Empowering Future Ag Leaders through Raising Livestock and Partnerships

By Kelsey Pope, Contributing Editor

Showcasing how food is raised while building better connections between people who live in rural and urban areas was the emphasis of the Colorado FFA Foundation’s Third Annual Meat and Greet. This event was held this past November at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) Complex in Denver, Colo., featuring Colorado-raised protein and beverages while highlighting youth involved in livestock production.

This was just the beginning of building relationships between youth involved in agriculture and their urban counterparts. Twelve youth participants were chosen to participate in the event through an application process, earning a scholarship, and attended the event in November to show their animal and answer questions about raising livestock. Each participant walked away with a “partner” – a business or individual who purchased an “experience” with these youth to learn more about them and their project between then and when they showed at NWSS in January.

Throughout the two-month period, partners communicated with the youth to foster the relationship and learn more about each other.

“We have been communicating with each experience through email,” Hannah Ross, 4Rivers Equipment Marketing Manager says. 4Rivers Equipment won experiences with three youth participants: Madison Crider, Corbin Jagers and Sara Wiechman.

“These students have each been great at keeping us updated with what they are working on, and I am always astounded by their energy and dedication for their projects. Especially in the cold weather, they find ways to exercise and take care of their animals,” Ross adds.

Jay Hasbrouck, Double J Meat Packing and Double J Lamb, Pierce, Colo., has been involved with the Meat and Greet program since its inception and has donated the lamb for the cook-off portion of the event all three years. This year, Double J partnered on an experience with Chase Williams.

“Chase is a great young man and has done a great job keeping me updated with his project,” Hasbrouck says.

“Communicating with Jay has been fun,” Williams says. “I’ve been emailing back and forth with him about my steer, Ernie, and what I’m doing to prepare him for Stock Show.”

In turn, youth participants have been able to learn about their partners’ businesses and explore career possibilities. One partnership even led to a job shadow opportunity.

Connecting careers

“It’s been great to connect with 4Rivers,” Sara Wiechman, a senior at Green Mountain High School, says. “We’ve been emailing since the Meat and Greet, and I’ve been keeping them updated on my pig, Mr. Frederickson, and sending pictures and videos of me walking him.”

Wiechman’s involvement has opened her eyes to possible careers in the agriculture industry.

“What’s been even better are my conversations with Hannah Ross, who majored in ag communications, which is what I’m going to be going to school for,” she adds. “So I get the chance to go to 4Rivers and shadow Hannah for a day to see what a career in ag communications would be like.”

Wiechman plans to attend Texas Tech after graduation to study creative media and agriculture communications. Her experience communicating with Ross has opened up an opportunity for a first-hand look at a marketing job in agriculture.

“When discussing with Sara about her hobbies and the other activities she is involved in, she mentioned she had an internship with the local 4-H office where she has been working on a video project,” Ross says. I asked her a bit more about what made her take that internship, which led to a conversation about her goals for going to college for ag communications.

“I am very excited to show her what we do to see if there is anything that sparks her interest. We hope that something we show her gets her excited about learning at college,” Ross adds. “It’s experiences like this that help someone understand what the job will really look like after school.”

This Meat and Greet project has also opened the eyes of Madison Crider, an  eighth grader from Eaton, Colo., for a potential career. Crider also had an experience with 4Rivers, communicating back and forth with Ross about raising lambs.

“I have really enjoyed this experience emailing with Hannah, learning things about each other and talking about the progress of my livestock,” Crider says. “I know the importance of raising and feeding quality animals for meat, so I would love to possibly go into our family meat packing business.”

Hasbrouck asserts that this whole experience is teaching kids how to interact with people in the business world, a great skill for them to have. Williams would agree after his communication with Hasbrouck.

“I have wanted to major in agribusiness and start a farm/ranch, which is still the career that I would like to go into,” Williams says. “But by talking to more people about ranching, I have found that it would be good for me to take some animal science classes in order to gain more knowledge on the anatomy and physiology of animals.”

Connecting at the show ring

The culmination of the Meat and Greet project came together at NWSS in January, when the partners watched the youth participants in a “ring-side” experience for their respective species. While this ends the terms of the sponsored experience, the hope is that this is just the beginning of a relationship between the partner and youth.

“Since Meat and Greet in November, exhibitors have been communicating with their experienced buyers, and we are gearing up to host the experience buyers on the days the market animals are exhibited at the National Western Stock Show,” says Don Thorn, executive director of the Colorado FFA Foundation.

“Ultimately, we want to help young people create relationships with people they may never have gotten a chance to create a relationship with,” Thorn explains. “Because the partner and youth worked together and communicated for a couple months before NWSS, the relationships start to run deeper.”

“Our team attended the shows for these experiences throughout the NWSS,” Ross says. “We loved seeing the excitement build throughout the day. Getting to see these kids show a project that they have worked on all year is just cool to be a part of. Their passion for their animal really shines through. At the end of the day, showing at NWSS is a huge accomplishment either way. They are showing against the best of the best throughout the country!”

Empowering future ag leaders

Building deeper relationships and understanding about agriculture, rural and urban alike, is the standard for why Meat and Greet was created. Plans are already being made for the fourth annual event in the coming year.

“The Meat and Greet was a great way to connect with people outside of agriculture and showed me how to use those skills in the future with my career in ag communications,” Wiechman says.

“I realized that in communicating with people outside of the agriculture industry, they are very interested in learning about my 4-H project,” Crider says. “They find it fascinating how much work it takes to prepare my animals for a show, and I love sharing my stories.”

“Participating in the Meat and Greet has been an amazing experience for me,” Williams says. “Talking with people who aren’t connected to agriculture is different but it is good to be able to talk with them and get familiar where meats come from.”

Ross adds that supporting a cause financially rarely gives them the opportunity to establish relationships with students, but Meat and Greet has, and even more so, allowed them to mentor the students.

“Our goal with participating in this program has been to establish a deeper connection with students,” Ross adds. “Ultimately we want to help students find their passions in agriculture, and 4Rivers has many ways for them to explore different skills. These students are such hard workers and have an incredible spirit, it is fun to be a small part of their journey to becoming our ag leaders one day!”

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final article in the series on the Colorado FFA Foundation’s Meat and Greet event