Shepherd Snyder Published

Miss West Virginia Helps Promote Appalachian Agriculture On National Platform

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Miss West Virginia Elizabeth Lynch gives a presentation on agriculture at the Mohegan Sun's Earth Expo & Convention Center in Connecticut.

Martinsburg native and Miss West Virginia Elizabeth Lynch has been making waves nationally as the third-runner up in this year’s Miss America competition.

A five-year member of the organization, she’s used her scholarship money to earn degrees at Delaware State and West Virginia University, and used her platform to be a voice for Appalachian agriculture.

Eastern Panhandle reporter Shepherd Snyder spoke to Lynch about her advocacy work.

The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Snyder: Starting off, I was just wondering if you’d go ahead and introduce yourself for me.

Lynch: Sure! So my name is Elizabeth Lynch, and I am currently Miss West Virginia 2022, I’m 25 years old. I just graduated with my Master’s at West Virginia University in Food and Nutritional Science with a focus on applied poultry nutrition and feed manufacturer research. And then I’ll be starting my Ph.D. this fall.

Snyder: Very cool. Also at West Virginia? 

Lynch: No, no. So at the moment, I’m on my way to Texas Tech University for One Health Sciences. But I just reapplied to the University of Kentucky. When I applied last year, they didn’t have any funding. So having that year off might have just been a blessing in disguise. But I’ll know more in March.

Snyder: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that educational background, having all that experience. You said you were in a master’s program recently at WVU, entering a Ph.D. program, I was wondering how that affects what you advocate for as far as Appalachian agriculture.

Lynch: So my advocacy kind of started when I was five, so it goes back way farther than my education. I started riding horses when I was five years old. And then through 4-H and FFA, I started raising pigs. And I really just fell in love with the idea of being a part of the future of agriculture and that belief in the future of agriculture. But my family doesn’t actually own a farm. I’m a first generation agriculturist. So I was like, ‘How in the world do I contribute to the future of agriculture?’ But then I realized through FFA, that it’s so much more than just cows, sows and plows. There’s so many different opportunities if you want to be a part of agriculture.

So I was like, ‘Okay, I’m really good at science. I’m really good at research.’ And I took that, and I turned it into my agricultural education. So I got my bachelor’s degree at Delaware State University, in animal and poultry science, and I did research with sheep and goats while I was there, and then I moved to Morgantown for my master’s degree, and I did work with poultry. And then I’ll start my Ph.D., again, in an agricultural field, working with food, animals and parasites.

Snyder: I know each Miss America contestant is required to have something that’s called a “social impact initiative,” you chose yours to be advocating for Appalachian agriculture, which kind of ties nicely into…

Lynch: Everything I do! Yeah. So it’s my whole life. So when I got involved in the Miss America system, actually, through (Miss West Virginia Organization Executive Producer) Candy Reid and (Executive Director) Shelley Nichols, they kind of pulled me off the streets. In a sense, I didn’t know anything about this organization, I didn’t have a clue on what I was doing. But I knew that the Miss America organization was the largest provider of scholarships for young women in our nation. And I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna have 10 years of school, let’s figure out a way to pay for that.’ So I got involved in the Miss America system, where we really focus on the public speaking aspect, the interview skills, the professional development. So for me, that was huge, and it’s also paying for my school.

So I really decided to take my passion for agriculture and turn it into my social impact initiative. For me, that was a really easy decision, I wanted to make sure that my community understood exactly where their food came from. I wanted to remind people to thank a farmer or talk about the different agricultural careers. And then I also started my Farmer Friday interviews where I interview agriculturists from all over West Virginia. And now I’m expanding that to different parts of the nation as well. And that kind of gives them a chance to tell their story so that they’re not just hearing my voice all the time.

Snyder: Now, this kind of ties into another question that I want to follow up with. Can you tell me a little bit about the day-to-days, and the responsibilities and what exactly being Miss West Virginia entails? Not just preparing for the events themselves, but all the work and advocacy that kind of comes with that title?

