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KANSAS CITY, Mo. â€“ For every event that takes place during the American Royalâ€™s fall festival, there are countless beneficiaries of the organizationâ€™s mission.
Most prominent of those are the Royal Scholars, a group of six exceptional college students who serve as ambassadors for the American Royal and are rewarded with $2,500 scholarships each.
â€śTo me, being a Royal Scholar is such a great honor, because my grandpa used to show carloads of Hereford cattle back in the day,â€ť said Garrett Kays, a junior at Kansas State University earning a bachelorâ€™s degree in agricultural economics. â€śI understand the history and the tradition of this area and of agriculture.â€ť
Raised on the family farm near Wier, Kan., in the stateâ€™s southeastern corner, Kays is a fourth-generation farmer who, with his brother, runs a 40-head Angus cow-calf operation. His proximity to Kansas Cityâ€™s exposition has given him a greater understanding of what has happened in the West Bottoms for the past 115 years.
â€śTo learn more about the organization and to be part of the larger aspect of the history of the American Royal is quite an honor,â€ť he said. â€śThe coolest thing is the educational opportunities the organization provides to young people, especially in the greater Kansas City area. My background with the American Royal makes it even a more rewarding experience to be a Royal Scholar.â€ť
Kays is joined as a 2014 Royal Scholar by Alyssa Clements, a University of Tennessee graduate who will begin her masterâ€™s program at the University of Illinois; Jade Kampsen, a senior at South Dakota State University; Morgan Weinrich, a sophomore at Colorado State University; Emma Likens, a senior at the University of Nebraska; and Sadie Kinne, a senior at the University of Missouri.
â€śBoth my parents were raised on family farms, my mom on a dairy farm and dad on a sheep farm,â€ť said Kinne, an agriculture education major from Eagleville, Mo. â€śI was raised on a registered Angus farm. When I was little, I was opening gates and keeping dad company, then I had the responsibility of choring every day.â€ť
Itâ€™s that work ethic she carried with her to Mizzou and to her training to be an ag educator.
â€śOur society needs educated about where our food comes from,â€ť she said. â€śItâ€™s that simple, but itâ€™s very hard to go about that. I would like to get into elementary classrooms and hold adult classes as well as high school classes.â€ť
Through every phase, Kinne and her fellow Royal Scholars will tout the American Royal and its primary purpose of promoting education and agrarian values.
â€śThe biggest message that I can contribute as a young person is to use my passion and my education within agriculture to educate others about it,â€ť said Kays, who plans to represent the agriculture industry in the political arena. â€śWe are not tying agriculture to food as much as we should. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m interested in pursuing a career in this, working on food policy to benefit the most customers.
â€śIncorporating food into our conversations is the most important message we can provide.â€ť
Thatâ€™s the type of attitude that guided J.J. Jones into an agriculture career. Now the international trade director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Jones graduated from K-State after studying animal science and industry and international agriculture. He was an American Royal Ambassador, the predecessor to the Royal Scholars program.
â€śItâ€™s a great program that recognizes youth leaders in the agriculture industry,â€ť Jones said. â€śIt ties into one of the longest running livestock shows and agrarian events in the nation. The American Royal has such a rich heritage in agriculture in Kansas City. It was such a great opportunity to be involved in the organization.â€ť
That opportunity continues to pay dividends several years after Jones graduated.
â€śItâ€™s still all about education,â€ť he said. â€śI actually gave a speech on the livestock show in high school. I talked about the original livestock show in the 1880s and 1890s. Thatâ€™s where the ranchers would go to see the latest techniques.
â€śToday â€“ while thereâ€™s still the livestock show and the rodeo and all the other activities â€“ itâ€™s more about educating customers.â€ť
Those lessons will continue for years to come.