One Woman’s Path to Becoming a Successful Advocate for Agriculture

Cyndie Shearing

Director, Communications

photo credit: Nebraska Farm Bureau, Used with Permission

Paula Peterson’s path to becoming a successful advocate for agriculture, which included recognition as a “2022 GO Teamer of the Year” for grassroots outreach by the American Farm Bureau Federation, took some unexpected twists and turns. She got started two decades ago as a 4-H leader, helping a neighbor who did not have livestock with an Agriculture in the Classroom project. Peterson’s 4-H’ers brought their project animals to the classroom for students to see.

Later, a transition from working a full-time job in town back to the family farm offered more flexibility for advocacy. Peterson and her husband, Tom, raise beef cattle and row crops in Nebraska, including corn and soybeans.

Over the years, Peterson’s forays into sharing about agriculture have run the gamut from classroom settings to media interviews and grocery store outreach to consumers. She also shares her story through blogging, writing a column for a farming publication and on the Farmer Paula Has a Farm group on Facebook.

“I always joke that I’m sharing agriculture with those from [age] 2 to [age] 102,” she says. “Not trying to educate, but trying to share what we’re doing and why” sums up her approach to being an advocate. She loves working with kids (“our future consumers”) to help them better understand agriculture.

The broad swath of people Peterson has reached with messages about how farmers raise the food on our plates expanded further in 2021 when she began dipping her toes into digital outreach.

Her interest in incorporating digital outreach came about partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A switch to remote learning by the local school district led to Peterson’s grandson Christian, now 15, joining her on the farm for lessons as his sister used the family’s only home computer for her studies. Christian having to do videos for school projects coincided with new opportunities for Peterson through the Kids’ Questions About Agriculture digital series from the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. The video series features real farmers and ranchers answering questions about agriculture submitted by kids.

What Do Farmers Do When They Run Out of Hay in the Winter?” and “How Do You Know That Cows are Hungry?” are two videos in the series produced by Peterson with Christian’s help.

“Between the two of us, we figured out how to make videos and he’s been my biggest champion,” Peterson said. The family farmstead, fields and beef cattle provide ample subjects for additional videos you may see in the future. Reflecting on all of her consumer outreach on agriculture over the years, at the end of the day, “I want to be the person who people feel they can come to and ask questions,” Peterson said.

She also has a word of advice for farmers who would like to advocate about agriculture but are not sure where to start or how much time they can commit to it. Simply “talk to your neighbors and people at church about what you’re doing on the farm,” she says.

Peterson recently completed terms on the AFBF and Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committees and is an active member of her local Farm Bureau in Lancaster County. Through P&E, members strive to engage consumers and bridge the gap between field to fork by inspiring and equipping farmers to convey the significance of agriculture to the public. She’s also involved in several other farm and ag-related organizations including Nebraska CommonGround, Agriculture in the Classroom and FFA Alumni.