to be a Hokie. And if you’re not sure of what a Hokie is, it means that I’m strong, I’m a servant leader, I’m innovative, I’m passionate, and I’m hardworking. And most of all, I’m proud. Thanks for being “home,” Blacksburg. I love you dearly.

With Hokie Spirit,

Elizabeth

 

Reflecting on 4/16/07 as it falls on Easter Sunday

10 years ago, Virginia Tech wasn’t on my radar. I hardly paid attention to the news telling the world about the tragedy that took 32 Virginia Tech community members’ lives as a middle school student. But as we remember the shooting a decade later, this horrific day has never felt more real to me. I’ve spent so much time this past week reading and watching as much as I could about the events, the survivors, the victims, and this community’s reaction. I’ve talked to friends, faculty, and staff who were here on that day. And every time I learn something new, it hits me: these people woke up on a dreary, windy Monday morning not knowing that their lives would soon be altered forever. I can’t fathom the parents who had to race here in cars and planes not knowing if their child was alive or not, or worse, if they knew their child had already been declared dead from the shooting. I can’t comprehend the university having to tell its students that evil had pierced through their home in Blacksburg and that they weren’t sure of what had happened yet. I cannot even begin to understand how students felt to know their friends and fellow students had been killed or how people lost their next-door neighbors to something they couldn’t believe would happen in a place like this.

 

But what I can grasp is how this community came together, because that’s what Virginia Tech is now. One of the best, most well respected communities in the world. Because of this tragedy, we are a stronger community with a foundation rooted in love and loyalty. The reason I’ve been hit so hard this week and year is because of watching footage of and reading about the community after this happened: the “Let’s Go Hokies” cheer I’ve come to love became a cry of hope, the places on campus I’ve been to were a unfathomable crime scene, students my age and younger stayed on campus after the shooting and supported one another, the first football game became a huge moment signifying progress for the town and university, and surrounding colleges and universities ignored any sense of rivalry or competition to give their support to a struggling town and school.

 

I’m grateful for Virginia Tech embracing this 10th anniversary of the shooting through remembrance and community events. We need to remember what happened, those lives lost, and how far we’ve come since that day.

 

I don’t think the 10th anniversary falling on Easter Sunday is any coincidence. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I believe God’s a Hokie. As friends have encouraged me from around the country, this is a new hope, a new beginning, and a chance for us to look forward to the future. Today, I and many others, celebrate God’s love for us, and we as Hokies celebrate our love for our fellow Hokies. And although it seems hard to identify an incredible celebration of Jesus’s resurrection with a day of extreme tragedy, I think God is here with us to remind us that He’s here with us, supporting us, and giving us friends when we need a little more love.

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Sending all my love to you all, your families, and Hokies everywhere today. Be sure to be kind to others, y’all. Life is too short to do anything but be kind and to love.

20[16] Lessons

Each year, I learn so much about myself, my relationships, and life in general from the experiences I have, and 2016 was no exception. We have a chance to learn and grow every single day, so the challenge is accepting that opportunity to grow and to keep it all with us on our life journeys. I learned a lot this past year about myself through my roles on teams and in my college life, and I grew significantly from my relationships with others. Here are some examples of what I’ve learned, and hopefully some of them resonate with you or give you a little bit of insight.

In relationships with others (friendships, family, etc.):

  • No one can read your mind. If you feel a certain way, tell someone. Otherwise, don’t expect a person to know how you feel or what something means to you.
  • We don’t communicate with each other to be “heard.” We need to communicate to be understood. Listening can be hard, but understanding someone and a situation is usually more important than simply voicing your opinion.
  • It’s the coolest thing in the world when you are so close to someone and he/she cares so much about you that they want to know how your day was. And they mean it, they call you to hear about it, and they’re invested in you even with hundreds or thousands of miles separating you. That’s when you know it’s a relationship you can’t let go of.
  • You’re not bigger or better than anyone. But it is your job to make people feel valued, and if your actions and words aren’t doing that, then it’s time to change.
  • It’s all about perspective. You may be offended by something that someone else may not even think twice about. There’s nothing wrong with it, just try to understand where they’re coming from and how they see things.
  • Balancing making new friends and keeping up with old friends is difficult. Sending simple text messages or giving random phone calls to friends you haven’t spoken to in a while goes a long way. Remind people you care about them. Nothing but good can come out of that.

