May Featured Guest: Jackie Nix (USA)

1: From a wannabe farm girl to have an M.S. in Animal Science. What events in your life have a pivotal effect leading to that career path?

I was born with an innate love of animals and a natural curiosity to figure out “how things work”. That and spending the majority of my childhood on my neighbor’s hog and dairy farm, really cemented the idea that I wanted to work with livestock. At first, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian because in the 1970’s and 1980’s that was the option presented for someone like myself who was college-bound and loved animals.

Once I was in the Animal Science program at Virginia Tech, I learned of the vast career opportunities open within the field of animal agriculture beyond veterinary medicine. This led me to seek my M.S. degree in reproductive physiology from Clemson University and then take a position as a North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent specializing in livestock. Taking advantage of continuing education opportunities, I studied graduate-level ruminant nutrition at North Carolina State University while there. And of course, this skill set led me to my position as an animal nutritionist with an international livestock feed company, where I worked for 17 years.

2: What are some of the challenges and benefits of traditional vs. industrial farming? Which one of these methods do you recommend and why?

Wow! This is a topic that people spend whole careers exploring. I’ll do my best to give a short answer though.

I think the terms “traditional” and “industrial” are misleading and in the end don’t tell us much. There is a mistaken romanticization of farming as a lifestyle rather than as the business pursuit it is. People have bartered and traded farm products like food and fiber even before the modern concept of money.

I think it better to use the terms “small-scale farming” and “large-scale farming.” Some like to think that large-scale farming is a new concept, but it’s been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Medieval landowners operated large-scale farms. But I digress…

In today’s world, some challenges experienced in small-scale farming include controlling production costs, matching the crop to available resources and management style, and finding buyers. Some benefits of small-scale farming are the ability to diversify products offered and pivot business plans relatively quickly, lowered start-up costs and reduced need for outside labor.

The benefits of large-scale farms include advantages due to economics of size – increased production efficiency and the ability to negotiate favorable market prices and input costs (in some but not all instances). Challenges of large-scale farming include the ever-present need for skilled labor, having great amounts of capital tied up in land, buildings, and equipment, and navigating regulations and legal requirements.

Regarding my recommendations, farms are just like any other business. No two are exactly alike, so it is impossible to make blanket statements or recommendations without knowing their specific circumstances. People can be successful in both scenarios. Conversely, people can fail in both scenarios. There is nothing inherently good nor bad about either small-scale farming or large-scale farming.

3: You are also a farming public speaker and a consultant. Does your article writing lead you to become a consultant and public speaker? Which one of these three venues if more satisfying and effective for you?

I am not currently a consultant. However, in my past roles as animal nutritionist and Cooperative Extension Agent, I did directly advise farmers and provide educational opportunities for them. Prior to writing for children, I authored technical articles about livestock production and farming for adult audiences published in magazines, newsletters, websites, etc. I’ve even been first author of two papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I guess you can say that I’ve always been both an educator and a writer in one way or another for the last 30 years.

Today I create children’s books and related curriculum covering many of the same topics. I speak to schools and organizations about the importance of agriculture and how it impacts each of our lives.

4: Now let us talk about your website Moo Maven (www.moomaven.com). Does its catchy name reflect your vision and targeted audience?

That’s sort of a funny story. I certainly didn’t set out to name my publishing company Moo Maven. In the beginning, I always knew I wanted to use “Moo” in the name to reflect my love of cattle as well as my professional expertise. I originally wanted to name my company Moo Press, but that name was taken. So, I had to get creative. I love alliteration and that led me to the word “maven” which by definition means: one who is knowledgeable; an expert. Cow expert fit me so perfectly, I just had to go with Moo Maven.

5: We have reached our awaited destination: Jackie, the children’s picture book author and illustrator! We will now pick up the hay while learning about Modern Farms. From technical writing to a children’s book author, how did the mooing of the cows lead you to that green pasture?

This is both a very complicated and a very simple answer. In 2018, my father was dying of Parkinson’s disease, and I had made the decision to quit my job. I spent an entire year making 2000-mile round trips from my home in Alabama to Ohio where my parents lived until my dad succumbed to his condition. You get to do a lot of thinking when you spend that much time behind a windshield.

