Victoria Banks, an enthusiastic 14-year-old member of the Grand Valley 4-H Club in Michigan, started a Facebook page where she could document her projects, experiences, and accomplishments with friends. She had no way of knowing her humble page would become a testament to the powerful force that is the global ag community when we stand in solidarity for our youth against hate and negativity.
Scrolling through Victoria’s feed, you will find “thank yous” to buyers, information about the Ionia County Fair activities, and plenty of Instagram-worthy photos featuring the teen proudly smiling alongside Tequila, her Hampshire market hog.
Inspired by her stepdad, a hog and crop farmer as well as a 4-H alumnus, Victoria joined the 4-H program in 2016 and has enjoyed raising and showing pigs ever since. Last year, she was even honored to receive the Ionia County 4-H Swine Award.
The page also served as a way for Victoria to reach her supporters and buyers differently than traditional cards and letters. This year it was especially helpful because her state’s stay-at-home order meant a virtual auction and a show with limited spectators.
“I dedicate a lot of time and work into raising my pigs, so being able to share it with everyone is exciting,” she says.
On August 1, her small page, called simply Victoria’s 4-H Page, was suddenly disrupted with an onslaught of negative reactions, harassing comments, and interactions she and her mother, Bridget, could only describe as “aggressive, demeaning, vulgar, hateful and disgusting.”
Turns out, a Facebook “friend” of Bridget’s had shared a photo of Victoria and Tequila to the private group Vegan Revolution with 40,000 members. Within less than an hour, activists poured in, treating Victoria’s page as just another platform to vent and showcase the typical vegan opinions, negativity, and anger directed toward animal agriculture.
Animal-rights activists are among the most notorious offenders of anti-ag rhetoric and hate-filled attacks on individuals, farmers, companies, and industries in the digital landscape. While oftentimes we want to keep the channels of dialogue open and transparent, there is a rap sheet of this particular agenda surpassing civil, professional discussion — going to all-out assaults on youth organizations and programs including 4-H and FFA.
In spite of the unwarranted negativity, Victoria did something far beyond her years. After her mother deleted the original post and certain comments, Victoria decided to keep her page public and to leave the posts open for comments. She says she believes that we are all capable of having completely different views and still taking the role of kindness.
“Everyone has different opinions, and I never said that anyone’s opinion is wrong because it is not like mine. Not allowing people to express them is wrong,” says Victoria. “I respect everyone for their opinion but was never rude to those who believe differently than I do.”
Bridget and her husband were impressed with Victoria’s wisdom and courage, but they wanted to do something to bring a positive light to the difficult situation. So, they reached out to friends, their local community, and the online ag communities. Her followers shot up from 55 to over 2,500 and growing. The messages poured in with encouraging words from 4-H and FFA alumni, farmers, kind souls, animal lovers, and other like-minded individuals.
“We learned a great deal from this experience from Victoria herself. Her resilience against negatively because she knew she had nothing to hide as well as her maturity to allow others to make their perceptions based on the words of those commenting. She makes us very proud,” says Bridget.
For their whole family, it was a learning experience about the positive and negative power of social media. Many of the accusers who made their way to Victoria’s platform put forth topics that had nothing to do with her or the page itself. For whatever reason, this time she was the next unintended casualty in the heated world of online communities.
“As parents it was hard to allow the negativity, but the awareness is important,” Bridget continues. “The next child within the ag community or any community for that matter may not be so resilient going through something like this.”
Many of the positive messages after the vegan onslaught brought the family to tears and were memorable. One that stuck out to Victoria was from a 72-year-old lady named Lisa who was proud to share she came from an entire family of 4-H members.
“People have shared the kinds of jobs they have, how they have dealt with people being mean to them, and how they liked how I handled the negatively,” Victoria says. “People even have wanted to send me things in the mail!”
Bridget says in all the journey has been a very emotionally moving one.
“It is hard to express in words the gratitude we feel to those that took time to send her caring words. Victoria is an extremely caring person, so for that many people from all over the world, complete strangers, to reach out to show their support to our daughter validates that there is a magnitude of people in the world with the same caring heart as her. There were multiple messages and comments that had us in tears, we were in awe of the support. We love the ag community and are proud to be a part of it.”
Every member knows the 4-H motto is to “make the best better” by pledging head, health, heart, and hands for a better self, community, country, and world. It should seem Victoria is well ahead of the game, as she publicly stated in response to one particular negative comment:
“We have very different beliefs, but I am allowed to have a separate opinion, I do love my animals very much it is not ‘pretend’ but in the end it helps me save money for college. I have a job and I do 4-H at the age of 14 years old to make sure I can make something of myself for the future.”
I think it’s safe for me to speak on behalf of agriculturalists and 4-H alums everywhere — well done Victoria, well done Clearly you have already achieved much of the 4-H spirit.
Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.