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3 Open Minutes with Katharine Lotspeich

Published on 06 November 2020

Valene Lickley and Katharine Lotspeich are the co-hosts of the Millennial Ag podcast. Editor Walt Cooley interviewed them as they approached the one-year anniversary of the launch of their podcast. The mantra of their podcast is that no topic is off-limits.

Katharine LotspeichKatharine Lotspeich
Dairywoman
Millennial podcaster

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How did you and your co-host Valene Lickley get connected?

LOTSPEICH: Valene and I like to joke that we should have met long before we ever did. I grew up in a small town in Utah, and Valene grew up in a small town in Idaho. We know all of the same people, and ran in a lot of the same circles, but we didn’t actually meet until I started working at a culture development firm called Ag Professionals in Greeley, Colorado. We hit it off right off the bat and figured out how many friends we have in common and how much we ourselves have in common.

Tell about your background and what you do for a day job.

LOTSPEICH: I grew up on a dairy in Utah that has changed size ever since I was born, and my folks are milking about 5,000 cows now. I got a degree in dairy science and then political science, much to my dad’s chagrin, from Utah State and then headed out to Colorado and ended up at Ag Professionals. What I do is work with large animal feeding operations or confined animal feeding operations, specifically dairies and feedlots, and help them navigate state and federal environmental regulations.

Tell the origin story of your podcast. How did you get started and come up with the idea?

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LOTSPEICH: I had a blog as part of a college project, and I sort of kept it going after I left college. It wasn’t anything serious until I met Valene. And then I thought, “You know what? Maybe I need to work a little on this and really refine what I’m talking about and try a little harder to get my thoughts and ideas out into the world, because that’s how you learn and grow and hear other people’s perspectives.”

I then had a conversation with a friend about how hard it was to be taken seriously as a millennial woman in agriculture. And he’s like, “Why don’t you play on that?” And I was like, “What do you mean? I want to avoid that at all costs. I don’t want to advertise that fact.” This idea actually took about a year to marinate, but I finally said, “You know what, why the heck not? Valene and I have stuff to say; we’re millennials and we’re in agriculture and want to talk about it.”

I started out upgrading to a website and being more conscientious about my blogging. But as Valene and I had more and more to say, we said to each other, “Let’s start a podcast. What’s the worst that can happen?” So we dove in without a thought, and Valene did a lot of the back-end work and figuring out how to produce a podcast. Then Millennial Ag was born in April 2019 of last year.

We just recorded our 48th episode last night, and we’re approaching our one-year anniversary for having a podcast at the end of August. It’s exciting. We have read podcast statistics, and most never get past 10 episodes and then they sort of fizzle and fade. For me, if I hadn’t had Valene to lean on and to go through this with, it would not have gotten to where it is today.

What are some of the topics you discuss on your podcast?

LOTSPEICH: From the very beginning, Valene and I have been talking about those hard conversations such as social justice, racism and mental health. We watch it get slipped under the rug in our daily lives, and we know that that’s not being true and authentic to how we live and believe. We have found that when talking with other people, those things end up being a lot more common or wanting to be talked about more than you would think. The point of Millennial Ag is to be able to talk about any topic at any time, no matter what, and that’s been a scary thing to embrace, but I’d like to think that we have. We stretched ourselves, obviously. But hopefully we’re also stretching what production agriculture is willing to talk about out loud.

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What’s been one of the most uncomfortable or vulnerable moments for you on your show?

LOTSPEICH: For me, the real moment of true vulnerability started with our mental health series because I deal personally with depression and anxiety, and that’s not a thing you talk about, especially in agriculture. You’re supposed to pull up your bootstraps and shut up and deal with it. I watched that do a lot of damage in my life, and I have watched it in the lives of other people who are very close to me, and I’m tired of that. So, Valene was a huge supporter in agreeing to take on doing the whole series about mental health in May.

What would you tell someone who’s having those kind of thoughts?

LOTSPEICH: It’s actually a very common thing experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks or things that play into mental health. Three out of five people in the United States – it’s a higher percentage in agriculture in the U.S. – will experience some form of mental health distress in their lifetimes. This really helps put it in perspective and it’s also OK that you’re not alone. It’s OK to feel this way, but let’s get some help, get some perspective and work on this so that you don’t drown in misery. I think this is where we get stuck because we’re supposed to help ourselves out of our own problems and situations. I know what it’s like to fear talking to somebody about it because you think you’re crazy. But letting people in and letting them help has done so much more good than I ever could have imagined.

What advice would you have for other millennials or younger generations who are coming up looking to get into agriculture or to stay in agriculture and maybe someday go home?

LOTSPEICH: I have two things I have learned in the five years I have been out of school. The first and foremost is: If you’re a high-schooler thinking about what you want to do for college and you want to major in agriculture, get outside of what you grew up in. What I mean by this is, I grew up on a dairy, and I majored in dairy science, thinking that having a dairy degree was going to be the most marketable thing I could ever do for myself. It wasn’t. My dairy science degree means I know a lot about cows and how to manage them. But I’m not nearly familiar about running an agricultural business or building the relationships you need to have to run a business plan. So I would suggest ag business or something similar to give you a step up on these skills you don’t necessarily learn on the farm growing up. Everybody knows how to feed calves, but not everybody knows how to approach a banker to ask for a loan.

My second piece of advice is one I’ve learned at Ag Professionals while being there. Say yes and then figure it out. Sometimes we get some crazy requests from our clients that we’re like, “Whoa, we’ve never done that before.” But we figure it out because they’re our client and we want to do our best work for them, and they’ve got an objective and we are going to help them accomplish it. It’s a really good thing to apply to your personal life too as far as taking risks, trying something new and getting outside your comfort zone. end mark

Walt Cooley
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