Living with ourselves:

  • Don’t always think about the end goal or next thing. Be present and in the moment. Allow things to go somewhere you didn’t expect them to, but react with positivity. Remember to let things flow and to have fun along the way. Connect to your purpose. It’ll pay off.
  • It’s essential to admit that you’re wrong when you are. We as humans cannot always be right, so be humble and accept that we cannot always know everything.
  • We aren’t perfect, and we’re not supposed to be. If we try to fulfill others’ expectations after graduation, in our relationships, and anywhere else in our lives, we’ll never be happy or complete. Live your life for yourself, your passions, and serving others.
  • It’s okay to let go of things and people that aren’t making your life better. You can’t be everything to everyone, so do your best and be there for people who really matter to you.
  • It’s always essential to accept where you are in order to grow. At Agriculture Future of America, we call it “intrapreneurialism,” which means blooming where you’re planted. Take advantage of the opportunities in front of you and make the most of where you’re at. All it takes is a little bit of motivation and drive and you’ll be headed to a stronger future.
  • Sometimes you may not understand why something is happening in your life, or what to do next, and that’s okay. You’ve just got to trust that it’s all happening for a reason and that there’s a greater plan to it all. Have patience and believe. If it’s a really tough season you’re going through, find the good in every day and in every situation, especially in the difficulty.

In this thing we call “life”:

  • Honesty can be painful in the short-term, but it saves you in the long-term.
  • If you have something to say, say it. But make sure you can back up what you say with facts, actions, etc.
  • Just because there isn’t a title for your role doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Everything is what you make of it.
  • The only way to conquer your fears is to do something you’re scared of. And when you do, you won’t regret that you tried.

This year has enabled me to travel a lot, and from those trips I’ve learned that we never know what’s going to happen or what someone is going through. It opened my eyes to see how beautiful life is because we’re not perfect, and that’s why every day is so exciting and different. I also believe that we are not alone on this planet for a reason, and I think it’s a wonderful gift that we can grow with and learn from one another.

My hope is that in 2017 I’m able to fully love on the people around me and who mean so much to me as I finish my days at Virginia Tech. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to laugh with, listen to, or adventure with a friend in this last semester in Blacksburg, and I’m excited to see where this change in life after graduation takes me. I’m not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing after I finish up at Virginia Tech, but I do know that I’ll carry an open mind and heart with me and trust God’s plan for wherever I end up.

I encourage you to look at 2016 with a reflective lens and to consider how you’ve grown. No matter how difficult the year may have seemed, remember that we need to grow through the lows to delight in the highs. Think about what you’d like to see in 2017 and make a goal for you to work on every day. Mine is wholeheartedly loving others and saying “yes” to those I love. What’s yours going to be?

Thanks for being a part of my 2016 and for making it a tremendous year for me. Let’s make 2017 the best one yet 🙂

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My Greatest Accomplishment

I’ve been known to be a girl who does too many things- at college, in high school, in my community, etc. I’ve always committed to organizations because of my genuine passion for what they do, love for meeting people, and desire to try new things. Sometimes, I keep saying “yes” and doing more. I’m a person who thrives in busyness. I thought happiness and fulfillment came from knowing a lot of cool people and doing a lot of things.

…until that changed. A couple of years ago, I got to a rough place of overcommitting myself to things I couldn’t do or handle in college. Much of it had to do with health issues and friendship struggles I was experiencing at the time, but I broke down. Multiple times. I had to do things differently because it was all too much. I removed myself from quite a few commitments, and things got much better for me.

