Topanga McBride never wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. To the young Coloradan, ag meant you had to be a farmer.
But when Topanga McBride moved to a less ag-friendly high school in Fort Collins, she realized she needed to put on her boots, her belt buckle, and get down to business in setting her peers straight on ag.
“While agriculture surrounded us, my classmates and teachers couldn’t tell you where their food came from past the grocery store, or that any of it was grown just outside their backyard,” McBride said.
McBride, who grew up raising Milking Shorthorns, Holsteins, and show pigs, found it her duty to step up for ag after being forced to watch movies like Food, Inc. and The Meatrix. She was taught by teachers that ag was unethical, deceiving, and bad for the world.
“Up until that point, I had no interest of being in agriculture because for me, agriculture meant running a farm,” McBride said. “I started sharing my story in any way I could.”
She wore her cowboy boots and belt buckle every single day to the point where her friends made a big deal when she didn’t. She brought bacon from her show pigs the first week of school to make friends and tried to make every class project about agriculture, whether it be history, English, science, or even French class.
It wasn’t until her senior year she found she could pursue a career in agriculture without having to be a farmer.
“My high school experience is really what helped me find my passion,” McBride said. “I’ve always loved food — I’m a Food Network addict and love my time in the kitchen. When I realized I could spend my life talking about food, it really clicked that agriculture was the place for me.”
Now pursuing degrees in agricultural communications and agricultural economics at Kansas State University, McBride has hit the ag scene running. Her resume includes a 2016 College Aggies Online First Place Individual, a Campus Ambassador for Agriculture Future of America, a Communications Intern for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, and numerous ag honors and awards. This past summer she served as a media relations intern for Monsanto, an experience she says that only gave her a whole new appreciation for agriculture and what it takes to get food on the table.
“Monsanto invested in me heavily. Every employee was more than willing to give me time to share their expertise and find ways to make my internship and my future career more successful,” McBride said. “I spent half of my internship working on a project with pollinators like bees and monarchs. I never understood just how essential pollinators are to our food supply, nor what intense work is going on to help improve pollinator health. Every day, I learned different ways Monsanto is working to make farming better and our food supply secure on a global scale.”
While the vast majority of McBride’s closest friends from high school are going into careers in engineering, biology, and chemistry, McBride said they probably haven’t even considered the agriculture industry as an opportunity for them.
McBride encourages youth to visit colleges and see what opportunities are out there in the ag sector. Meet with people who are in jobs that you enjoy. Take classes in what intrigues you and go from there. Take internships and it’s ok if you hate them –then you know it’s not a good fit. Finally, find opportunities to expand your horizons.
“Keep in mind that agriculture is not necessarily just what you’ve experienced at home. Think of all of the different food on your plate,” McBride said. “Most of my peers in Kansas come from beef and row crop operations, but there’s more to agriculture than that. Urban gardening, hydroponics, drones, beekeeping, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible in agriculture.”
McBride admits her younger self only saw beef cows on pastures, rows of corn, and large dairy farms. She was disgusted by people who chose to eat vegan or organic and thought there was only one way to farm.
“The reality is that we live in a world full of choice and diversity,” McBride said. “I am so incredibly grateful we can live in a world where we can grow our food on different scales with different resources and that we can choose what foods to put in our body. I am absolutely excited about the future of farming and what different types of farms we will see in our future, as well as the people who will work in agriculture.”
And it’s a career path McBride is excited to head down.
“When it comes down to it, there is no other industry like agriculture. Food is something essential, something personal,” McBride said. “Working in agriculture gives a sense of satisfaction that you are doing something to help people around the world, from your neighbor to someone across the world.”