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Spotlight on … Jamie Tiralla

Spotlight on … Jamie Tiralla

October 2021

Manager, Communications
American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA)

You joined AF&PA at an interesting time.

I did. I came on board April 1, 2020, when other staff were already working from home. I still have yet to have a full-time office experience with the association — plus, I am now on maternity leave. As challenging as the past year and a half has been, I think for a lot of us, working from home helped us maintain our work-life balance.

This is especially true, I’d think, if you own a farm.

Oh, definitely. My husband and I own Monnett Farms, a 100-acre farm in Prince Frederick, Maryland, about an hour southeast of Washington. We raise beef cattle, sheep and goats, and a few chickens, and about half of the farm is in pasture, meaning that’s where we raise grass for the livestock to eat. For farmers, the work never ends. There is always something to do, year-round. Of course, chickens are pretty low maintenance; our children can pretty much take care of the chickens. It’s helpful to have a job that isn’t on the farm, if only to be with other people. A lot of farm work you do by yourself.

You also started work at AF&PA at an interesting time in terms of issues you were working on.

That’s right. People were very concerned about the possibility of toilet paper shortages, so we were dealing with communications challenges about that. Concern over toilet paper shortages are, of course, concerns about the reliability of supply chains in general. I am proud to represent an industry that worked to deliver products that people rely on. Supply chains and sustainability are closely connected, and one reason I like working for this association is because they take both very seriously. An area of my responsibility at AF&PA is our sustainability communications. I write our sustainability report, among other duties. We just released our new sustainability goals, “Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future.” It’s a very exciting time to be here.

You mentioned earlier that most people don’t really understand what is involved in agriculture these days. Can you talk about that?

Sure, there is a lot of educating we have to do, and most of my career I’ve been involved in helping farmers and farm groups better communicate and market themselves and their products and services. People either have an idyllic idea of farming that they might have picked up from nursery rhymes, or they have an equally distorted idea that is almost totally negative. Some people think farmers are out there with a bucket of grain tossing it by hand to their livestock, or they think of so-called factory farms, where everything is automated in the worst caricature of industrialization. Neither image is really accurate.

In what way?

The idyllic idea doesn’t take into consideration the extent to which even small farms like ours are small businesses. There’s the growing of crops and raising of livestock, of course, but there is also the accounting and marketing farmers have to do. There’s more paperwork than you might imagine. On the other hand, the idea of the farm as a business has been distorted by agriculture’s critics as part of their propaganda. Critics like to conjure up this image of bad “corporate farms,” as opposed to good “family farms.” But that is misleading, too, because most corporate farms are family farms. Most farms are family-owned, and for tax reasons or other legal reasons — for example, when passing a farm from one generation to the next — they are organized in a variety of ways. Some are trusts, for example. Others are LLCs. One thing I have tried to do in my career — through the firm I started called All Ag Media, for example — is to help farmers position themselves accurately in the marketplace, regardless of their size or structure.

You started your own business, on top of all this other work?

Yes. All Ag Media is a marketing and communications firm. I’m a graphic designer, so I can do their logos and take on assignments like that. I like to work. I like talking to people and hearing their stories, so I did a lot of freelance journalism a few years back. This was mainly for regional and specialized ag publications, but it led to my communications work today. Sometimes writing the story was just a reason to visit people on their farms and meet them and hear what they were doing.

But you started your career in a totally different area, right?

I did. Right out of high school, instead of going straight to college, I studied at the Gemological Institute of America, near San Diego, which is a trade school. I learned about gems and assessing their value, things like that. I was working as a jewelry appraiser when I met my husband, Benson, who is a land surveyor in addition to being a farmer. We decided to start our farm business after we got married, and my career path veered away from jewelry and more toward agriculture and of course communications. I’ve always been interested in marketing and communication. So college came later for me. I have a bachelor’s in communications from the University of Maryland University College and a master’s in strategic communications from American University.

You’re doing all this and have five children?

I guess I’ve never liked downtime.

Reach Tiralla at [email protected].

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