To this day, I’m still removing myself from organizations and am doing less. It’s not because I don’t appreciate what I’ve been a part of, but it’s because I want to thrive at the few things I’m doing instead of spreading myself too thin. I’m at a place where I’ve prioritized my life better than ever, and I couldn’t be happier about it. But recently, after some reflection I learned that there’s another piece to the happiness I’m having right now in this season of life. This recent reflection and realization has come from my own thinking, prompted questions, and thoughtful words sent my way.

I’ve been asked in some interviews in the past few weeks about “my greatest accomplishment” and I’ve had to think about it and what’s on my resume. Every time though, I respond with describing my relationships with some of my mentees in an organization that I hold so close to my heart at Virginia Tech. My greatest accomplishment has been loving them, being loved by them, listening to them on hard days, laughing with them on the most joyful days, and being there for them everywhere in between. It’s not a “title” per se that I’m most proud of, it’s the relationships I share with those incredible people who make my life better everyday.

My old way of thinking of doing a lot of things would’ve prevented me from seeing my greatest accomplishment as loving, meaningful relationships, but this new understanding I’ve come to has allowed me to grasp what life is really all about. At the end of the day, it’s not roles, titles, awards, positions, or anything you can just “write on a resume” that brings you happiness or fulfillment. It’s love. It’s how you love on others and how they love on you, and it’s as easy as that.

So how does this relate to my current season of life? I’ve come to realize this even more throughout this month after the Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leaders Conference that nine of my teammates and I hosted with AFA staff in Kansas City, MO. We worked so hard throughout the year to plan programming to meet the needs of our peers, and at the end of it, we were exhausted, emotional, and inspired. I don’t exaggerate when I say it was the best week of my life.

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Our team is called the AFA Student Advisory Team, and we serve AFA for a year. It’s similar to a national officer role, and in all honesty, it’s a big role that allows us to get a lot of attention at times. It can be easy to consider this title or role as our greatest accomplishment for speaking in front of 1,300 people on stage, representing a national organization, or facilitating in groups of nearly 250 people frequently. It sounds pretty cool, and it’s a blast.

But after our Leaders Conference, I’m going to change my answer to “What’s your greatest accomplishment?” to “Being on the AFA Student Advisory Team.” No, it’s not because our job is important or because we’re in the spotlight sometimes. It’s nothing to do with the title, or any of that.

Serving on AFA’s Student Advisory Team this year is my greatest accomplishment because of the love and purpose that surrounds our team and AFA as an organization. I could’ve never dreamed to become so close to people who are separated by thousands of miles, but my teammates have brought me so much happiness and joy that I can’t even explain it. Being loved by them this year and being able to love them with notes, jokes, or calls has been incredible.

But it doesn’t stop there, because the true sense of fulfillment comes from AFA staff, student leaders, delegates, and partners being so committed to a sense of purpose – of creating a stronger future for the world through the agriculture and food community. Being a part of a group that believes in the future of our world and that wants to be that future is unlike anything I can describe.

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Right now, in this season of life I feel inspired by the purpose and passion of others involved with AFA, fulfilled because of the hard work of my team coming together for an amazing Conference, and loved because of my team and the AFA delegates who are going to change this world one day. And I don’t know about you, but that’s better than anything I could write on a resume.

My greatest accomplishment isn’t a title, but it’s how that position allowed me to love on others and to receive the love of others. Maybe that’s how we should look at our accomplishments- not by their name, but by what they bring to our lives and how we can sprinkle joy and love into the lives of those around us.

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My History with AFA

Every year in college, I find myself wanting to learn more and to “do” more as I prepare for my post-graduate life. I’ve always been someone who understands that you have to make things happen in your own life and that things won’t just appear for you. A few years ago, I took that belief to heart, and little did I know that this attitude would expose me to an experience that would change my life.

My dad enjoys reading various farming magazines for him to learn from, and The Furrow, John Deere’s magazine, was one of them. In his reading of The Furrow that day in the fall of 2013, my dad stumbled across an article regarding a program that Agriculture Future of America, known as AFA, recently hosted. Because of my past involvement in agricultural organizations and my consistent desire to develop myself more and more, he thought this organization sounded perfect for me. At the time, I had no idea what the logistics of it all meant or what a “track” was, but I knew it sounded impressive and that I had to take the next steps to try to get involved.

