When Lindsay O’Hara observed a non-ag classmate teach a group about agriculture, she couldn’t help but smile. It was exactly what O’Hara and her fellow Western Illinois University students had been working toward: dispelling myths and teaching agriculture truths by participating in the College Aggies Online (CAO) competition.
Launched in 2009 by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the CAO competition challenges agriculture students to step outside their comfort zone and inform consumers on agriculture. The CHS Foundation began sponsoring the program in 2017 as part of its efforts to develop the next generation of ag leaders.
“During the CAO competition, students learn about controversial ag topics and use social media posts to help educate consumers about those topics,” says Nanci Lilja, president, CHS Foundation. “This unique, real-world experience helps prepare them to advocate for agriculture.”
More than 300 students participated in the 2018 CAO competition. O’Hara’s team took top honors in the college club division. Not only did they engage their community on social media, they also distributed milk at a local 5K race and invited 200 local schoolchildren and sorority members to visit a farm for the first time.
“The most important thing my classmates and I learned during the CAO competition was to start by listening to consumers,” says O’Hara. “When we understand where they are coming from, we can respond and engage in a productive way.”
She will take that perspective and experience with her as she finishes her senior year of college and begins her teaching career.
“Through this experience, I learned even more about animal agriculture,” says O’Hara. “It was great practice, learning how to use social media and other communications channels to advocate for agriculture.”
To learn more about the rural youth leadership programs the CHS Foundation supports, visit chsfoundation.org.