For many kids growing up, competition meant taking the football field on a Friday night or outpacing a competitor on the track, but for OSU junior Lea Kimley, it meant stepping into a show ring with a pig she had bred and raised herself.
Since she was little, Lea spent her free time traveling year-round with her family to compete at national pig shows, and she’s maintained her hobby into college as well. Just this summer, she participated in over 20 shows while completing a full-time internship and eventually won the entire summer circuit. The past Ohio State Fair champion raises and trains her own pigs and, come show time, presents them to a judge who evaluates her showmanship skills and the animal’s conformation.
What once started as a casual family 4-H project, has since turned into a full show pig operation now with over 100 sows Lea and her family raise and sell to other families across the country.
“We got started raising them about 11 years ago because we wanted to learn more about that side of things,” said Lea. “Since then, it’s kind of blown up and we’ve been able to build a reputation within the industry to keep a steady business.”
Lea’s dad and brother handle the other side of their family farm, overseeing the growth of their 3,000 soybean and corn acres. Unlike many farms that are handed down for multiple generations, Lea’s parents started the farm all on their own.
“My parents built our farm from the ground up,” said Lea. “And that’s something my brother and I have both always admired.”
Being raised among fields of crops and barns of livestock, Lea and her brother took to the farming life as well. While her brother earned an agribusiness degree and returned home to farm with his dad, Lea decided to put her own twist on an agricultural career. After excelling in FFA public speaking competitions and talking with friends at OSU, she decided to pursue a degree in agricultural communication.
“I didn’t even know the agricultural communication degree existed until I was in high school,” explained Lea. “A friend of mine, who was at Ohio State at the time, told me about the program and the variety of things you can do with it.”
Her coursework covers areas similar to a general communication degree such as writing, graphic design and public speaking, but each class keeps its focus on agricultural topics.
“I grew up cheering for the Buckeyes, but the agricultural communication program is actually why I ended up choosing to attend Ohio State,” mentioned Lea. “I really love the way their program is set up, and I honestly think OSU has one of the best programs if you want the real ag communication experience.”
To complement her coursework, Lea joined several ag-related clubs. Have you seen any of these around campus?
- Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow: Lea is the chapter president of this club focused on sharing the story of farming with the public and hosting special events. For example, at their event called Farmer Share, the club takes students from campus to a nearby dairy farm, so they can learn about what’s being grown and raised in their own backyard.
- Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority: Lea joined the OSU chapter of this national sorority to grow her industry network and make lasting friendships with like-minded women.
- Saddle and Sirloin: This club for livestock lovers allows Lea to connect with her pig-showing friends and stay involved in animal agriculture.
While she’s still figuring out exactly where she wants to land once she earns her degree, Lea knows she wants to spend her career working to the benefit of farmers and helping to share their story.
“It’s important to talk with people about why we have the production efficiencies we do but how we’re still balancing that with their expectations of food safety,” explained Lea. “It’s important to inform about the practices we use, but also let people form their own opinions.”
Whether working in journalism, for a commodity group or a larger company, Lea knows she’ll be staying in the agricultural industry.
“Farming is something that’s been such an important part of my life since the day I was born,” said Lea. “I really can’t imagine doing anything else, or working for any other kind of people.”