Who makes the best advocates for agriculture? I think it’s ranchers like you and me – folks who can proudly share our personal stories with dust on our jeans and manure on our boots. That authenticity can’t be easily duplicated; we live each day to care for our livestock and the land, working to feed the world and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

But, often, producers’ microphones aren’t loud enough to reach past our own community platforms. But, once in a while, someone special comes along to help us spread the word to the masses.

These days, that crown jewel of agriculture advocacy is a beauty queen, 2011 Miss America Teresa Scanlan. At 17, the youngest woman to wear the Miss America crown in 90 years, Scanlan is a Nebraska native who is quite fond of – and quite vocal about – the hard-working Americans who put food on the dinner table.

Last April, shortly after she won her crown, I interviewed Scanlan. She told me this:

“Can we feed a growing world population, fuel our economy, and still offer wholesome food choices to Americans? Sure, just as long as we avoid weakening the very infrastructure that makes it all possible.”
Scanlan pointed out that America has just 210,000 full-time farms.

And, being from an agricultural community, she said she knew these weren’t large corporations with giant bank accounts. “These are small businesses with huge overhead expenses and a history of modest profits. Farming and ranching is expensive, and the risks associated with it are unlike any other profession, which is why we’re faced with fewer and fewer U.S. producers to support more and more people.”

Scanlan didn’t grow up on a ranch, but agriculture was right outside her door in the small, rural community of Gering, NE, where she was raised. Since that April interview, Scanlan has upped her efforts to increase agriculture awareness across the country, and I talked to her again in August about her platform.

“Food security is life! I grew up in a farming community of 1,000 people. We understand how important it is here. I hope to connect rural America to urban areas. Most Americans don’t realize how essential and crucial agriculture is to our lives and to our economy. We are used to our grocery stores and kitchens being full of food, but many people don’t get that it’s because of farmers and ranchers that we continue to be the breadbasket of the world,” she told me.Scanlan says she’s dedicated to promoting awareness and building support for the agriculture community.

“Not everybody farms, but everybody has to eat. Less than one-quarter of 1% of the nation’s budget is dedicated to agriculture. In our households, the first thing we set money aside for is food, because it’s a necessity. I think it’s interesting that our nation’s budget doesn’t do the same.

“We need to stress to policy makers and consumers just how important agriculture is to our economy. If we don’t, we won’t like where it takes us in the next few years,” she warns.

Scanlan plans to do her part to make sure this doesn’t happen. Her goal is to earn a law degree, become a criminal prosecution attorney and eventually a judge in her native Nebraska. Politics may be in her future as well, but promoting agriculture will remain a top priority, she says.

Without a doubt, Miss America is a surprising and refreshing advocate for agriculture. She is using her year in the limelight to support food production, the backbone of the U.S.

But you don’t have to be a beauty queen to spread the good word. Head to town and share your story. You might be surprised how influential you can be in your own community.

Amanda Radke is Editor of BEEF Daily and a rancher from Mitchell, SD. Sign up for her free daily newsletter and blog at beefmagazine.com.