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Minnesota student has passion for promoting dairy

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 08 June 2010

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When Caitlin Kasper tried her hand at showing Jerseys in the 10th grade, little did she know it would ignite a passion for promotion that would lead to a whirlwind of activities.

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Caitlin grew up on a dairy farm south of Owatonna, Minnesota, and she entered the showring, as well as participating in dairy judging and dairy bowl, at the urging of her siblings.

That led to her involvement in the FFA, serving as a state officer in 2008-09. She was the Steele County Dairy Princess in 2007 and a finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way. She was also named the Minnesota Jersey Queen and a first alternate National Jersey Queen. Her sister, Stephanie, is the current National Jersey Queen.

Meanwhile, her brother Tony went to school and returned home to work with their parents, Peter and Karen. He took over cropping, feeding and breeding on the 280-cow dairy. Caitlin likes to help him buy new cows for the herd, but sees her future more in the communication side of agriculture, hopefully in dairy, she says.

Caitlin has now completed her junior year on the leadership and communication track for ag education with minors in animal science and Spanish studies at the University of Minnesota.

On campus, she is a member of the University of Minnesota dairy judging team; the reporter and senior editor of the Topline yearbook for Gopher Dairy Club; a representative on the Metro Area FFA Alumni Council for the Ag Education Club; secretary of the Beta of Clovia sorority; and president of Collegiate Agri-Women.

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She’s been gaining industry experience through internships. Last year she worked for Fort Dodge Animal Health in a sales role and this summer she’ll explore the marketing arm of Pioneer.

Before school starts in the fall, Caitlin can be found at the fair. At her county fair she’s in charge of the youth dairy judging contest and at the state fair she helps in the Moo Booth, an interactive dairy education display, and the Gopher Dairy Bar, a food stand selling shakes, cones and milk to raise funds for the Gopher Dairy Club.

Amongst these activities, Caitlin found time to take dairy promotion on the road as a National Collegiate Ag Ambassador through the Collegiate FFA. She is one of 20 ambassadors throughout the country. Caitlin was joined by someone promoting pork from Ohio, a Florida native speaking about citrus and an individual from Maine talking about maple syrup, to name a few. The purpose of the program is to promote ag literacy where you live and go to school.

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Caitlin utilized the skills she gained as a dairy princess to educate students, young and old, about dairy. Over spring break she visited 12 kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, took the children on a virtual farm tour and helped them make butter and ice cream.

“I enjoy getting an elementary group of kids exposed to the dairy industry. Right away it gets them aware of where their food comes from,” she says.

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Another way Caitlin promotes agriculture is through her college classes when she’s asked to give a speech on a topic that interests her. It usually leads to further discussion with her professors and classmates.

“It surprises me how much they really do know and at the same time how much they rely on the media, through TV and documentaries, for information about agriculture,” Caitlin says.

To bring more awareness to the campus, this ag advocate and other members of the Ag Education Club held an ag awareness day this spring. They enlisted the help of various commodity groups and drew students and staff there with exhibits like a dairy calf and handing out free cheese. She says the club received great response that day from people interested to learn more about agriculture and the ability to speak directly with farmers. They are looking to plan another event around the same time next year.

“I don’t want America to take agriculture for granted. I want to get people to pay attention to what’s happening so they can make informed decisions about ag issues,” she says.

Not only has Caitlin been learning and promoting agriculture in the U.S., she has also been doing so abroad. She recently traveled to Malaysia and Taiwan through the international Collegiate agricultural Leadership (i-CaL) program offered by the National FFA. There she primarily studied the trade and marketing of grain crops. Last year she went to China with the FFA. She has also been on a five-country tour of Europe through dairy judging and a three-week tour of Spain through her high school.

Caitlin says the knowledge she gains through travel can be used in her future promotion efforts.

“I can show them why agriculture in the U.S. is so great, because we can produce so much more food,” she states.

You don’t need to be a world traveler to share agricultural messages. And it doesn’t have to come from an ad agency either.

“I know from experience that people enjoy hearing from farmers themselves,” Caitlin says, adding that personal connection helps build trust in the ag industry.

She finds social media as another great way to make a personal connection.

“What helps with Facebook is you can put a face to the message,” she says. Caitlin utilizes her Facebook page to communicate positive messages about the dairy industry with her family and friends.

“Promotion is important because that is what will represent and drive the industry in the future,” Caitlin says.

The top three messages she likes to share with her audiences are:

Farmers care about the land and animals.

We work hard every day to provide the public with quality and wholesome products.

We are people just like them. We have families and consume the same food we produce for them.

Caitlin is considering grad school upon graduation; or she would like to have a job involved in communications with the dairy industry. Either way, she’ll continue to seek ways to promote agriculture. PD

PHOTOS :
TOP LEFT: Caitlin Kasper shares a story about dairy products with school children in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Kasper.
TOP RIGHT: A junior at the University of Minnesota, Kasper spent the last year as a National Collegiate Ag Ambassador educating the public about the dairy industry. Photo by Karen Lee.

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