Written by: Sarah Novak | January 20, 2023
Having been personally involved with the Animal Agriculture Alliance for many years, I got to know Hannah Thompson-Weeman well and know she is one of the greatest champions for animal agriculture out there. She was appointed as president and CEO last year and I recently had the opportunity to learn more about her and her exciting plans to lead the organization into the future.
Thompson-Weeman: I’m originally from Maryland and grew up with a dairy background. I was very involved in 4-H and the FFA showing dairy cattle and doing public speaking and other projects. Those experiences made me confident that I wanted my future career to be in animal agriculture and communications appealed to me as I’ve always enjoyed writing and speaking (not a surprise to anyone – my FFA advisor called our agricultural communications career development event team “the talkers”).
I ended up attending The Ohio State University where I majored in agricultural communications with minors in Spanish and agribusiness, and spent much of my time being a part of the dairy judging team. I stuck around to earn my master’s degree in agricultural and extension education, focusing on communications and policy, before moving to Kentucky to take on my first full-time role in marketing for Farm Credit Mid-America. While I really enjoyed my position at Farm Credit, I felt a strong pull to be more on the advocacy and issues management side of communications, putting my knowledge and skills to work for the community that means so much to me.
I got that opportunity in 2014 when I moved back east to join the Alliance as director of communications. I definitely got the advocacy and issues management opportunities I was looking for in that role, as I jumped into leading many of the Alliance’s efforts to share positive, accurate information about modern animal agriculture and monitor adversarial groups opposed to the use of animals for food (no matter how well we’re caring for them).
Over the years, my role with the organization expanded into leading stakeholder engagement, developing strategy and representing the Alliance through speaking engagements across the country and around the world. When the opportunity to step into the president and CEO position presented itself last year, it was equal parts exciting and daunting. I’m enjoying the challenge so far!
Thompson-Weeman: The Alliance is a small team with a big mission – safeguarding the future of animal agriculture and its value to society by bridging the communication gap between the farm and food communities. I strongly believe in the work we’re doing to connect stakeholders, engage key influencers and protect the animal agriculture community, but there is not enough awareness of our efforts within animal agriculture or the target audiences we’re trying to reach. One of my key focus areas right now is finding ways to do more to spread the word about the Alliance within the animal agriculture and food communities so we can bring more companies and organizations into our network.
There is only one way to effectively safeguard the future of animal agriculture – together. We need everyone with a vested interest in animal agriculture to be at the same table to collaborate on issues that impact all of us. More coordination will help us all amplify our shared values to reach our target audiences.
On that front, another goal is to ensure that we are reaching beyond the animal agriculture community with our content about animal welfare, responsible antibiotic use, sustainability and understanding the animal rights activist movement. We’ve made considerable progress in recent years to build our reach to restaurant, retail and foodservice brands; dietitians and the nutrition community; and the media – but there is certainly more we can do to creatively connect with individuals, companies and organizations who are very influential to the end consumer when it comes to food and farming.
I know pretty much all of us in animal agriculture are tired of seeing the negative, misleading headlines and social media posts – the Alliance wants to do more to correct the narrative and set the record straight, but more importantly, to drive more of the narrative ourselves.
Thompson-Weeman: Working with allied organizations, such as the AFIA, is core to the work of the Alliance. We speak with a united voice on behalf of animal agriculture, and we can’t do that without involvement from organizations representing all of the different facets of the animal agriculture community. Our network of supporters includes around 400 members, sponsors and donors who come from all segments of animal agriculture – beef, pork, dairy, sheep, poultry and eggs, seafood, and the crops that feed them. Our members include state and national level organizations (e.g., checkoffs, trade associations, commodity groups), farmers and ranchers, integrators, processors, animal health companies, animal nutrition companies, food companies and more. We engage with these allied companies and organizations regularly through committee meetings, newsletters, webinars and other channels to share what trends we’re seeing and hear what is going on so we have a full picture of issues and opportunities for animal agriculture.
Thompson-Weeman: The people involved in the animal agriculture community are top notch and I deeply enjoy getting to interact with so many of them through my role at the Alliance. Some of the issues we work on are not the most fun to track or deal with, but getting that phone call of appreciation for support we were able to provide makes it all worthwhile.
Pretty much everyone in animal agriculture is personally passionate about what they do. That goes double for the team here at the Alliance. We have five full-time staff members, and with such a small team doing such important work, it’s essential that everyone brings their A-game every day. I’m so proud of how our team does just that, and we have a lot of fun working together as well.
Thompson-Weeman: This is partly work-related because I attend a lot of conferences and events for the Alliance, but I love to travel! As of this past spring, I’ve visited all 50 states. Next, I want to visit all seven continents! So, if anyone is planning a conference in Asia, Africa, Australia or Antarctica and needs a speaker, get in touch!