Cross-Country Chronicles: Ag Across America

In case you haven’t been following along, I’ll offer a brief synopsis of my current life situation. I grew up in Illinois. I’m a college student. I accepted an agricultural communications internship in Sacramento, California. I packed up my belongings and made the 2,100 mile drive from Chicago to NorCal. It was a big, super-duper-huge learning experience.

In some recent posts, I talked about the people I spent time with along the road, and learning lessons of perseverance when I didn’t think I could go on (1 & 2). Today’s post is kind of getting down to the meat and potatoes of this trip. I drove out here to work in agricultural communications. What better way to prepare to work in ag comm, than by witnessing the many faces of agriculture during my drive?

In my area, agriculture is kind of homogenous. I live in corn country; growing corn is what Illinois is good at. You’ll also see plenty of soybeans, and the occasional wheat field. In isolated pockets of Illinois, we also have potatoes, pumpkins, onions, gladiola flowers, and herbs. You’ll see plenty of cattle farms and some hog barns (very few hogs, though, because biosecurity calls for them to stay indoors). However, there’s not a whole lot of diversity. Driving along the interstate in Illinois, you’ll see…corn. (Don’t get me wrong, I love corn. My first ag internship was for Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and it’s the reason this blog exists. I’m simply saying that Illinois has a lot of corn…stick to what you’re good at!)

I love corn. I really do. It's my first crop love. However, I'd spent 21 years staring at corn. I was ready for something new. (Yes, that is a dirty car window you're looking through. No, I did not take this while I was driving.)

Driving out to California really gave me a taste of the diversity of agriculture across this country. I saw a lot of great sites. Wheat fields that stretched for miles, crops planted used methods I’d never heard of before (such as no-till corn on wheat stubble), and a million other things.

One of my favorite agricultural moments of the trip came during the second evening, as I drove through Wyoming. Right up close to the fence separating the range from the interstate, there was a herd of cattle. Scattered around the cattle were horses with classic, wild-west-looking cowboys perched atop them. In Illinois, you don’t typically see ranches and cow herding. Cattle are farm-raised, generally more tame, and tend to be kept in more manageably-sized pastures.

And here, in the midwest, most of the cattle to be of the northern European persuasion. Angus, Shorthorn, a few Maine-Anjou, some Simmental…you don’t really see the “wild” breeds developed in the south and west to be heat-tolerant and low-maintenance. And you most definitely don’t see these:

This bull belongs to my friend Melissa Laurent of Texas. The breed is called "Brahman." They're incredibly heat-tolerant, and obviously different from your "run of the mill" midwestern cattle.

I saw some of those creatures as I drove through Nevada. I’ve known about “Zebu” cattle (the category of cattle known for the “hump” and floppy ears) for some time, but had never seen them in person before. Now I can say I have.

I talk a lot about cattle. That’s partially because there are more cows than people west of Chicago. And I should note, the ratio gets increasingly one-sided the further west you go, right up until California.

Because of my friends all over the country, I know all about different types of agriculture. I like to think I’m pretty well-versed in that area. However, driving through such an immense and diverse country brought it to reality. It wasn’t just something that my friends talked about when ag came up. Agriculture became completely new to me during that 3-day drive.

Now, I’m in California…this land is kind of the epicenter for agricultural diversity. I have only been here for about two weeks, and agriculture continually changes. I’ve have face-to-face meetings with producers who raise products I’d completely forgotten were “agricultural.” Walnuts, apricots, asparagus, plums, garlic, almonds…these are all foods we take for granted in the midwest. Even those of us who “know” agriculture are prone to forget that all of our food had to start somewhere. The real intrigue behind all of this, though, is the people.

Dino Giacomazzi was kind enough to host me and a few other AdFarmers during our business trip for Know a California Farmer in central California. Hopefully, it was the first of many farm visits I'll be making this summer. Dino is a fantastic guy with an amazing story to tell. To learn more about Dino and his farm, click here.


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