The state of Rhode
Island has just over 1,200 square miles, a minute amount when compared with Kansas’ more than 80,000 square miles. With a state so small, farming and agriculture are often overlooked and disregarded by outsiders.
For Hillary Breene, senior in agribusiness, it’s a common misconception she has to disregard. Breene grew up on a farm in West Greenwich, R.I. and decided to attend K-State. She said she often has to repeat where she is from when first meeting people because her home state initially elicits shock that she is both an agriculturist and from the East Coast.
In high school, Breene met Bethany Parker through The National FFA Organization. At the time, Parker was a national FFA officer. She is now a K-State alumna. The way Parker spoke about K-State is something Breene said stuck with her.
After her first year of college at Southern New Hampshire University, Breene decided to transfer to K-State to major in agribusiness. Breene said that Parker spoke so highly of K-State and how much she loved it, it encouraged her to check it out and eventually transfer.
“There was no one there I could relate to in agriculture,” Breene said. “I knew in September (of her freshman year) that I wanted to transfer.”
Breene joined several organizations after enrolling in K-State, but she said she knew she wanted to join Sigma Alpha, a sorority that work to cultivate “professional women in agriculture.” She was influenced by her brother’s active role in Alpha Gamma Rho at the University of Connecticut. She said she was also encouraged to join Sigma Alpha by her high school FFA adviser.
“FFA is like the building block for any student in agriculture,” Breene said. “FFA is background that builds your leadership, Sigma Alpha is the place where you get to take the leadership role and you can use what you learned in FFA such as parliamentary procedure.”
K-State’s Alpha Omega Chapter of Sigma Alpha is a professional sorority and while it doesn’t have a house, its members still meet every Wednesday for chapter.
Though the sorority is considered an agriculture sorority, it is not a requirement to be majoring in an agricultural field. However, a vital interest in agriculture is necessary; Breene attributes her passion for agriculture to her upbringing on a dairy farm.
Unlike her experience at SNHU, Breene has been able to make connections with students who grew up in similar situations.
“Sigma Alpha is a group of like-minded young women in agriculture who have a passion for agriculture and are dedicated to the future of the industry as a whole and for themselves professionally,” Breene said.
Another member of the sorority is Emily Lingenfelter, senior in agronomy, who transferred from the University of Kansas to K-State.
“I actually never really settled in with one major at KU,” Lingenfelter said. “I bounced from exercise science, to speech language pathology, to health information management, and after taking courses in each of those decided I wasn’t looking for a career in any of those fields long-term. So I took a semester off and decided to transfer to K-State.”
Lingenfelter said she was able to quickly find community at her once rival school because of Sigma Alpha.
“I joined Sigma Alpha because I met some of the girls at the Spring Ag Social,” Lingenfelter said. “They were all super nice and seemed like people who I had a lot in common with as far as interests and farm backgrounds.”
Sigma Alpha has been active in Ag Fest this week through a variety of events. Tuesday, they hosted a dodge ball tournament at Chester E. Peters Recreation Complex, which benefited the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Wednesday, they had a booth at the K-State Student Union to “Give Thanks to Agriculture.” Breene said this was a perfect opportunity for students who may not be within the college of agriculture to learn more about the industry.
The sorority will end their week of Ag Fest activities at the Kiddie Barnyard, an event where they’ll inform children about different products they may not know were produced because of agriculture, such as boots, footballs and baseballs.
“The younger generation is our future,” Alicia Hampton, senior in agricultural education and Sigma Alpha member, said. “If we can instill a certain understanding of how agriculture impacts our life every day, we can advocate to everyone around us. We take a lot of criticism from people who don’t really understand.”
Reaching children is especially important, Hamption said.
“Teaching children is one way to change their outlook on our industry as a whole and change how the people they encounter see our industry,” Hampton said. “You can’t take a shower without agriculture, you can’t put clothes on without agriculture, and you certainly can’t eat food without encountering agriculture. Children who understand agriculture can and will reduce the criticism we receive from an unknowing community.”
Hampton said that those working in agriculture catch a lot of flack for use of genetically modified organisms and animal cruelty.
“GMOs reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides, increase yields and prevent loss in instances of drought or frost,” Hampton said. “All of these are really beneficial and allow us to provide for the growing population but because the general public doesn’t know this information they tend to rally against it.”
While there are some cases, issues of animal cruelty aren’t widespread, Hampton said.
“We battle HSUS and PETA almost daily as an industry on the issue of animal cruelty,” Hampton said. “There will be people who don’t treat their animals well, but as a whole, an industry shouldn’t be punished for the acts of a few people. Show animals, for instance, are treated better by their owners than probably any other pet in this state, but they are the most criticized.”
In regards to animal cruelty, Hampton said that she has personally entered the packing plants that videos released by PETA and HSUS claim kill animals in a vicious and cruel way.
“The clip only shows half the story most of the time,” Hampton said. “The animals are always put down in the most humane ways possible and the animal doesn’t feel any pain.”
In addition to advocating to the general public about agriculture, Sigma Alpha also requires each member to write a blog post for the chapter’s blog each semester. This can be used as a tool to further educate individuals about agricultural topics.
“I joined Sigma Alpha because I wanted the sisterly bonds that a sorority provides, but also because this is a room full of girls who have the same struggles and passions that I do,” Hampton said. “Sometimes it can be hard to be a women in a traditionally male industry and these girls, like me, don’t let it stop them. It’s always nice to have someone who will always come to your side and defend your livelihood because it’s their livelihood too.”