Vetting outside groups who want to speak to students is critical
“Oh my gosh. I’m not going to eat meat anymore because of all the horrible things that’s going on at farms.”
The student’s declaration stopped Madison County Farm Bureau member Daphne Hedgecock dead in her tracks. It was such an uncharacteristic statement from the student. Hedgecock, a farmer and teacher at Central Crossing High School in Grove City, knew something was wrong. She quickly questioned the student where she had heard this misinformation about farmers abusing their animals. The response startled her —it came from an activist who had recently done a presentation in one of the classrooms there under the guise of talking about a different topic.
“I said ‘If your dog is sick, you take it to the doctor to be treated. Why wouldn’t I take my animal to the doctor to make sure it’s OK? I know how long it takes chemicals to work their way out and if the meat is safe to eat,’” she said. “The girl looked at me and said ‘Ohhhh.’ That’s when it clicked in.”“I said ‘Step back. Let me tell you my side of the story. I don’t want my animals mistreated; I care for them,’” Hedgecock recalled saying. When the student pressed on, questioning antibiotic use in livestock, Hedgecock, a family and consumer science teacher, jumped in with an example that would resonate with the student who was unfamiliar with how her food is raised.
After talking to more students who had seen the presentation, Hedgecock became so alarmed that she warned other teachers about the group’s true mission — to attack modern animal production and push a plant-based eating agenda. Hedgecock reached out to Ohio Farm Bureau to express her concern about how aggressive some activist groups have been in trying to get into urban and suburban classrooms to push their message. Last year a group emailed Hedgecock about 20 times requesting to do a presentation, which it said would support Ohio’s academic standards for high school. The testimonials and list of school presentations was impressive.
But Hedgecock was suspicious. She asked for more information about the presentation and realized it would be a direct attack of her century family farm where she raises chickens, cattle, sheep, donkeys and hogs.
“Students are being told their meat comes from large farms that mistreat animals and that farmers are poisoning them with chemicals, GMO plants and animals. They’re being told that animals are beaten to death in order to be harvested when in reality it’s very humanely done,” she said.
Perspective as a farmer and teacher
As a farmer and teacher, Hedgecock does her best to present a balanced view of agriculture by talking about her own experience raising livestock.
“The students trust me when I say ‘Do you think I’d ever hurt my animals?’ That’s because they know me and trust me. I’ve built a rapport with them and am constantly talking about the farm,” she said. “It’s critical that we make sure we’re telling our side of the story because somebody is out there telling it for us, and they’re hitting more urban areas because those kids don’t live on farms.”
For another perspective about the importance of sharing the facts about agriculture, visit ofb.ag/ag-facts.
Tips for requesting an outside presenter
As a teacher for 32 years, Hedgecock has a feel for what may turn into a biased presentation by a group. She provided some tips on what teachers should look for when considering a request by a food/nutrition, ethics or other expert to do a classroom presentation.
- According to the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio School Board Association, there are no set state standards or guidelines for teachers who are approached by outside groups who want to speak in the classroom. Each district has its own way of approaching the issue with its staff. Request a list of topics to be discussed and ask what specific subject area will be taught. Hedgecock noted that activists are tailoring their programming so it can easily fit into different types of classes like business, economics and careers. They’re also spending thousands of dollars on flashy videos and programming that appeal to today’s generation.
- Ask what the source is for the material.
- Research the group by looking at its website and doing an internet search. Ask other teachers if they know anything about the organization or presenter.
- Ask to see the material, in particular any videos. For example, Hedgecock said activists often use animal abuse videos that come from other countries with lax food quality and animal abuse laws.
- Call the organization and be neutral — ask what its goal is with the presentation and what its opinion is about livestock care.
- If a biased presentation has taken place, balance it by inviting a speaker who can give the other side of the story, such as a representative from the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association or Ohio Pork Council.
Featured Image: Daphne Hedgecock leads a donkey on her family farm in Madison County.