Lynch: So for me, I get to talk about the Miss America organization and the Miss West Virginia organization and my day to day job. I get to advocate for agriculture. And a lot of people are like, ‘Well, you have a crown and a sash. So what do you really do? You kiss babies’ foreheads and ride in parades and call it a day.’ And that’s not it. So my job really entails a lot of public speaking. I do a ton of keynote speeches, I’ve actually been involved in the West Virginia Farm Bureau. And I’ve spoken at different county level Farm Bureau banquets, as well as the state convention. And I was actually recently asked to go speak at the North Carolina Farm Bureau meeting as well. So I’m going to head out there in February and be their keynote speaker. So it’s, again, a lot of public speaking work.

A lot of time for me is working on my social impact initiative and doing my Farmer Friday interviews, visiting farms, visiting farmers markets, lots of social media. And then of course, just trying to make sure that I can recruit young women for this organization, because it’s helped me so much. So why can’t it help somebody else? This is really a job. People don’t look at it like that. But as soon as you get put in this position, you’ll understand that it’s a daily job and something that you have to work at all the time. And that’s not to mention all of the practice before Miss America as well.

Snyder: Yeah, you seem very, very busy both inside and outside of your Miss America, Miss West Virginia duties. You’re mentioning your broadcast series, I saw that you help research feed manufacturing with poultry activists at WVU, or you had in the past. Can you tell me a little bit about some of those extra programs or initiatives you’ve helped get off the ground?

Lynch: Oh my goodness. So I’ve been involved in the Miss West Virginia organization for five years now. And I can’t even begin to tell you how many things I’ve been able to do, how many doors that this has opened for me. And that’s, you know, on top of the organization, on top of my time at WVU, and DSU. So it’s helping out with extension work through the university and teaching different agricultural courses. And it’s working directly with our farmers’ markets to get their names out there. It’s working with our kids and starting the Miss West Virginia Grown Challenge, where they get to grow their own plants and figure out how to get their hands dirty, too. So there’s so many different things I feel like I’ve done, it’s kind of hard to put it all in a list. But there’s a lot, and like I’ve said, this organization has really opened up so many doors for me.

Snyder: Pivoting to just the field of agriculture, you’re an advocate for Appalachian agriculture, specifically. How is that different than agriculture in the Midwest, or the heartland or any other region of the country? Are there any special issues or challenges that come from farming in our neck of the woods?

Lynch: So I actually advocate for both Appalachian and American agriculture. So if you notice, on the Miss America stage, I kind of tried to make sure that I could scale it to the national level, as opposed to just keeping it regional.

So looking at Appalachian agriculture, specifically, we’re looking at a very mountainous region. And that can be a little difficult. So you’ve got more specialty crops in these areas, as opposed to things like big ranges, like you see in the Midwest. So you’ve got more cattle production, more corn production, where there’s a lot flatter land. Where in the Appalachian region, again, very mountainous things. So in West Virginia, specifically, we’ve got a really strong hold on hay and fruit production, as well as poultry production. I know that in 2019, we had 75.5 million broiler chickens that were produced just in the state of West Virginia alone. So it’s insane the amount of work that goes into each individual state that you can pull out that information from.

Snyder: Right. And you mentioned earlier in the interview, you’re actually a first generation farmer. You might be uniquely qualified to answer this question. Why should people who aren’t as familiar with, or aren’t around the world of agriculture, care about the field? Why should they be interested?

Lynch: Oh, this is a really good question. I love talking about this. Why should anybody else care about this? So there’s less than 2 percent of our nation that’s responsible for providing the food, the fuel and the fiber that we utilize every day. Did you have breakfast this morning?

Snyder: I did. 

Lynch: You did? What did you eat?

Snyder: I had, let me think… I had some yogurt and a banana.

Lynch: Oh, okay, so there’s two right there. Did you have any coffee, orange juice?

Snyder: I did, I had a cup of coffee.

Lynch: Sugar and cream in that?

Snyder: Just black coffee.

Lynch: That’s okay, that’s okay. And I see that you’re wearing clothes, obviously that’s pretty important. And then you had fuel in your vehicle to get you here, right?

Snyder: Yeah.

Lynch: Okay. So in one short morning, you’ve utilized five different agricultural commodities. Think about how many times you might utilize that in a day, or how many times you might utilize agriculture in a month. Now think about how many times you would struggle if you didn’t have that resource readily available to you. That’s why it matters. We are so reliant on our agriculturists to make sure that we have things every single day that we have the ability to eat, that we have this table that we’re sitting at that’s made of wood, that is all agriculture. And people tend to really take that for granted. So that’s why people should care. That’s why it’s important.