Children’s book author hopes others will reach out, educate about agriculture
Buffalo – Rebecca Long Chaney spoke in Buffalo on Jan. 23, encouraging producers at the Johnson County CattleWomen’s Annual Summit to get involved and promote agriculture.
“Some ways we can make a difference include joining ag organizations, making friends with non-ag neighbors, establishing media contacts, writing letters to the editor, opening up our farms and ranches for tours, getting a Master’s in Beef Advocacy, providing animals for exhibits, visiting schools and making one-on-one contacts,” she suggested.
Looking into options related to agritourism, promoting products locally and targeting niche markets were ideas that she shared as well.
“My children’s book is part of a niche market,” she mentioned.
Writing a book
Long Chaney began writing children’s books when her twin daughters were young after a friend encouraged her to do so.
“I used to do Christmas letters that were written from the girls’ perspectives. When they were just a month old, the letters were written like they were just born,” she described.
At first, Long Chaney wasn’t sure what to write, but with a degree in ag journalism, 10 years of experience working for a newspaper and a passion for agriculture, she was inspired by the idea.
“I thought, what a great way to combine my love of ranching and farming with my love of agricultural writing,” she noted.
Then, one of the cows on the family ranch had twins, orphaning one of the calves. Chaney’s husband brought it in and the twins began bottle-feeding the bum.
“That’s how the first book, Little Star – Raising Our First Calf, came about,” she explained.
Long Chaney grew up on a dairy farm, and before long, she was receiving grief from family and friends about writing a book about beef. Her second book then focused on the dairy industry. She titled it Mini Milkmaids on the Mooove, and it earned the Ag Book of the Year Award from the Ohio Farm Bureau.
“From the beginning, we had professional educators from Farm Bureau start producing lesson plans with our books. Those are free and downloadable from the internet,” Long Chaney said.
The books are self-published and promoted across the country through internet platforms, mass mailings and collaboration with Farm Bureau, Cattlewomen and other ag organizations. The books are also promoted at both ag and non-ag-related events.
“Word of mouth is amazing. People share our story,” she added.
Long Chaney and her daughters also promote the books and agriculture by visiting schools and speaking with school children.
“During our talks, the most powerful thing we do is go in with a bushel basket and play the thumbs-up or thumbs-down game,” Long Chaney explained.
To play the game, the Chaneys pull items out of the basket and ask the children if it comes from agriculture. The children then give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to give their answers.
“For example, we might pull toilet paper out of the basket, and a lot of kids give the thumbs-down. We explain that toilet paper comes from trees that come from tree farms,” she commented.
In another example, soda and corn might be pulled out of the basket, leading to a discussion about corn syrup.
“We’ll explain that a bushel of corn – the amount it takes to fill the basket, can sweeten 400 cans of soda,” she stated. “Then, we might pull out bread and wheat and explain that one acre of wheat produces 73 loaves of bread. If we pull out a basketball, we will talk about how the hide from one animal produces 11 basketballs.”
Many kids are also surprised to discover that beef tallow is used in items such as marshmallows, shaving cream, gummy worms and toothpaste, Long Chaney added.
“We have a little pig that we pull out and the kids are fascinated to find out that pig heart valves are closely related to human heart valves. Our friend in Maryland has had a pig’s heart valve for 18 years,” she continued.
Long Chaney also encourages people around the country to share her books in classrooms or to take the time to share their own stories with children.
“We’ve been working at this for eight years, and our books are all over the country. My friend in South Dakota who does story time at her daughter’s school reads the Little Star book and hands out stickers that say ‘I met a Farmer.’ Those kids get really excited when they get to meet a farmer,” she said.
Long Chaney told her audience in Buffalo that if producers have ideas for stories, there is always a need for books with accurate information. She warned them about propaganda materials distributed in schools from extreme activist groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and PETA, asking producers to help educate with real information.
“I am not encouraging everyone to become speakers or authors or to go into schools every week, but I am hoping that we will all do what we can with the time and resources that we have,” she remarked. “Any chance that we have, even sharing our lives for 10 minutes, can make a huge difference.”
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.