It began with a simple idea. It was then shared with American Dairy Association Mideast and they too saw merit in the concept.
On March 28, Cowmunicators 101 became a reality. Held at the Nationwide and OFBF 4-H Center, the attendance far exceeded the original goal and those who attended took part in a one-of-a-kind workshop.
Obviously, the title is a good clue as to the day’s agenda. Let’s back up just a bit and fill you in on the background of the idea.
Last summer, ADA Mideast launched a series of workshops titled “The People Behind the Product.” Those attending focused on communication skills when educating consumers about modern dairy farm practices.
As a participant, I was certain we needed to develop this into a workshop for youth. What if we could create a “junior version?”
Focusing on another generation of dairy enthusiasts, we could become more proactive and less reactive in our efforts when speaking to the public about life on a dairy farm.
After all, kids are also the people behind the product and they could potentially be some of our greatest advocates in schools and at county fairs where their dairy projects are spotlighted.
Allison Stammen, Jenny Hubble (ADA Mideast) and I went to work late in 2008 to develop the program. Putting a name to it was the first challenge, but we all agreed that Cowmunicators 101 was a perfect fit.
Without sounding redundant, the economy has been tuff and I was concerned how the new program could be created without “taxing” the kids and adult volunteers who would become the stakeholders.
Thus ADA Mideast and Ohio Dairy Producers Association were quick to answer the need for support.
Such collaborations are an honor and serve to remind me solid relationships are vital when researching new program ideas.
Our first step was a colorful postcard invitation mailed to 4-H dairy youth. Then, Allison and Jenny used many of their resources to create a package of content that was current and critical when presenting key messages about the dairy industry.
With that, we added some “entertainment” that would provide our customers a high level of enthusiasm. Video clips, clever clip art, thought provoking scenarios, role playing and lots of time for input and comments were plugged into the program.
It was vital we took time to listen to each other. Each person would go home with a black leather portfolio filled with key facts, but we also understood participants needed to actively participate by generating information about themselves and their dairy projects.
Add some morning snacks, pizza topped with loads of cheese for lunch, a cookie break, milk, door prizes and the workshop was ready to launch.
Forty-plus 4-H dairy enthusiasts came from near and far to learn and take part in the workshop.
OSU animal science majors Lindsay Miller and Stephanie Neal were there to provide additional leadership from the college perspective.
Naomi Botheras also volunteered time to lend her expertise on animal welfare and current issues on this topic.
It was amazing to observe everyone participating, asking questions and sharing their unique perspectives.
Equipped with new resources, empowered with a sense of responsibility, these dairy 4-Hers were assured that they could and would make a difference.
At the conclusion, it was certain ADA Mideast and Extension had collaborated to develop something special. Yet, we were also aware we could make it better.
To provide continuity and leadership for this core group, we will continue to guide them through the maze of their communication ideas that will link them to their schools and communities.
The workshop ending was just a beginning for what these inspired individuals will do.
However, they were motivated enough to discuss some sort of project that could be displayed and implemented at the Ohio State Fair and adult volunteers phoned and e-mailed me about the lively conversations on the trip home.
It would be impossible to duplicate the bond our initial group has experienced.
For those disappointed 4-Hers who were unable to attend, let us assure you another workshop will probably take place again in 2010 and we have even discussed a Phase 2 for this year’s group.
Applause and credit needs to be given to Allison and Jenny for much of the program content and I would like to share some of their thoughts.
“Partnering with OSU Extension gives us a perfect opportunity to reach out to the youth involved in dairy and encourage them to be advocates for their industry. The enthusiasm that these kids demonstrated is to be commended. Their voice can be a powerful tool in helping others understand modern dairy farming.”
Just as winter turns into spring and we are all searching for a silver lining, Cowmunicators 101 has emerged from a simple idea.
It serves to remind us the dairy industry will belong to the next generation. However, the most successful of those will be the youth that learn and practice the art of positive communication.
Maybe this workshop could be the first step of their journey.