BRIDGING THE GAP: Little International goes ‘Beyond the Barn’ reaching out to consumers
South Dakota State University’s 92-year tradition of Little International took place on March 27-28 in Brookings, S.D. The red and white barn still served as the backdrop for the event, and the livestock still paraded around a ring filled with green wood chips. But there was something different about this year’s event. The theme of the 92nd Little International, run by Manager John Weber, was “Beyond the Barn,” focusing on making connections with consumers.
“To me, the meaning of this year’s theme, “Beyond the Barn,” was pushing our organization to go above and beyond what we have traditionally been before,” said Weber, who grew up St. Paul, MN. “This focus inspired us to bring in a speaker and add goats to the show. We wanted to do anything and everything to adapt to agriculture as it changes around us.”
The speaker was Maddy Ruble, who served as a former national beef ambassador, a program of the beef checkoff. Ruble currently works as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reputation manager, and she spoke to high school and college students attending Little International about the best ways to bridge the gap between producers and consumers in a modern media age.
From a Little International Facebook page, to classroom visits to local elementary schools, to educating students at Ag Day at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, this year’s Little International staff went above and beyond in reaching out to consumers.
For example, a goat named “Russell,” which was raised by Riley Zoss, a rancher from Letcher, S.D., became a mascot of Little International, attending Ag Day and even wearing a GoPro camera on his back and touring the events at Little International, allowing viewers from home to see the weekend activity from the eyes of a goat.
“The Russell video was extremely well received,” said Weber. “Although the initial intent was for humor and entertainment, we soon found that goats were a great starter animal for many students who had never shown an animal. We were surprised that many of our goat showmen this year had never shown any kind of animal in their lives. We also brought Russell to Sioux Falls for Ag Day. He was a huge hit there and drew in many kids to see him and learn about things like how to mix a balanced ration.”
Weber is no stranger to addressing consumer misconceptions about agriculture. Growing up in St. Paul, the senior animal science major said, “The closest thing to agriculture there was a community garden and backyard chickens.”
Weber didn’t let living in city limits deter him from pursuing his passion for agriculture. He spent many weekends and summers at the family farm in Sanborn, Minn. It was there that he fell in love with showing cattle and received a 4-H cattle loan to purchase his first steers at age 12.
“For most people, it’s pretty easy to say where you’re from,” he said. “I had a weird divide between city and country. I actually thought it was more of an advantage because I have a natural bridge between people in agriculture and people in urban areas.”
Weber has certainly walked the walk when it comes to reaching outside of his comfort zone to educate consumers about where his food comes from. Having served as a Minnesota and National Beef Ambassador, he learned how to promote the beef cattle industry to consumers from coast-to-coast. From there, he interned with the USDA in and with Sen. John Thune in Washington, D.C.
“It’s tough to walk into a congressional office in a major metropolitan area and talk about the impact of beef in a daily life, but it’s something that needs to be done,” he added.
Weber hopes Little International serves as a launch pad for more agricultural students to get involved “beyond the barn” and reach out to consumers, whether it be in classes, at the grocery store, or on social media.
“Little International has such strong support, and we felt that this was a great platform to reach out to consumers,” said Weber. “Although our speaker and outreach is just the start, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Everyone in agriculture will eventually be put in the position to be an ‘Agvocate.’ It’s important to prepare our community for the challenge ahead.”
More than 2,000 FFA students participated in Little International, and 160 animals in five species were shown by college students. Little International is one of the longest run events of its kind and is completely run by college students. The event draws locals, alumni, and kids who want to see farm animals, making it a fun event for everyone who attends. Highlights of this year’s event included a dodgeball tournament and dance on the wood chips and the Younger Brothers Band concert.
As is tradition, students once again competed for the four coveted prizes of the event –High Point Freshman and Upperclassman and Grand and Reserve Champion Round Robin Showman.
The High Point award goes to the individuals who earn the most points during the event. This requires the competitor to show livestock and compete in the judging competitions. Andrew Berg of Pipestone, Minn., made waves when he won both High Point Freshman and Round Robin champion.Berg won Champion Novice Dairy Fitting, Champion Experienced Sheep Showmanship, and Champion Lamb Lead to seal the deal for his win.
Winning High Point Upperclassman was Tyler Jensen of Deubrook, S.D., and Reserve Round Robin honors went to Kaitlyn Kline of Anamoose, N.D.
For more information on Little International, check out http://www.sdsulittleinternational.com or check out the Little International Facebook page. F