Did you think the Banditas were gone? Hardly! We will be popping in here and there to keep you all entertained so be sure to be on the lookout for us! 

Jennifer ElwellBandita Jennifer Elwell lives near Louisville, Kentucky and is the mom of two. She enjoys her horses, finding creative ways to encourage her kids to eat healthfully, and singing in the church choir (that’s a new found love). She has been the Director of Communications for the Kentucky Corn Growers Associations and Kentucky Small Grain Growers Associations since 1998, while providing graphic design and web services to several national and state associations. She is involved in CommonGround , a national program that works to connect women from both sides of the farm gate, and other state farm advocacy programs. Her latest projects include the Kentucky Farms Feed Me  virtual field trip and education program for teachers and a new blog that showcases Kentucky food and farmers, Kentucky Food and Farm Files

I remember really wanting to be a cheerleader when I was a little girl. I remember envying my friends who took tumbling classes and cheered for the local youth sports teams. And it always seemed as if those girls were the most popular. Unfortunately my parents did not have the money for such extra-curricular activities, and I convinced myself that I was too big, too clumsy, and not popular enough. But look at me now. Who would have thought that I would become a cheerleader in my late 30s?

How I got to this point in my life is a long story, but it started with my mother’s love of horses. Horse-crazy lady marries farm boy who shares her love. I grow up on a small farm with lots of horses, and I became Miss Kentucky 4-H Horse Program (that’s not a real title, but if it were, I was “it” in my teens). I’d like to admit that I dreamed of working with horses, but I did not. I was a natural science nerd (still am), and I was convinced I would become a research geneticist. After a series of events not worth mentioning here, I ended up at my land-grant university, the University of Kentucky, studying farm animals. I was thrilled to be one of the many scholarship recipients, which in part was due to my involvement in the 4-H program. I hate to sound like I settled because of a financial situation, but I now know this was my path. (Lesson 1: Money is available for those studying agriculture.)

I soon figured out that I craved a creative outlet, so I weaved journalism and public relations into my studies. I sought out every opportunity that would help me land the career of my dreams. (Lesson 2: Make your opportunities).

So I graduate, my mother bribes me to refuse a job away from home by buying me a horse, and I shortly-there-after land the job I have to this very day, working for farmers. (Lesson 3: Listen to your mother.)

Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.
Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.

Over the years I have learned quite a lot: what it takes to grow crops, the struggles farmers face, etc. I talk with the farmers I serve on regular basis. I feel that I have the inside story, which is most often quite contrary to many of the messages dispersed by non-farming intellectuals and sensationalism-loving media. I wonder if I can even compete against the anti-ag rhetoric. After a year or so of wondering what I can do, I suck it up and start blogging. My first post on “Food, Mommy!” was “Why I Choose to Eat Meat.” I expected to get some feedback from those who do not agree with me, but the positive comments far outweighed the negative. (Lesson 4: Don’t be a wuss.)

Now I’m smack dab in the middle of the social media age. My efforts have connected me to farmers, food processors, and agri-business folks like myself from all over America. I continue to learn from them. I have posted about not wanting to buy organic, but I now talk with organic farmers, and I can feel good about what they are doing as well. (Just don’t try to sell me one by stomping on the other!) I continue to educate myself about farming and food technology. I see changes that are being made, not only to meet consumer demands, but what research has shown to produce nutritious, safe food with less impact on our environment. The system is naturally moving in that direction. (Lesson 5: Never stop learning. Never stop moving forward.)

So now I see myself as the CHEERLEADER I have always wanted to be, and my version is a heck of a lot better than being tossed in the air with a skimpy skirt on. And I have learned that being an effective cheerleader for the farming world has nothing to do with how loud you can yell, but how willing you are to listen and have a candid conversation. (Lesson 6: Not everyone has the same perspective as you, so be willing to open your ears before running your mouth.)

The point of this tale is not to showcase what I have done, but encourage others to join the team. We need you! The best part of my journey is that I am just one cheerleader of many, and we come from all walks of life. We are rallying together to make sure the story of American agriculture is being shared in as many places as possible. We are not BIG AG. We are people that appreciate having access to healthy, affordable food. (Last Lesson: Be Agriculture Proud!)