Erica Garcia has only recently become involved with agriculture and livestock, but has already made strides to advocate for the industry. She has been named one of the 2019 New Mexico CowBelle Beef Ambassadors.
Born to Eric and Yolanda Garcia, the Valencia High School junior has lived in Valencia County her whole life, surrounded by horses, dogs, chickens, lambs and cows, but didn’t have an interest in them until she joined FFA and 4-H nearly four years ago.
She sites her school and friends as being the major influences to beginning her career in the agri-business industry.
“I’ve always hung around with the 4-H kids,” Garcia said. “They kind of insisted that I do it, too, and I’m very grateful because without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
While online one day, Erica saw that the New Mexico CowBelles was looking for young women around her age to join their organization. The New Mexico CowBelles is an organization of women interested in promoting the beef and agriculture industry.
Garcia thought she met the description perfectly, so she applied and was accepted. That’s how she found out about the Beef Ambassador Program.
According to the CowBelle’s website, “The Beef Ambassador Program strives to provide an opportunity for youth to educate consumers and students about beef nutrition, food safety and stewardship practices of the beef industry.”
Garcia was hesitant at first, but after a gentle push from her mother and her “Ag Mamma” Cassidy Cordova, she applied.
“I want to help spread that the industry isn’t as bad as what people may assume. This is our livelihood. Without it, we wouldn’t have beef, we wouldn’t be able to feed the population,” Garcia said.
After applying to the program, she had to go through an interview process and create a slide show about her interest in beef nutrition education to present to the New Mexico CowBelles board. After the students are chosen to be beef ambassadors, they perform a year of service through the program to educate consumers and students throughout the state about beef and agriculture.
“I just want to spread the fact that our industry isn’t bad, we’re not bad people,” Garcia said. “We’re doing this because we care about what’s on our plate as well.”
As beef ambassador, Garcia’s responsibilities center around promoting the industry whenever she sees fit. Often times this will be at speaking engagements with the beef ambassador team when they travel to county fairs or tabling at farmers markets. Social media is also used in educating the public through sharing data statistics or first-hand experience from farmers.
“For me, it’s about protecting my future livelihood and protecting people who have been doing it with their families for 100 years,” Garcia said.
One of the common myths she’s come across about the beef industry is that all beef comes from factory farms.
“I’m not a factory farmer; we don’t have a factory farm. Ninety-seven percent of beef farms and ranches are family owned.”
This is the response she often gives in her presentations. Another misconception she comes across is that farmers mistreat their animals.
“My animals come first,” Garcia said. “We take really good care of our cattle. We want to give the highest grade of beef possible and still keep it at a price where everyone can enjoy it.”
She feels both sides of the conversation can take steps towards better understanding each other.
“I feel like as an industry, we need to inform more people about what they’re actually getting, and I think people need to do more research on what they’re putting in their body as well.”
After high school, Garcia wants to attend college to study agriculture business and agriculture communication. She hopes to become an agriculture lobbyist while also raising and selling show-cattle.
“Showing has taught me how to be a humble winner and a gracious loser. It’s taught me how to be strong minded, and how to block negativity and continue to improve on the good,” Garcia said.
While she wants to go to school out of state, she intends to stay local when it comes to beef production. She also hopes to remain involved with the New Mexico CowBelles because she loves the organization and the women involved in it.
Garcia has only just started her term as a beef ambassador, but she has already seen the positive aspects of being part of the program. She’s been able to network with new people from around the state who share the same interests as her and has had the ability to get her name out there in addition to sharing about what the organization is doing for the local industry.
“I’ve learned through the CowBelles how to handle negativity when it comes to how the media portrays agriculture and how to shake it off and be professional,” Garcia said.
Taking care of livestock has been a family affair since her older siblings had their own animals to take care of. Garcia and her dad share the responsibilities of taking care of their animals. She starts her day off by feeding and washing them with her father. Her father shampoos, combs and hoses them off, while Erica grabs a calf.
They have to make sure there is no dirt left on the hide before they finish with each animal. Once the calves are done, she moves on to the lambs with the same process.
“Most of my day is consumed by feeding, washing, grooming and being a good caretaker,” Garcia said.
On a day were the beef ambassadors have a speaking engagement, she meets with the other ambassadors, Anne Hodnett and Kiah Thompson, and their advisor before going out to the community to promote the industry.
When reflecting on how quickly she fell in love with agriculture, Garcia only had positive things to say.
“My life has totally changed since I’ve started showing livestock,” Garcia said. “It has touched my life in so many positive ways. I’ve met so many people from around the state, and have new friends that will last a lifetime. I am truly blessed.”