Growing our Generation: Farmer to Foodie

Nicole Steiner from Wayne County is the editor of the Sept. 24, 2018 Growing our Generation enewsletter,  featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.

starter-photoImagine this: you’re sitting at a long dining table, the chairs around you are full of beef industry experts from around the world and the table itself is covered with dishes as appealing to the taste buds as they are the eyes. The intoxicating smells are enough to make you swoon, and the intelligent, light-hearted conversations whizzing through your ears do more than make you smile; they make you think.

I had this exact experience my first week on the job with the Certified Angus Beef brand, and at that moment, I knew I had made the right decision years ago to continue living in the agricultural community. It wasn’t until the head of the table announced that we were going to begin introductions, however, that I began to panic. The other attendees stood up confidently, explaining where they were from, where they had been and what they were currently doing, but I just had this one thought coursing through my head: “What did I have to offer?”

Just a few months before, I was sitting at my interview, trying to hide my accidentally mismatched heels (one black and one navy). I left that day not only slightly embarrassed about my shoes, but also carrying eight bottles of water in my purse, because I was coached to never use the word “no” during an interview, so I took every bottle they offered me.

So, how did I step up and knock out that introduction? I thought about the best advice I had ever received: instead of talking about what you can do, talk about your passions.

nicole-steinerWith that, hello, I’m Nicole Steiner. As a young woman who grew up on a Wayne County dairy farm, I have an extreme passion for agriculture, and I hold a ton of compassion for my family, my community and my faith. My parents, from whom I received a great work ethic, raised my brothers, Christian and Zachary, and me just like most country kids are.

My dad always told us “to get up and tackle the world before the world tackles you,” and although only one brother works alongside my dad on a day-to-day basis, and was featured on PurinaMillsTV, my other brother and I are still dedicated to helping them, and other farmers like them, succeed. Some days, that may mean running the farm’s Instagram page, which you should definitely follow if you’d like to learn more, while other times it’s stopping by to look after the newborn calves. Either way, we (I) love where we came from, and we love even more that we get to continue growing those roots that run so deep.

certified angus beefOutside of the farm, I work as a brand manager for the Certified Angus Beef brand, providing marketing strategies to foodservice distributors, restaurateurs and retailers across the country who collaborate with the brand. It amazes me to this day that I went from an Ohio State University agriculture communications and psychology student cramming hot-out-of-the-microwave ramen noodles into my mouth into a growing, young professional.

Gate to Plate

When I was in sixth grade, I decided I wanted to be the governor of Ohio. My mom’s job selling RBST for Monsanto had recently been eliminated after the state passed a law that prohibited dairy farmers from giving the hormone to their cows. In my young eyes, it was the governor’s fault, and I was determined to grow up and reverse that type of legislation.

I may not be the governor (yet – insert smiley face), but I do work to educate consumers on hot topics in the beef industry, including antibiotics, added hormones, GMOs, grain- versus grass-finished beef, local and sustainability.

During my time with the Certified Angus Beef brand, I’ve led efforts to share the story of our family ranchers – from gate to plate – with consumers, media and licensed partners. I’m actively engaged in helping them understand how beef cattle are raised, as well as the beef community’s passion and pride to make the environment better for the next generation.

img_4421One way I aid in spreading the community’s message is by taking brand partners to working, family-owned ranches, where they can see firsthand how Angus cattle are raised. Even though I have been doing that for a while, I am still surprised by people who really just want pet and take a selfie with a cow. We, as an agricultural-loving team, need to focus our efforts toward those people. They understand that traditional farming is needed, but they do not know the whats, whys or hows.

One observation I am not shocked by is the number of people who ask about sustainability in the industry. Most people assume that cattle cause a huge amount of environmental stress, but what they do not know is that cattle are only responsible for 1.9 percent of total United States greenhouse gas emissions. To help explain this to consumers and partners alike, I worked with a team at the brand to create a video. It gives the quick, straightforward facts about what and how the beef community is working today to ensure a better tomorrow. Watch it and feel free to share it to your family and friends.

Cook Your Steak to Medium Rare

What is raised on the ranch or grown on the farm has to go somewhere. The products that don’t make it to your grocery store more than likely end up in restaurant kitchens.

chef-and-rancherChefs, you may not know, play a role in the agricultural industry by using what we produce to feed the world when it’s not too keen on cooking for itself. Luckily, I get to work closely with chefs to help them recognize the importance of their products’ back-story, as well as how they can help spread the message to their waitstaff and customers.