At that point in the year, it was too late to apply for AFA’s premier event, AFA Leaders Conference, but I kept thinking about it until the next summer, when applications for it came out. I stayed in touch with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Virginia Tech and the staff at AFA, and helped us apply for a grant that helps universities build relationships and partnerships with AFA. Gratefully, we received the University Growth Initiative Grant that year, and Virginia Tech was able to send three CALS students to AFA Leaders Conference in November of 2014. I was selected with my friends Michael and Lester to attend, and since then, it’s been full speed ahead.

I’ve written about AFA on this blog before, and it’s now something that I spend a large portion of my time working with, promoting, and talking about. Just ask my friends –  from an average conversation with me, it’s easy to tell I love AFA and everything it stands for. My social media sites are blown up with AFA. It’s a huge part of me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

From the very moment I stepactivateped into the Opening Ceremony of AFA Leaders Conference 2014, I thought “Wow, I do not deserve to be here. This is the best of the best in collegiate agriculturalists.” That statement and feeling was not a reflection of a lack of self-confidence, believe me. Rather, it was a hint at how incredibly impressive and elite AFA and its programs are.

That experience in Kansas City in November of 2014 reminded me so much of why I love agriculture and want to pursue it in the first place. It taught me about global and national agriculture in a way I had never been able to understand it before. It showed me that the community of people in agriculture and food is incomparable and is one of the strongest (and smallest) groups of people out there with a bond like no other. It introduced me to some of the most phenomenal young professionals and leaders I’ve ever met. It allowed me to see where I need to grow, but also where I succeed. It made me a better person, and from that first moment of “I don’t deserve to be here,” I’ve been hooked.

Last year, I had the opportunity to serve as an AFA Campus Ambassador for 2015, and I grew even more from that role alongside some of the best young agriculturalists in the nation. My leadership skills were put to the test, my confidence was increased, and my passion for agriculture and for working with students continued to grow. With a lot of hard work and collaboration with CALS, we were able to send 10 Virginia Tech students that year to Leaders Conference, and since then, our involvement with students from VT continues to grow with each and every program we host.

Again, AFA Leaders Conference last year changed my life and really fueled the fire more for me to be forward-thinking about this industry. It exposed me to even more amazing people who are some of the most influential people in my life. The speakers changed my outlook on things like personal finance, accepting job offers, trusting others, and managing change in my own life. And just when I thought things couldn’t get better in AFA, they did, and still do every single day.

Now in 2016, I’m honored to serve on the Student Advisory Team for AFA, which is a group of 10 students who plan and facilitate Leaders Conference, and help serve the organization as ambassadors in all that we do. It’s been about four months since we took on this role, and it has been the best thing I have ever done, hands down. We’ve been planning AFA Leaders Conference for months and are ecstatic that it’s going to be the biggest and best one ever, where we will bring together about 800 of the best students in agriculture and food and help them develop themselves, both personally and professionally, through workshops, listening to speakers, and exposing them to networks and future opportunities.

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Although I’m incredibly biased about how wonderful AFA is, I want you to know that it has changed the lives of over 13,000 students in the country, too. The experiences and connections AFA provides the young people in our industry is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in another organization. It’s something that can do amazing things for you, if you just give a little bit to it. That’s my history with AFA, and I encourage you to start writing yours.

So if you’re an undergraduate student pursuing an agriculture or food related degree and you’re interested in bettering yourself for college and your future career, AFA programs are calling your name. We are here to help you become the best you can be, while meeting others who can support you and encourage you in ways you may not know you need.

Applications for sponsorship to AFA Leaders Conference 2016 are due on 9/9 , and you can find the application here. Your application is just a step towards you building more bridges – to your future, to other people who share the same passions as you, and to opportunities that are awaiting you. Our theme this year is “History Starts Now,” so why wait any longer to write yours?