After Dad died, I was trying to figure out my next move, and I realized the idea of agriculture advocacy excited me. As I spoke about this more and more, it became clear to me that I could make the most impact reaching 4- to 8-year-olds and their parents. Once I gained this clarity, the rest sort of just fell into place.

6: Your first picture book, Modern Farms, was released in January 2020. Does the Covid-19 Pandemic influence its release day?

January 2020 reflects the turning point when I decided to self-publish my book and what I consider the “start” of my publishing journey. I met my fabulous co-illustrator, Karen Light, at this time and together we set a timeline which led to the release of Modern Farms on June 15, 2021.

The Covid pandemic did influence this timeline though. My original plan was to return to a more traditional job in the agricultural sector first and then publish my book some time in the future. Once we moved into lockdowns it just made the most sense for me to proceed full steam ahead on my book project while waiting to see how the pandemic played out. From there, I chose to start Moo Maven and proceeded to do the hard work of establishing a new small business.

7: As an author and illustrator, what was the most arduous process: the story development or the illustrations? Does your knowledge and experience as a freelance photographer ease the illustrations process?

Honestly, the idea for the book rolled around in my head for months. It just wouldn’t go away. That is what convinced me I HAD to write this book. Once I actually put the first draft to paper it took less than two hours. Of course, I rewrote and refined the first draft multiple times before arriving at what you see today. My process for the illustrations was much the same. I had vague ideas of how I wanted the illustrations to look for a long time before I put them to paper.

I was more intimidated by the illustration process than the writing. As both an artist and a photographer, I understand the rules of composition and such. But even though I’ve drawn my entire life, I had to battle imposter syndrome. However, my co-illustrator, Karen Light, was extremely helpful and coached me through every step of the way. I created the hand-drawn page layouts, and she converted each drawing into the digital color images you see today. We were a wonderful team, and she made the process relatively painless.

8: Has the book successfully reached the targeted audience?

Yes, Modern Farms is really starting to find its audience. Several school systems and public libraries have purchased this book in 2021 and I had modest success through online booksellers. I am working to build upon this momentum for 2022.

9: What is your favorite method of promoting it, and why?

Unlike most authors I’ve met, I actually enjoy the challenge of marketing. It feeds into the creative and problem-solving parts of my brain. Because I’m most comfortable with still images as a photographer and artist, I love creating memes and ads. I do a social media post each weekday called Ag Facts in which I give random trivia facts about various agricultural products that utilizes original memes. That’s my favorite thus far. However, I’m tackling the challenge of making videos, so watch out, that might become my new favorite!

10: Do you also do “farming showcasing” for schools and other organizations working with children? If yes, what do you want the kids to take with them from such an experience?

10: I offer “Meet the Author” visits (now virtually with Covid restrictions) for schools, clubs, and other organizations. Those interested can contact me directly at JackieN@moomaven.com to obtain more information. During these visits I read Modern Farms, going into additional age-appropriate detail about the diverse types of foods mentioned in the book and how they are grown. I might also use visual props, videos, and live drawing on a white board. I also have activity sheets that we can work on together. Every group of children is different, and I adjust accordingly. The conclusion of Modern Farms perfectly summarizes my take-away message, “So remember your food doesn’t just come from a store. It first grew on a farm, so that you could have more!”

11: Where can our readers buy your books and contact you?

Readers can purchase my book from most online retailers. If you go to www.moomaven.com and click “Buy Now”, you will be directed to links at your favorite booksellers. Discounted bulk sales are also available for schools and other organizations.

The Moo Maven website also provides follow links to your favorite social media as well.

And of course, anyone can email me at JackieN@moomaven.com. I love to hear from my readers!

12: A word of advice for parents or educators of wannabe farmer kids.

Don’t think you have to own a farm to have a career in agriculture. Agriculture is a world-wide industry that is so much bigger than the stereotypical notions and kids need to hear this. Agriculture provides highly rewarding career opportunities in many exciting STEM fields like engineering, genetics, agronomy, and information technology, just to name a few. Feeding the world is an extremely rewarding purpose and I highly recommend it!

 

Promo Video: https://youtu.be/e2Q6L8taSnI

Comments

  1. Great interview!

  2. Thank you so much Nancy!

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