A Response to Zoe Rosenberg from 4-H and FFA Members

“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.

– FFA Creed, first paragraph

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking,

my heart to greater loyalty,

my hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

– 4-H Pledge

If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you were, or still are, involved in 4-H and/or FFA.  You probably saw the following photo posted to Instagram and shared across Facebook last week:

After seeing this original post, I was confused and quite frankly, I was mad.  After taking several days to digest this specific post and do a little research, I’m ready to respond.

The person who posted this photo and who is modeling the t-shirt is Zoe Rosenberg (@zoe_rooster).  Rosenberg is a 17-year-old animal rights activist and TEDx speaker.  She has over 10,000 followers on Instagram, meaning she was able to reach over 10,000 people through this post.

Rosenberg is the founder of the nonprofit organization called the Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary.  Per information obtained via Instagram, this sanctuary takes up 40 acres in San Luis Obispo, California and is home to over 200 barnyard animals.

Zoe Rosenberg, if the stars align and you somehow stumbled upon this column, I and many other former 4-H and FFA participants have a message for you.

First of all, there is more to 4-H and FFA than animal agriculture.

“We’re not all plows, sows, and cows — we’re an educational group,” Evan Purviance, former Texas FFA, Area VI President said.

Purviance is one of my younger brothers and we visited about this specific post last week.

Purviance went on to list an array of subjects offered by the National FFA organization which included leadership development, public speaking, forestry, floral design, mechanics, wood working, canning, and career development.  He said many FFA members don’t even come from an ag background.

Switching gears, my brother then went on to explain the difference between show animals and production animals.

“I was in 4-H from kindergarten until two years ago and have been a member of the Rivercrest FFA Chapter for the past four years.  I’ve also worked on a ranch for the past six and a half years and showed livestock at our county show for as long as I can remember,” Purviance said.  “Showing and ranching helped me gain knowledge of not just the show-side of agriculture, but production ag as well.”

So, what’s the difference between production ag and “the show side of things?” As defined by my brother, production ag is caring for 150 steers where showing would be focusing care on one steer.  He said production ag feeds the world, whereas show animals teach students the basics of animal care and provide scholarship opportunities, which often leads to a career in production ag.

Purviance dove deep into the lengths people go to in order to care for their show animals.

“A cow on pasture is given the option to eat grass and drink water, show animals… well let me put it this way: I know people who spend more money per month on their show steer feed bill than their family’s grocery bill,” Purviance stated.

Show animals are fed twice a day and are given the highest quality feed their showman can buy.  My brother’s show animals were always given the option to eat “free choice” hay and were also given lots of water.  Many show animals are also kept in a climate-controlled barn and given baths regularly, sometimes every day.  Personally, I know some humans who don’t even take baths every day.

My brother was shocked by Rosenberg’s claim that 4-H and FFA teach children to “kill animals.” He said that yes, slaughter could be part of the process, but it wasn’t the main focus in the slightest.

“I don’t like how she attacked 4-H and FFA,” Purviance said with a sigh.  “You know, we try our best to practice humane and sustainable agriculture while teaching the general public about their next meal from pasture to plate.  If we didn’t do that, imagine how uninformed the general public would be.

“And I don’t think that it’s so much about ‘killing’ the animal; it’s more about learning the basics of food production, appreciating the hard work which goes into animal agriculture, and making connections while preparing for a future career,” Purviance said.

Purviance mentioned a video released during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo this year of Ryder Day’s interview after he and his steer named Cupid Shuffle won Grand Champion and a $300,000 reward.

In the video, Day tells a reporter through joyful, teary eyes exactly what he plans to do with his winnings.

“We’re going to spend it on going to college.  After we go to college, me and my brother, we will help build our ranch up just like my parents and grandparents and their parents before them.”

This kid is 12 years old and he WANTS to spend $300,000 on his family’s livelihood.  That alone should tell you the values 4-H and FFA teaches children and young adults.

“He’s not emotional because he wants to kill his show animal,” Purviance said.  “I don’t know this kid, but I can tell you this: killing is the furthest thing from his mind in this video.  He’s happy all his hard work paid off.  And on top of that, a steer *that* gentle and *that* well-nourished has been cared for… significantly.”

My brother then said something agriculturists have been trying to preach for years now: we care about our animals.

“I don’t know anyone other than a rancher who gets up at 2 a.m. when it’s snowing outside to bring a calf into their house to warm them up,” he said with a chuckle.

He’s right… I’m a member of numerous anti-animal ag Facebook groups and have been for nearly three years.  I have yet to see ANYONE go out of their way to actually raise and care for livestock.  I’ve seen a lot of talk, a lot of “we should do this…” posts, and a lot of “I want to do this…” statuses — but I have never seen someone actually post about how they raised and cared for an animal the way ranchers and farmers do each day.

There are several key points to take away from my brother’s quotes:

  • FFA and 4-H are both wayyyyy more than “killing animals.” They provide leadership training as well as professional development across various career paths — and can be applied to careers outside of agriculture.
  • 4-H kids, FFA members, farmers, and ranchers all care for their animals. Even if you take compassion out of the mix, an unhealthy and stressed-out animal will affect their bottom lines.  If basic human emotion wasn’t enough to prove this point, the potential of going broke due to lack of care for these animals should be.
  • There’s more that goes into showing an animal than “killing.” Yes, often times slaughter is the end result, but the hard work and dedication it takes to get to the finish line amounts to so much more than just a steak.

To the people reading this who are in support of animal agriculture practices: thank you, we appreciate you.  We will continue to feed you just as we always have.

To the people reading this who do NOT support animal agriculture practices: Please email me directly if you would like more information about ranching and/or farming.  If I can’t answer your questions, I know someone who can and gladly will.  Regardless of your approval, we will continue to feed you just as we always have.

To Zoe Rosenberg: Zoe, I respect your opinion to choose the life of an animal activist.  However, based off the posts I’ve seen on your Instagram, you are uninformed about many agricultural practices and I feel as if you should educate yourself.  If you would like to do so, please email me… I would love to have a civil conversation with you about why we do what we do, and exactly how we do it.  Maybe we can learn something from one another.  Until then, we will continue to feed you as well, just as we always have.

To the 4-H and FFA members: I’m sorry you were attacked for your passion.  Thank you, for investing in your future as well as the rest of the planets by choosing the path to feed 7.7 billion people.  On behalf of everyone, including Zoe Rosenberg, thank you for continuing to feed us.

I’ll end this column with a quote from E, which I think sums up how many of us felt after reading this: “Twenty years from now, we’re going to be the people who will keep food on your table.  We’ll be the people who make advancements in modern science.  We’re your next congressional representative who will put up a good fight for you and farmers across the nation.  So to say all we do is ‘kill animals,’ is incredibly uneducated. Appreciate us — because we are the ones who will one day feed you.”

*I posted a screen shot of Rosenberg’s photo on my Instagram and asked for a response from former FFA members and 4-H-ers.  To read their responses, visit www.activistsvsagriculture.com*


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