City girl studies agriculture to help feed the world

Gracefully floating across a sheet of ice and feeling the cold wind in my hair, the thrill of landing a jump and the exhilaration of a fast spin — these are a few reasons I’ve been figure skating competitively for 14 years (since the age of 5).

It might seem odd that a girl who has spent most of her time in a 32-degree ice rink would attend Colorado State University to major in animal sciences. After all, I grew up in Littleton, focused on school and skating; farm life has never been part of my background.

Yet farm animals caught my attention. Starting in second grade, I made deals with my mom that allowed me to spend summer weeks at a farm in Longmont when I got good grades. As my love for agriculture grew, I became a member of 4-H and completed projects with animals, crops and soil.

So why did a city girl decide to study agriculture?

I realized that, even more than ice skating, my passion is helping to feed the world through what I have grown to believe is our most crucial industry — agriculture.

I have come to understand the satisfaction of raising a product that feeds our growing population, which has already passed 7 billion people worldwide. I’ve realized the hard work it takes to be successful, the dedication needed to solve problems, and the urgent demand for more advanced technologies to produce food and fiber.

It is very common for students just like me, who have little or no agricultural background, to study in CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

In fall 2011, 60 percent of students enrolled in the College of Agricultural Sciences did not come from a traditional farm or ranch, according to records from our dean’s office. That means more than half of about 1,550 students in the college had no background in agriculture, yet they were studying some aspect of it (we don’t yet have fall 2012 data).

I chose my major in animal science because I’m passionate about what agriculture is, and what it provides. Agriculture encompasses all of the sciences involved in raising animals and plants for food, fiber, biofuels and other products needed to sustain life. Agriculture gives us a chance to improve people’s lives and to be a vital part of our world.

It surprises me to see people who don’t understand agriculture and who don’t realize how different their lives would be without it. From the time we awake in the morning, we’re using agricultural products.

Does your bed contain cotton or silk sheets? What about feather pillows? As you get ready for the day, do you use water, soap or lotion? Does your kitchen contain fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, sugar, eggs or meat? Did you feed your pet before you left this morning? Did you drive a car with fabric or leather seats?

If you’re like me, you answered “yes” to at least some of these questions, meaning you’re an avid consumer of agricultural products.

I’ve also learned that other agricultural students — whether from a farm and ranch background or not — share my passion for using agricultural sciences to help improve people’s lives.

Recent department of Animal Sciences graduate Natalie Blackmer told me, “Ag science allows me to use my knowledge and love of animals to directly impact society by helping to provide safer food products and healthier lifestyles through zoonotic disease prevention.”

Katlin Hornig, another Animal Sciences graduate who is now a CSU veterinary student, said, “Agriculture is the heart of everything, our heritage, our soul and our being.”

Austin Piombo, a student from California who is studying agricultural business at CSU, said, “I have a strong passion for the ag industry and everyone who is a part of it. Agriculture has taught me so many life lessons and has given me experiences that I would have never had. It allows you to reach out and get involved.”

In a world where the population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, there is an essential need to produce more food and agricultural products with less land and fewer resources. I may have little experience, but I am obtaining a degree in agriculture so that I can help improve and change the world for others.

Malinda DeBell is a sophomore animal science major. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.