When it comes to delicious beef, I only have one preparation tip: cook steaks to medium rare; however, there’s a lot more to the beef story than meets the eye. With local and sustainability being big topics these days, I make sure I cover the brand’s history, collection of family farmers and ranchers, standards, expectations, core responsibilities, etc., to ensure they feel comfortable about the beef they serve.

Angus BeefWhile doing so, I’ve learned that the culinary arts are very similar to agriculture, as those involved often work on holidays, have long hours, own small businesses and struggle to find good labor. At the brand, we highlighted the similarities in this Trading Spaces article in which a chef spent the day on an Angus cattle ranch, and then the rancher, in return, spent the day in the chef’s restaurant. Whether you read it or not, it is important to know that chefs are huge supporters of agriculture, and with their direct tie to consumers, they are great people to speak to about what you do.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

It wasn’t until I received the book “The Servant” by James C. Hunter during my orientation at Certified Angus Beef LLC that I heard the term “servant leadership,” but after the human resources director explained the philosophy to me, I realized I had known, and still did know, servant leaders. My conversation with the director led to me thinking about the time I participated in the district FFA creed-speaking contest.

I remember standing in front of the judges crying uncontrollably in response to a judge asking me to share some of the joys and discomforts of agricultural life. All I could think about was spending the past few years feeding calves with my grandpa, who had recently passed away unexpectedly.  It wasn’t the chore of feeding calves that moved me tears. It was the memories of the daily life lessons he taught me. It was starting an hour late in the middle of the winter, because we had to plow the neighbors’ driveways first or taking a chance on hiring someone just so we could positively influence their lives. My grandpa didn’t mind spending extra time in training someone or covering for me when I showed up a bit late. He was a servant leader, who had a very deep desire to be more than a farmer – he wanted to be impactful. Here is a video on my dad sharing the leadership philosophies of our farm.

photo-jan-26-23-41-51My grandpa was a joy in my life, but losing him was a great discomfort I had to overcome. Thankfully, he taught me how to embrace the good and the bad times. We all face struggles – from breaking frozen water buckets to cows needing extra help calving on Christmas morning, or, in my current role, traveling and living out of a suitcase the majority of the year. Who gets you through these discomforts, though, is one very special person: your mentor.

If you don’t have one yet, I suggest you find one. My grandpa, of course, was a great life mentor, but early on in my career, I came across discomforts that I didn’t experience on the farm or with my family. I often struggled with having tough conversations with people, taking things too personally and understanding that careers are a marathon, not a sprint. I made my fair share of errors and assumptions those first few months until I asked a coworker I respected to take me under her wing. My personal improvements have been increasing ever since.

mentorOne of the first pieces of the puzzle she helped me put together was that it is OK to not know what you don’t know. I was a newbie, and it was expected of me to learn at my own pace. She also helped by sharing her personal struggles and triumphs, preventing me from making similar mistakes or laughing at the ones I’d already made. After all, it’s life – and it’s not that serious.

One final piece of advice she gave me that I’ll share with you is this: find the brightest person in the room and just try to keep up.

Talk About Money

I’m a strong believer in the power of education, but one lesson educators and parents fail to teach children is the importance of budgeting. If you’re an ag kid, then you’ve probably been introduced to budgets on some level, such as the costs of 4-H projects or new farm equipment.  Budgeting for higher education, living and everything else that comes with being an adult may strike you as a surprise, though, once you reach that point in your life. Why? Because no one ever really prepares you for it!

agriculture-dad-nicoleFor many parents, talking about finances is off limits or awkward; however, I was lucky enough to have parents that openly shared with my brothers and me the value of a dollar and how to protect it. They talked about everything from paying for college, the real cost of student loans (and interest rates), investments, retirement plans, etc. I used all of the knowledge I received from them while developing my pre-undergraduate budget plan. I have to admit, though, that even with a plan, I was still caught off guard by the monster lurking around the corner: student loans. Yes, they are real and they are scary.

Luckily, I found a job right after graduation, but that wasn’t the only fortunate helper. I also took a financial course run by the famous Dave Ramsey. He’s known around the country for not only bringing himself out of the debt sinkhole, but also thousands of other people. I’m happy to be one of them. I figured out what worked for me personally, starting with his 7 Baby Steps, which dramatically changed my perspective on money and gave me more spending freedom.

I recommend his courses to everyone. Whether you do them by yourself, with your church or with coworkers, it is a great way to get started, not only for yourself, but also for your children. He has a ton of resources on his website, including courses for children and teens, individuals and families, businesses and more. You owe it to yourself to take “worry about money” off your to-do list. As Dave says: “If you will live like no one else, later, you can live like no one else.”

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This e-newsletter is brought to you by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Ag Professionals. Learn more about Farm Bureau membership, including a discounted category for those 18-24 years old.

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