Educating community and letting go of the rope

Ag Day at South Dakota State University’s campus is more than just a free meal and T-shirt.

This year, the Ag and Bio Prexy Council coordinated animal and equipment displays around campus, booths in The Union during the day and a free meal and speaker in the evening. The event drew a crowd of about 500 people, which was more than what they had expected, said Taylor Leonhardt, the prexy council vice president.

“We’re kind of between [the College of] Ag and Bio and the ag and bio students,” Leonhardt said. “So, we do a lot of events and stuff to make that communication between the college and the students better.”

In the past, Prexy Council has had booths in The Union and other inside locations, but this year they wanted to do something a little different with animals around campus, said Andrea Rief, president of the prexy council. 

However, Annie Tomschin, the Ag Day chair, said they were not just focusing on the livestock side of agriculture but were also focusing on the crop production side. To promote this, they had a combine on the west side of campus. A combine is a mechanical grain harvester that reaps and threshes the crop.

The day also served to advertise for the agricultural clubs on campus and recruit new members, Leonhardt said. Ag and Bio clubs were given freedom to decide how they wanted to represent their clubs around campus, so the animals or equipment related back to their clubs. Animals such as dairy and beef calves, lambs, ducks and chickens were around campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

“I think Ag Day was created with the design of narrowing that gap between the producer and the consumer,” Leonhardt said. “It just reminds people on campus that might not really know about agriculture why people are so passionate about it and what the importance of it all is.”

Ag Day is about getting the conversation started about the importance of agriculture with those who don’t have any ties to agriculture, Rief said.

“I have a passion for agriculture and I think Ag Day does a great job of spreading the word to those who aren’t connected to agriculture,” Tomschin said. “A lot of people in the College of Ag and Bio would be amazed with how many people don’t know about agriculture or even Ag Day in general.”

Though Ag Day is meant as a day of education, non-agricultural students were mostly drawn to the fact that there were animals on campus, including MiKayla Malsam, a sophomore exercise major. 

“I took a picture of a cow and put it on snapchat. I saw a pig on campus, too,” Malsam said. “I was so happy—I love pigs.”

Jen Sutton, a senior history major, said she had no idea Ag Day was going on today.

“I don’t live on campus, though, so it makes it harder to see things,” Sutton said. “But I did see a cow on snapchat.”

Rief said even if people didn’t talk to the people at the displays, she hopes at least seeing the animals invoked some reaction, and starts some sort of conversation.

The addition of livestock and equipment displays provided more opportunities for interaction, Tomschin said.

“I think one of the things that our exec team is very excited for bringing the animals on campus is that we’re going to have more people interacting with a baby calf than they maybe would with just a basic booth,” Tomschin said. 

College students were not the only ones who were able to interact with the livestock. Preschoolers from the preschool on campus had the opportunity to interact with the animals as well.

Maggie Stiles, an Ag Bio advocate, helped coordinate the speaker at the Ag Day event, Jolene Brown. The topic was “Let Go of the Rope,” and discussed getting into the real world. 

“I think it’s perfect for anyone in college or anyone really,” Stiles said. “It’s really geared toward the agriculture community, but I think she can really hit home with anyone she speaks with.” 

The reason Jolene Brown was the speaker chosen for Ag Day festivities was partly due to her enthusiasm.

“We wanted someone that does more than preaching to the crowd,” Rief said.

Stiles said she was a very engaging speaker to listen to.

“I think it’s her personality, she’s this really upbeat lady,” Stiles said. 

Austin Effling, a sophomore agricultural business major, said Brown did an excellent job. 

“I liked her theme of ‘Let Go of the Rope,’” Effling said. “I agree with her 110 percent that ag producers and farmers have a hard time of letting go of the rope and are very stuck in their ways. They don’t change in this ever-changing world, and we need to change if we want to stay in business.”

Though the Prexy Council does not have an estimate on how much this year’s Ag Day cost, the event has been around $11,000 to put on in the past, Rief said. This is all paid for through sponsorships from the community and clubs on campus. 

“We’re lucky enough to have a lot of great sponsors coming back every year and supporting us,” Tomschin said.

Austin T. Carlson, an agricultural systems and technology major, helped run the Collegiate Farm Bureau booth in the Union and said he enjoys how Ag Day is an opportunity to educate.

“My favorite part is having the chance to tell people about agriculture and how it’s so fundamentally important to everyone, even if you’re not directly related to it,” Carlson said.

Wyatt Johnson, an agricultural leadership major, said the day is a unifying factor for the Ag and Bio clubs around campus.

“It’s an exhibition for all of the Ag clubs on campus,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of different clubs with different interests, and they’re all in it as a whole, all coming together in one place.”