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Serving: West

I’m not a farm kid

Sarah McNaughton Tom, Cindy, Sarah, and Aaron McNaughton
FAMILY MATTERS: Tom (left), Cindy, Sarah and Aaron McNaughton reside in the Red River Valley in North Dakota, where they work in the technology, nutrition and agriculture fields.
Without family involved in production agriculture, I still found a place in the industry.

During my time in the ag industry, the question I’ve gotten the most from producers and my fellow agriculturalists is, “How did you get into ag if your dad doesn’t farm?” 

I grew up as a military kid with my dad, Tom, serving in the Air Force on the Grand Forks (N.D.) Air Force Base. He retired after 21 years of service as a medic. Once retired, he and my mom, Cindy, bought an 1890s farmhouse on 3 acres between Grand Forks and Manvel, N.D. I lived there with my parents and older brother Aaron, and a couple of dogs.

My dad worked in IT after he retired from the military, and my mom was a nutritionist at a state agency. Neither of them had any ties to production agriculture, and never had any animals except for cats, dogs and the occasional hamster.

Industry introductions

4-H was my introduction to the agriculture industry and is a direct credit to the person I am today. My brother and I joined 4-H as soon as we were able and were both members of the Grand Forks County program. 4-H is where I first found a love for the industry, especially with livestock and showing.

When I first started, I participated mostly in speech contests and showed static exhibits in the fair. Looking back, I’m so grateful for my wonderful county Extension agent, who was nothing but encouraging and kind when I would bring boxes of exhibits to the fair each year.

A few years later, I somehow convinced my parents that chickens would be my next 4-H project. It would only be six chickens from Tractor Supply’s Chick Days, and fresh meat at the end of the summer. I’m thankful for parents who usually encouraged my crazy ideas for projects and exhibits, even if it meant building a chicken coop in the backyard.

My red-mix pullets I showed that first year became boring, and I chose my next birds to expand my flock based on their breed characteristics and show ability. I showed poultry for the next eight years that I was in 4-H. Ten years later, there are still chickens in my parents’ backyard, as my dad caught the chicken bug and kept up with the flock.

Over the years, I expanded my project base. Somewhere in the mix, I began leasing a horse from family friends, which I showed in addition to my poultry. I loved that palomino barrel horse and showed him in every western class available, whether we could complete the class correctly or not.

There was also the one year that my dad let me get pigs from a friend’s backyard operation. My family and I knowing nothing about show pigs rolled up to the county fair with my 50-pound crossbred pigs, Wilbur and PorkChop. I’m sure the judge was laughing at me internally while I showed those too-young market pigs. I ended my 4-H career on a high note that year, winning overall swine showman and overall livestock showman.

Moving into my time at North Dakota State University, I started my collegiate career as a double major in animal and equine science, with the plan to become a large-animal veterinarian. Fast-forward into an advising session discussing organic chemistry and microbiology, and I decided vet school wasn’t the right fit for me.

I stayed in the animal science program for the next three years, with my involvement in the industry stretching further than I’d ever planned. My weeknights were spent at numerous clubs, a professional agriculture sorority, dairy club, Saddle and Sirloin, and Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow. These clubs further drove my passion for agriculture and gave me peers from a variety of backgrounds. Eventually, after some future career planning and another panic-filled advising session, I switched my major to agriculture communications, which is the degree I hold today.

Career planted in ag

Covering the region’s ag news as a farm broadcaster completely changed my viewpoints on the agriculture industry. I had (or so I thought) the technical knowledge from my classes but realized I had no idea how that applied into production ag.

Visiting with professionals and producers filled that knowledge gap of how the industry works and made me realize there’s more to learn than I ever thought possible. Having the opportunity to give back to the 4-H program as an Extension agent after all of the things I learned in 4-H was something I jumped at several years ago. Coordinating contests, teaching our teens life and leadership skills, and even leading STEM and computer coding workshops is an experience I’ll always be grateful for. Even working in 4-H Extension, I always was most passionate about teaching youth and adults about agriculture. Coaching livestock judging, hippology and numerous workshops about where food comes from was one of my favorite parts of Extension.

Starting off as not knowing anything about the agriculture industry to having the opportunity to grow, make connections, and build knowledge and a network seems like a nearly impossible path my life ended up taking. As a working professional today, I can look back on my experiences and see how they helped me be firmly planted within the agriculture industry.

TAGS: Farm Life
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