Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of communications for Animal Agriculture Alliance, is the voice of Consumer Connection in Farm Journal’s PORK. She shares her thoughts on how she became involved in the swine industry, how she supports pig farmers and what she hopes to accomplish in her column in 2019.
Q. Tell us about your background.
A. I wasn’t born into the pork industry, but I got here as fast as I could! I’m from Frederick County, Md., (about an hour northwest of DC) and grew up involved in the dairy industry. I have deep agricultural roots on both sides of my family but did not grow up on a working farm (we had a hobby farm with horses, chickens and the occasional sheep/goat). Our close family friends had a dairy farm and I always loved the cows. When I turned 8 and could join 4-H, I was given a Brown Swiss calf named Joy – she ignited my passion for agriculture. I was very involved in 4-H and FFA, which led to me competing in the Agricultural Communications Career Development Event. After that, I knew my future was in ag communications. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s in ag communication from The Ohio State University and then worked in marketing and public relations for Farm Credit Mid-America. Four years ago, I moved back east to join the Animal Agriculture Alliance team. Now, I get the opportunity to work with all segments of animal agriculture – including pork.
Q. What’s a typical day on the job like for you?
A. In my role as vice president of communications, I lead the development and implementation of the Alliance’s external communications strategy. This includes influencer engagement, stakeholder outreach, issues management and providing support to our members as they manage communications challenges and opportunities. I work a lot with media (both industry outlets like PORK and mainstream media) to make sure that we’re telling farmers what they need to know as well as providing the public with accurate, balanced information about the industry. I collaborate closely with communications leaders from all segments of animal agriculture to make sure we’re informing one another about issues and trends and that we’re working strategically to engage. I’m always reacting to emerging topics and evolving situations, so there really is no such thing as a typical day!
Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. I enjoy working with people from all aspects of animal agriculture – farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, nutritionists, scientists, researchers, association staff…the list goes on and on. I get to connect with such a diverse group who all have one thing in common: a passion for agriculture. As part of my role, I do a lot of speaking at industry events and meetings. It’s great to share our perspective as the Alliance as well as hear what is happening on the ground in different areas and industries. We are much stronger when we come together, and I love that the Alliance plays such a big role in uniting the industry.
Q. What can PORK readers expect out of your columns this year?
A. A big part of our work at the Alliance is monitoring the actions of animal rights extremists who want to take meat, poultry, milk and eggs off of everyone’s plate. My columns are an excellent way for me to inform you about the latest strategies and tactics these groups are using (protests, trespassing, stealing animals, stopping trucks…it goes on and on) so that you can hopefully avoid being targeted.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. “If it isn’t a ‘heck yes,’ it should be a ‘no.’” I always want to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity out there, but I learned the hard way in college that if you overcommit yourself you will not be able to give each project or role the attention and energy it deserves. If you aren’t truly passionate about something and eager to take it on, it’s best to leave it to someone else. This advice is extremely relevant to what we do at the Alliance, since we are a small team with a big mission (bridging the communication gap between farm and fork). We have to carefully prioritize and invest our time and resources into what we think will have the greatest impact instead of spreading ourselves too thin.
Q. When you aren’t at work, what do you enjoy doing for fun?
A. I love to travel and am always planning my next adventure. Luckily, I get to travel a lot for work to some unique places that probably wouldn’t be on my radar otherwise. I’m working on getting to all 50 states (nine left!) and would love to see more countries. I’m also still involved in the dairy industry, judging shows and helping with the 4-H judging team whenever I can.