Creating Your Own Path in Ag with Andrea Haines, ALH wordandimage

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Jenny:andrea haines, alh wordandimage professional photographer and writer

Welcome back everyone to the Farm Credit AgVocates podcast. I'm your host Jenny Kreisher, Director of Communications at MidAtlantic Farm Credit. Our guest today is Andrea Haines, owner of ALH wordandimage. Andrea is a professional photographer and writer based here in Frederick County, Maryland. Though she'll capture everything from weddings to newborns, Andrea's real passion resides in agriculture, and you can often find her covering events from local fairs or ag dinners or out in the field snapping awesome photos of Holsteins or Jerseys. We have the pleasure of working with Andrea on several projects throughout the year for which we are very grateful. So welcome to the podcast, Andrea.

Could you take us back to the beginning and just tell everyone a little bit about your background in agriculture?

Andrea:

I'm a dairy farmer's daughter and being the oldest of four kids in that family, I'm very similar to a lot of ag kids in that I grew up with 4-H and FFA careers. 4-H for me, I really liked doing the dairy projects, but I also had market hogs and beef cattle.

Jenny:

That's awesome. I know you went to DelVal and you got a degree in dairy science.

What were your career plans at that time? What did you think you would end up doing in ag?

Andrea Haines:

Initially I thought I would come back and be a dairy farmer, but the home farm was actually going into retirement at that time. And my father and a few 4-H leaders that I'd been working with had really good insight. We all know the struggles of dairy farmers these days, but he didn't want me to have the same struggles that he had growing up. He challenged me to try to think of a different career and look at all of my options while I was at college and really just be an advocate for the industry. So I later on added a minor in communications to my degree. That's how I started.

Jenny:

As one fellow communicator to another, I know the power words have. That's something that never ceases to amaze me about what we do.

What is it that made you pursue writing as a career? What made you decide to get that minor in communications?

Andrea:

It's two things actually. I really got the same inherited bug of riding that my father has. My parents and my grandparents were definite ones for that. Just riding around with them in the countryside and listening to their stories or even stopping in and visiting your neighbor or another farm and seeing how they did certain things - I really enjoyed that.

As far as the writing goes, and when I made my decision to be a writer or journalist, was through an internship that I obtained in college. The internship was one that actually wasn't really available. It's a funny story. It was with Farmshine newspaper in Pennsylvania, and I was on the college show team. I went down to the trade show part and I asked the editor there, I said, "Do you have any internships available?" And he said, "Well, no, we don't typically do that, but why don't you come on a summer and we can find some work for you to do." He was very kind.

Jenny:

Oh, wow. That's pretty great. Good internships are hard to come by. So that's pretty awesome.

Andrea:

It definitely is. Initially that really prepared me for future jobs. I really had a great experience that summer. It actually ended up into two summers. I went back another summer and we learned, or he taught, a lot of different things about editing. And I might be dating myself, but wax layouts on pages and just really the older way to do it. It’s really transpired into something pretty amazing now.

Jenny:

Throughout your writing career, what has been one of your favorite assignments?

Andrea:

There’s so many to be honest with you. I really enjoy the farm visits. Those are my most favorite, but one that stands out to me, I did a couple years ago was a day in the life of an AI technician. It was pretty fun. I got to ride around Lancaster County with a technician and he showed me a little bit of what he does and then got to also see a lot of different types of farms in that way, too.

Jenny:

Actually that's another question I had for you, was how far has your career taken you? Because I know you do a lot in the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia area.

How far have you been able to travel in your career?

Andrea:

I usually have gone to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. That is mostly where my reach is, but I have had inquiries with people in farms in Florida, producers on a wider scale as far as interviewing goes out West. I am very excited. I get the opportunity to go out West in Utah and do some ranch photography, which is a bucket list thing for me.

Jenny:

That’s fantastic. That’s a perfect segue into my next question about you being a photographer. Not only do you do an amazing job telling stories with words, but you do have a knack for capturing those stories in photography, Andrea.

What prompted you to pick up a camera?

Andrea:

We all know writing goes a little better with the photos, so I've always done these, what you would consider stock photos for my articles, but it wasn't until I started my job at Hoard's Dairyman in Wisconsin and the art director and the managing editor there really, I felt, saw potential in the way that my eye took to certain photos. In a way, being an artistic person, I feel like most of those people are really introverted type personality people, and I am one of them. I actually really enjoy taking the camera. It's like a button clicks in my head and it's a comfort zone that you go into. It's your job, but you really have to love it. It has really opened up some doors for me in that avenue.

Jenny:

What would you say is your favorite part of the photography piece?

I know you get to do a lot of ag events and you get to meet a lot of different people. What do you think has been your favorite part of that aspect of your job?

Andrea:

For me, the agriculture. We get to go to a Maryland ag dinner each year and I get to be behind the scenes a little bit with being able to take photos of the products, but also the people that are involved. That actually creates more links in a way that I get to go to more farms or work with people like Farm Credit or fairs. So for me, that's been really the enjoyable part.

