If you're in the 7th to 12th grade, this news is for you. Or if you've got a son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter, or a relative in that category, pass the word along. CountryMark and Indiana Prairie Farmer just announced plans for their first jointly sponsored essay contest.
"We want to give young people a chance to speak up and be positive about agriculture," says Susan Hayhurst, Terre Haute. Hayhurst is a farmwife and regular contributor to Indiana Prairie Farmer.
Belinda Puetz, CountryMark, says Indiana's fuel specialist is excited to sponsor such a contest. "We think it's a great idea," Puetz says. "We hope it helps get young people thinking more about their future in agriculture."
Anyone in grades 7 through 12 is eligible to enter. All you do is write an essay, 300 words maximum, on this topic: "Educating the public about agriculture." Entries are due, and must be postmarked by, February 15, 2008.
If you need incentive, how about this: CountryMark will provide cash awards. The first place winner will receive $200, second place $100, and third through sixth place will receive $50 each. You're on your honor to do your own work. Judges will be involved in agriculture. Their decision will be final. Essays will not be returned. Indiana Prairie Faremr reserves the write to publish any or all essays in Farm Progress magazines, and on Farm Progress Websites, including www.indianaprairiefarmer.com.
The topic is appropriate, Hayhurst believes, because so many urban people still don't understand what farmers do today. They live in an area that grows more congested all the time.
The same topic was evident at the first annual Indiana Livestock Forum December 6. Wes Jamison, University of Florida, a recognized expert on working with animal rights groups, says there is a divide so wide between what rural and urban people think of animal production today that it is the size of a canyon.
The problem starts, he believes, because animals are humanized in American society today, Many people still want to eat meat, but don't make the connection between farm animals and their food supply.
"The solution is to start telling your story," Jamison told the livestock producers. "Be transparent- show and tell everything. Tell people from the city that you raise wholesome meat for them, and that you're proud of it."
Unless agriculture, and livestock agriculture in particular, takes the initiative, he fears that animal rights groups will continue to have a ready audience amongst city dwellers who love their pets, and remember farming as they've heard about it two generations ago.
Young writers, send those essays to: Susan Hayhurst, 14477S, Carlisle Street, Terre Haute, IN 47802. Look for more information in the January and February issues of Indiana Prairie Farmer, in the Hoosier Sprouts section.