Industry Women of Influence Ag

Women in Industry/Women in Agriculture: Giving our Adolescents Strong Roots

March 8, 2023 Sydney McCauley, PhD, PAS, Dpl. ACAS-N

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” – Denis Waitley

On “What do you want to be when you grow up?” days at school many of us did not shout, “I want to work in the pet food industry!” at our teachers. What, or who inspired you to pursue this career or industry? For me it was deeper than that; I knew I wanted to be in the animal world and, as I grew older and had more experiences throughout my childhood, I found I really enjoyed feeding animals. Horses, to be exact, at that time. As time went on, I grew to love the general idea of animal nutrition and not just specifically equine. For me, it was not just one person or thing that inspired me to become the woman I am today, in a role that I love. It’s the deep roots of experience laid down from the beginning that have allowed the tree of my life to thrive and grow with each experience I have had along the way.

This is exactly what Mrs. Leary and Ms. Lichtenwalner are doing at their high school. Chelsea Leary and Kelsey Lichtenwalner are two amazing women that have teamed up to teach agriculture to high schoolers in the small town of Edenton, NC. Together, they encourage the agricultural roots of these kids to become stronger by combining curiosity and education.

The foundation that shaped their passions

Many individuals in the agricultural industry do not come from multiple family generations of farmers. Although she grew up in a rural area heavy in farming, Chelsea Leary did not grow up on a farm and her parents were part of other industries. Her curiosity and love sparked in the same way mine did, through horses and showing in 4-H. Her time in 4-H opened opportunities for public speaking competitions, leadership roles, and attending a variety of events, such as horse judging competitions. In high school, she joined Future Farmers of America (FFA) which pushed her even further in providing experiences that would create the confident and knowledgeable person (today you would never know she was a shy kid) and teacher she is today. She knew while attending college at North Carolina State University, that her heart lay with giving the same opportunities and experiences to the younger kids that she had by becoming an agriculture teacher.

On the other hand, Kelsey Lichtenwalner grew up on her family’s cattle farm. Her dad was the extension beef specialist, and her mom was an elementary school teacher. Just like Mrs. Leary, Ms. Lichtenwalner was heavily involved in 4-H and FFA, they actually did the same programs together and have been best friends ever since. However, when pursuing her degree at North Carolina State University (don’t worry they were also roomies too!), her plans were different. She pursued a career in the private sector of the agriculture industry and worked as a livestock extension specialist for the next eight years. Her family background, however, came back to the forefront and when presented with the opportunity to join forces with Mrs. Leary in teaching agriculture, she jumped at it. The experiences and opportunities these two women were given helped them explore different aspects of the industry and thrive in their current positions.

Mrs. Leary and Ms. Lichtenwalner (second and third from left) in their high school FFA.

Exploration and exposure to agriculture

The teenagers in Mrs. Leary and Ms. Lichtenwalner’s program at John A. Holmes High School are immediately immersed in the world of agriculture. It begins with the responsibility of caring for the animals that they have at the school. These animals range from layer hens to guinea pigs and rabbits. Students explore the responsibilities of caring for the hens, processing the eggs that are produced from their hens, and hatching and caring for chicks. Students interested in small animal pet care are tasked with caring for guinea pigs and rabbits. Additionally, they work with the local animal shelter to help handle and care for their rabbits and assist in getting them adopted. In addition to the animals at the school, students can get hands-on experience with large animals as well. Students are given the opportunity to go to both teachers’ farms where they can work with lambs to show in livestock shows and interact with horses.

Feeding and caring for the chickens.

At John A. Holmes High School, the agriculture program also has a greenhouse. Here students who have never planted anything sow their first seed and other students further their knowledge of the science behind horticulture. Not only do they plant seeds and transplant plugs, but students also get the opportunity to look at the business side of things. In the fall and spring, they have sales where they sell the plants that they have worked hard growing to the community. Additionally, Mrs. Leary and Ms. Lichtenwalner have acquired a hydroponics system for their students to begin exploring growing produce that the culinary classes will eventually utilize.


By the end of the curriculum, students will have skills that will be necessary for any career path they choose. Mrs. Leary and Ms. Lichtenwalner have their students teach younger kids and the local community about agriculture, thus providing public speaking opportunities. Additionally, they ensure that their students have the skillsets for going through job interviews and writing a resume. If students wish to pursue more beyond the core classes, Mrs. Leary and Ms. Lichtenwalner offer agriculture industry credential opportunities such as:


Student teaching 2nd graders about chickens

Roots they hope to strengthen

Many of the students that enter into the agricultural program at John A. Holmes High School have never had a direct connection with agriculture. These two women must be able to juggle the diverse experiences some of these students may or may not have and can engage them to create a space that teaches those that are new to the industry, expand on what some may already know, or open the doors to another sector of the agricultural industry that they may have never even knew existed. They have done this by creating a space that takes textbook learning and has students apply it to the practice, letting their curiosity lead them to discoveries.

"My vision of the future is no longer just of people taking exams, earning a secondary diploma, and proceeding on to university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their activity, through their effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual." — Maria Montessori, The Erdkinder

Since exploration is a huge part of their program, one thing that Mrs. Leary and Ms. Lichtenwalner hopes are that even if a student decides to not pursue a career in agriculture, they have added to their roots and given them the tools to explore other avenues of interest and thrive. They hope that all their students come out with more knowledge of where their food comes from and have a newfound respect for the work that goes into it. Through the experiences, opportunities, and hands-on learning that they provide, they have made a large impact on how these students view the agriculture industry. While there are amazing women in the pet food industry and the agriculture industry, the women that help shape our industry leaders are also of great importance and deserve standing ovations. They are the ones that have made sure the roots we have are strong and that, regardless of what we chose to do with our life, we will thrive.

About the Author: Dr. McCauley spends her free time with her daughter, husband, and three dogs. She also enjoys showing her horse and helping her husband with their bison farm.

Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest updates on all things happening here, at BSM Partners.  

This content is the property of BSM Partners. Reproduction or retransmission or repurposing of any portion of this content is expressly prohibited without the approval of BSM Partners and is governed by the terms and conditions explained here.