The summer of 2017 had been one for the books. I ended the hardest semester of my life in Spring of 2017 and then dove into the Arizona Beef Council internship shortly after.
I heard about the internship through my high school agriculture teacher. I thought I would apply along with a few other internships but this one stood outs as it looked like a great learning opportunity and a chance to broaden my horizons. I was sure I would get one of the other internships but was not as confident about this one. A stream of doubt ran through my head. “How, out of all the animal science majors and agriculture giants, would I, a journalism major at Arizona State University, land this internship?” Well, I did, and I can say it had been the best internship of my college career.
My first impression
First, I didn’t realize there would be two interns, and I was a little intimidated by the idea of my counter part; a University of Arizona student majoring in animal science. Was she mean? Did she buy into the rivalry between the UA and ASU and would that affect our relationship? I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, all of my worries were blown out of the water when I meant my colleague. She is a hard working and committed individual whom I have grown to love and call my friend over the past two months.
Then I met my bosses. While I was under the guidance of the Arizona Beef Council staff, I was fortunate to interact with folks from the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, and they all have taught me more about the beef community in two months than I have learned in my 20 years on this earth. They also taught me the importance of effective communication and building relationships with consumers and growers alike.
The Field Trips
Sometimes I still can’t believe was part this internship paid me to go out with my intern compadre, to meet new people and learn more about the beef world in a real-life setting.
First, we went to the Bill Kerr Dairy and visited with Wes Kerr. He explained that just like so many before him, he is using the latest methods and technology to have a successful dairy business. We were lucky enough to see the process of collecting milk from the cows and even go to the barn where the calves reside.
Next, we went all the way down to Nogales, AZ where Dan Bell and Dean Fish took us in and showed us their worlds. We spent half the time on the Bell’s ranch, helping round up cattle, branding, vaccinating and gathering some less-than-compliant horses. Mr. Fish took us horseback to see the Santa Fe Ranch with the bonus of an explanation of the mysteries of life. He also explained how every rancher has different methods of raising cattle, but the goal is still the same: raising cattle in an efficient and safe way to make consumers feel good about what they are eating and to have happy cattle. We left with words of wisdom in our pockets for our future careers.
I grew up farming with my dad and other members of our family. The sights and smells of alfalfa and cotton were the norm, along with the sounds of squealing pigs coming from the show pig barn at my house. I never really considered myself as a cowgirl mostly because I didn’t know what that really meant. I was a farm girl and a pig girl but not a cowgirl. Thanks to the efforts of Dan and Dean, I was able to discover who cowboys and cowgirls are. They are not just individuals who buy a pair of boots and a felt hat, walking with some sort of saddle swagger; they live and breathe cattle. It’s a way of life and a source of income. I will be forever grateful to have had the honor to live in that world for the short time that I did.
Then, we came back up to Pinal Feeding Co. in Maricopa, AZ. Our fearless chauffeur, Caline Gottwald, showed us the ins and outs of running a feed yard. It was incredible to see the sheer number of bovine on the property and the massive amounts of feed rations it takes to feed them. Feedlots may not be as glamorous as the dawn rising over the hills of a cattle ranch, but their role in raising beef for consumers is just as important as any other part of the beef life cycle.
It was fascinating to see how well kept the facilities are and the amount of care paid to all the cattle. Feedlots generally have a vet on staff and a nutritionist who make sure the cattle are kept healthy and thriving. Of course, life happens and sometimes it can be hard to work on a feedlot when things are not going according to plan, but I am confident that these devoted individuals do everything they can to prevent and protect their animals.
Lastly came the tour of the JBS Beef Plant in Tolleson, AZ. Our energetic tour guide, Maria, took us through the various stages of meat processing and explained to us the importance of handling the meat safely as well as treating the cattle humanely when they come to their facility. It was an eye opening experience where I learned how my beef came to be from the farm to the table, and I can confidently say I am proud of where my beef comes from.
Convention and Other Fun Events
I had the opportunity to serve as an intern at the Arizona Cattle Growers Association Convention in Prescott, AZ. There, I talked with cattle ranchers from all across Arizona and learned a bit more about how beef is raised in my home state. It was an amazing opportunity to network and connect with the dedicated ranchers in the Sonora desert.
I also went to the Arizona Academy of Dietetics and Nutritionist Conference in Phoenix, AZ with Lauren. I was a little unsure how beef promotion would go over in a room of nutritionists, but the results were pleasantly surprising. I was able to communicate my love of beef and its nutrient value to many people and I was able to learn about their health concerns as well.
We also went along on the Summer Agriculture Institute where teachers came to learn a little more about where their food comes from and how they can bring that knowledge into their classrooms. Coming from a strong agriculture background, I sometimes forget how little those who do not have the opportunities I have had know about animal and crop production. It was neat to see the important messages cattle ranchers like Andy Groseta had to share about the hardships of raising cattle but that it was worth the end result: food on the table.
Takeaways and Thank Yous
From knowing little about the beef community in Arizona to annoying my family friends with the copious amounts of knowledge I have gained over the summer this experience is something for which I will forever be grateful. I feel I am more educated and can address more consumer concerns about how beef is raised.
I have never felt more welcome and appreciated for my efforts as I have at this office working with Lauren, Tiffany, Heidi, Maria, Kim, Patrick, and Bass. I have made unforgettable memories which I will cherish through the years. From porcine to bovine, I love all meat; but remember Beef…It’s What’s For Dinner.