Jenny:

How would you say your career has changed since this pandemic took over back in March? What sort of changes happened at that time?

Andrea:

A lot of my work generated into writing because we weren't able, as photographers, to go onsite or work with those families or communities that I often work with, or even weddings. The more ag based or essential work popped up in the forefront for me. I was able to really supplement essentially what I love to do. So the pandemic, I think, brought more of what I really enjoy to light. It actually in a weird way has been a positive thing for me and my family.

Jenny:

That's good to hear.

How, through your lens or in your experiences talking to others throughout this time, have you seen the ag industry as a whole pull together and support one another?

Andrea:

The ag community has a sense of purpose I think within itself when we don't even have a pandemic happening. I think with this time, we're seeing a lot more of that ag industry help come to feed our communities and really help serve those individuals or families that are in need of food or product. That's been a really nice thing to see within that.

Jenny:

That is. It's been very uplifting, actually. For those who might not be directly involved in the industry, or maybe they're involved in some capacity, not as a producer,

what can we do to support the industry right now as we go through this whole pandemic?

Andrea:

From a consumer standpoint, buy locally. I'm not just saying locally down the street, either. There is that sense too, but within the US. I think buying products within our own country is a positive thing. It's going to help us boost our economy. Also remembering to use patience and grace when interacting with people and when things change is a good plan.

Jenny:

Yeah. That's a great reminder for everyone. I did another interview not long ago with Debbie Wing, the communications director for the Farm Credit Council. One thing we talked about is how it's crucial right now for producers to be sharing their stories and stories about their operations and maybe even how they've pivoted their operation during this time to continue to serve their communities as you mentioned before.

Why is it so important for producers to be sharing their stories and how do you recommend that they do this?

Andrea:

We all know social media is a big one for getting your story out there. Even just going to your local grocery store, a church group, school, being a mom just in my own home setting, the friends that you're around is a good way to really transpire your story. For me, as far as sharing your story, it really puts a realistic twist to things. It personalizes it a little bit more, and it really voids those stereotypes that I think the agriculture industry has going against them.

Some of my biggest influencers were people who didn't go to college or have an extended education past high school. I think that stereotype is really damaging. There are just as many educated individuals using my grandfather, my own father, for example, that are really good at their craft and I think that trust needs to be mended within our consumer producer relationships.

Jenny:

We were talking before I hit record on this one - your most important role is as a mom to your son.

How has your family been coping during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Andrea:

We certainly have been very blessed to have health. I know many people are struggling out there. Being a mom within a pandemic, I think more people are beginning to relate to the teleworking issues that might come with having a child or that you had mentioned your pet. So within that, that's been hard, but we've been very blessed in that we have a supportive family life here. My siblings and my parents and my son's grandparents, have really been supportive of how we've lived and had to do work remotely.

I think with being a mom, it makes me a little bit more relatable with clients because I know with kids not everything goes smoothly all the time. You have to be a little bit more forgiving or patient. I think as far as just having the mom link in there with a business, it makes you also a little bit more relatable. Setting realistic expectations, I think is what I'm getting at.

Jenny:

I feel like that would make you a fantastic newborn photographer, too. I know being located here in central Maryland, there's a lot of talk about schools being up in the air for this coming fall.

Do you have any tips or tricks for parents out there that you've found to be helpful with your son in kindergarten?

Andrea:

I think being realistic in setting expectations for yourself. Not everyone's perfect. Not everything is perfect. We're all trying to adapt to a situation that is different. Taking that family time to recharge and giving yourself a break is definitely important. I think it helps whatever job you have, strengthen your ability to do that job better when you're coming back refreshed or recharged.

Jenny Kreisher:

What advice would you have for someone who maybe loves photography or writing and is thinking of making a career out of it?

Or what's something that you wish you knew when you decided to go out on your own? What advice would you have to yourself now or someone like you?

Andrea:

I think two things stand out for me. One is definitely being able to take critique well. Not taking it personal if your work gets changed a little bit, or if you need a little bit more guidance in a certain area, because you really are there to help your client achieve what they need. So that definitely early on was a lesson for me, a wake-up call. But, I think it helped me to be a little bit better at my job now.

The second would be to surround yourself with people smarter than you. I know that sounds weird, but always have that ability to learn. You can never learn everything. Knowing it all is not a possibility. I think challenging yourself to be better and do better and learn more, whether it's continuing education classes or being in the room and feeling like you don't have all the answers is really humbling, but also a good tool within what I do.

Jenny:

That's great advice, Andrea. I have one more for you as we wrap it up here today. I appreciate your time, but the last one is the question we ask everyone before we sign off for each podcast. And that would be:

What do you advocate for in ag?

Andrea:

That’s a loaded question. I like it though. I think for me, everyone has a story to tell. I advocate because I want there to be a story for future generations to tell. We're all on the same playing field within the ag community and we should be working together for the industry. So really trying to tell the story and really trying to provide that future so others can enjoy it. It's really important to me.

LINKS:

Website: https://www.alhwordandimage.com/

Instagram: @alhwordandimage