As a Penn State Ag Advocate for the College of Agricultural Sciences, I was given the opportunity of attending the 2010 National Ag Ambassador Conference, held this year at University of California-Davis campus. NAAC, an annual event held at different campuses each year, is a leadership conference for college students serving as ambassadors for their agricultural programs.

Each year, the conference brings in several guest speakers and leading industry representatives for entertaining and educational workshops. Each attending university also has the opportunity to apply for any one of four Excellence Awards in Leadership, Service, Recruitment and Retention, and Literacy and Communications.

Using an event we created last spring, the first annual Ag Day 2009: Harvest to Household, our Penn State Ag Advocates applied for and received the Excellence in Literacy and Communications Award. With the award, we were given the chance to present a workshop for the other ambassadors attending the conference.

Our workshop was titled “Spreading the Word: A Workshop on Agricultural Literacy.” For the presentation, we came up with the “Four C’s of Ag Literacy:” create, collaborate, communicate and celebrate. We used Ag Day 2009: Harvest to Household as an example to illustrate how the Four C’s led to a very successful event.

The first C, Create, reminded ambassadors to be creative in their planning. A fresh, innovative idea to capture an audience’s attention makes a huge impact on the outcome.

As we planned Ag Day 2009, a lot of creative ideas came together. We held the event in the center of campus, on the lawn of our Student Union building, where we expected to see the most traffic. We also brought a bio-fuel tractor and a couple of baby dairy calves to the event for everyone to see and learn about.

Additionally, because the event was set up with different stations, each describing a different aspect of agriculture, we developed a passport system which required participants to visit each station before being rewarded with a free ice cream cone. All of these ideas brought their own challenges; however, they also made the event very exciting.

Collaborate came after Create, teaching ambassadors about the importance of working together. We have learned through several lessons that teams can be much more effective than individuals, especially with a large event.

Ag Day 2009 was no different. One of our first tasks with the planning was splitting up the responsibilities into several committees. While one committee coordinated each department in the college to come to the event, another committee was responsible for all of the permits and details of getting live animals on the Student Union building lawn.

With everyone tasked with a particular job, our weekly meetings ran efficiently. The event would not have run as smoothly as it did without the help of each committee.

After Create and Collaborate, we reminded ambassadors to Communicate. We found several ways to spread the word about our event. We used some of the more obvious ways of promoting Ag Day 2009, such as our university’s newspaper, Facebook and several list serves that circulate around the university.

However, a more creative idea was publishing the event in our “Stall Stories,” a paper hung in all of the bathrooms on campus, sure to be seen by most of the students on campus. We also reminded students that simple word-of-mouth can be more effective than any other form of communication.

Our last C of the equation is Celebrate. Celebrating the success of an event is both accepted and recommended. After all of the work that went into the event, our students deserved to be commended for it. The day after Ag Day 2009, a full article was published in our university newspaper, The Collegian.

Our ambassadors were also recognized by the deans of the College of Agricultural Sciences. Our advice to other ambassadors was this: once the work is over, don’t forget to celebrate your success.

Once we finished describing our “Four C’s” concept, we asked workshop participants to respond to an example issue, using the “Four C’s.” We told the audience to imagine a student group on their campus had decided to hold a “Meat-Out Day,” in which every dining hall on campus had agreed not to serve meat that day. They were promoting it as a way of eating “more humanely.”

After splitting the audience into smaller groups, we asked them to discuss ideas on how to respond to this situation, using Create, Collaborate, Communicate and Celebrate to guide their plans.

The ambassadors had a lot of great solutions to the issue. Many recommended having a barbeque for students, promoting the benefits of animal products in the diet and bringing in a panel of experts to talk about animal product nutrition. Seeing the groups work together and get excited about their ideas was a very rewarding experience.

Each group was extremely surprised when we told them that this issue really happened on Penn State’s campus. We described our response: a few agricultural clubs collaborated and created “Meat-In Day!” They served beef jerky sticks and cheese sticks outside of the Student Union building with pamphlets on why animal products were essential in the human diet.

Our Penn State Ag Advocate team enjoyed attending the conference and presenting the workshop. I think the people that attended were able to take some ideas back to their own campus and incorporate them into their own program.

For those of you reading this now, even if you’re not an agricultural ambassador for a university, you can still be an ambassador for the agricultural industry! Try using the “Four C’s” concept I described the next time you’re promoting agriculture in a unique way.

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