The statewide competition to determine the Virginia Beef Ambassador will be held for the first time in Rockingham County next year, thanks to Hinton student Stephanie Shank.
Shank, a 19-year-old sophomore at Blue Ridge Community College and graduate of Turner Ashby High School, was chosen to represent the state as the current beef ambassador at Virginia 4-H Congress in June.
She competed against 21 other state representatives in Sacramento, Calif., in the national contest at the end of September.
While she didn’t make the five-person national team, she did come back with ideas about how Virginia could improve its statewide competition, which has been less than popular the last few years.
In 2009, Brad Copenhaver of Washington County made the national team, but since then, state involvement has been on the decline. For the last three years, Virginia has not had a beef ambassador.
Changing The Competition
The state beef ambassador competition used to be separate. Blended with the Foods and Nutrition contest at Virginia 4-H Congress, fewer students were showing up to compete, according to Debbie Snead, who’s headed up the state beef ambassador efforts since 1990.
After returning from California, Shank contacted Dara Booher, head of the 4-H program for the Rockingham County Virginia Cooperative Extension office, requesting help overhauling the competition. The pair got permission to switch to Rockingham from Jason Carter, executive director of the Virginia Beef Industry Council.
The council, which includes Snead, sponsored Shank this year and has agreed to sponsor next year’s competition as well.
The Virginia Beef Ambassador competition will take place at the Virginia Beef Expo next spring at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.
“Dara and Steph could localize that [information] and put it into the beef territory of the beef expo,” Snead said. “It just fits perfectly into that component.”
Shank said she was “kind of out of the loop” at the national contest, which takes contestants through four levels of competition in one grueling Saturday. The Virginia challenge, on the other hand, involves judges evaluating a 10-to-15-minute speech and poster regarding the beef industry.
“Now we’re trying to revamp the state contest,” Shank said. “We’re kind of working to change the contest to mock the national one … [and] bring the contest back to its former glory.”
Shank is hoping to continue the project during her transition from a 10-year member of Dayton-based Creative Chefs 4-H Club to a 4-H volunteer.
‘Opened Up So Many Doors’
Jackie Lohr, one of the state’s first beef ambassadors and daughter of Shank’s 4-H leader, Lena Osborne, encouraged Shank to get involved with the program this year.
Much of Shank’s time as ambassador has been spent preparing for the national contest, which required her to give a presentation to three local organizations, as well as promote beef at a local supermarket before she even crossed the California state line. She gave presentations to local 4-H groups and Girl Scouts, and championed beef at Red Front Supermarket and the Rockingham County Fair.
Once in the Golden State, she had to provide a written response to a current news issue — this year, it was about grass-fed versus grain-fed beef. She was also required to participate in a mock media interview and consumer promotion and discuss with judges her presentations.
Shank says she owes much of her first-hand farm knowledge to her parents, Sheldon and Barbara Shank. She’s lived on their dairy farm, Double “S” Dairy, since the day she was born.
She hopes to transfer to JMU after she graduates from BRCC this spring and plans to major in elementary education. Her dream is to teach second grade at a local school and stay involved with Rockingham County 4-H, which she says has helped to mold her over the last decade.
“4-H has literally done so much for me; I cannot even explain in words,” she said. “Some people would rather die than speak in public; [public speaking] comes easily to me, and that’s because of 4-H. It was really hard, but I pushed myself and, with the help of my peers, it’s opened up so many doors for me.”
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com