Ashley Craft considers herself a city girl. She was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, with little exposure to agriculture beyond what she saw in corn fields and grocery-store aisles. But as the first in her family to go to college, she was inherently curious, and she knew she wanted to make the most of her opportunity to attend MU’s School of Journalism. It wasn’t until a friend took her to a family farm that she fully stepped into the world of agriculture. Craft graduated from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Science and Agricultural Journalism program in December 2014, but she found out over the summer that recent MU budget cuts are causing the 96-year-old program to be phased out by the time the last currently enrolled student graduates, which should be May 2020.
Within a month of hearing the news, Craft started writing. As part of an online class at Texas Tech University, she compiled 42 pages of initial research about the program’s history only to realize it wasn’t enough; she wanted to write a book about the major for her graduate project. She hopes the book will be completed in May before she graduates with a master’s degree in agricultural communications, education and leadership from MU.
Sharon Wood-Turley, Craft’s advisor throughout her undergraduate studies, wrote in an email that the book will be “a cherished reminder of the wonderful students and faculty who have been involved with this program.”
What did you experience on your friend’s farm that led you to study agricultural journalism?
This is going to sound funny, but I’ve always pictured pigs to be these tiny, little Babe-sized pigs, OK? And we get over there to her grandpa’s farm, and there’s this giant pig. And my jaw dropped. My friend is like, “That’s how big they get. This is normal.” I just remember leaving there going: “Wow. What else do I not know? What else have I been given information on, and it might not have been true or perceived accurately?” I started to realize there’s a lot of things about this industry, even as simple as the size of a pig, that I want to know about. And I want to figure out how to take that back to the people.
What is happening with the program now?
It’s being phased out. Our last class are sophomores this year. Once they graduate, the program will be gone. There’s discussion of creating a minor. There’s discussion with the journalism school actually adding an agriculture journalism track. But it was a difficult process finding out. It broke my heart, honestly, to think about future students not having the opportunity to have that CAFNR experience that was so warm and welcoming to me. That’s why I’m very grateful for CAFNR taking the time to hear the students, to hear the alumni and help us in any way they can moving forward, given the circumstances.
What do you see as being the ultimate goal of writing a book about the program?
The last piece that I could find about our program was a thesis project in 1966. There’s a large gap between now and 1966. So my main purpose is to preserve the history and let the voices of the alumni, the current undergrads, the faculty — let their voices tell the story.
What do you think is the importance of agricultural communications?
Before this program, I would rather admit to myself that food came from the grocery store, and that was it. It was hard to think anything past that. And now I understand that this is a way of life. I have an appreciation for it. I think that’s what this program really brought to me was understanding how much agriculture impacts, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat. Everybody’s impacted.
After this is done, is writing books something you want to continue doing?
I would like to see myself writing and editing for a magazine one day. It has been an incredible, unexpected journey. There may be another opportunity for my passion to shine in another book.