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Embarking on a cross-country tour

Iowa State University ag student and blogger Natalina Sents, far right, traveled with her ag entrepreneur class to five states and Ireland. Now she plans to embark on a tour of farms in all 50 states after graduation. submitted photo

I’ve never been very good at following the norm. For as long as I can remember, doing things differently has been my style. Some people say I’m crazy, that I’m having a quarter-life crisis. Others call me brave. I’ll leave the verdict up to you.

My favorite childhood memories were made crafting projects for 4-H and dreaming up inventions for science fair contests. I was blessed with parents that never discouraged my whimsical daydreams or summer lemonade stands. It wasn’t until later I learned it was an entrepreneurial spirit that motivated me to sell pet rocks and dandelions at the end of our driveway. My dad always let me contribute my thoughts to his current community involvement, no matter how childish. Growing up in a small town, I was surrounded by people who believed in my different proposals and supported creativity.

Teachers, neighbors and family friends embraced my wide range of interests. Although I didn’t grow up on a farm, I always knew I was welcome to see the lambs next door, work at the local melon farm and ride along with friends in the tractor or combine. My passion for agriculture started there. As my FFA advisor and others saw this, they encouraged me to run with it.

Maybe that’s why I never grew out of these wild ideas. My dreams just got bigger. In high school, I didn’t get a job at the Dairy Sweet or grocery store like all my friends. Instead, I made up my own as a farmers market vendor for FFA. Later, when prom rolled around, my homemade duct tape dress was one of a kind. While I grew, this offbeat mind-set became part of who I am.

After high school, the next step was college, but my story remained far from typical. While looking at schools, the large university setting at Iowa State University seemed like the last thing I wanted. I assumed everyone there got a cookie cutter education and graduated with relatively similar experiences, and that was not for me. Boy, was I wrong! After some convincing and following around a few students, my mind was made up. Ames would be my home for the next four years while I studied agricultural business.

As a Cyclone, my unique adventure began when a postcard from the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Ini­tiative (AgEI) arrived in my dorm mailbox. The next day, I walked into the AgEI office to claim my free T-shirt, completely unaware of all the opportunities the initiative offered. In addition to the shirt, I learned of the clubs, classes and trips that make up the program and would set the direction of my career. I’m so thankful it eventually connected me with some of my greatest mentors, closest friends and most inspiring role models. Thanks to the AgEI office, I’ve been to Ireland and toured five states, just in the last year. Over four years, the program has given me the skills to start a blog and document the thousands of miles we’ve traveled in a school Chevy Suburban visiting entrepreneurs. These road trips opened my eyes to a world beyond corn and cattle and gave me the opportunity to experience aquaculture, poultry production and agritourism.

For the last year and a half that blog, Roots, has been my creative outlet. What started as a way to improve my writing and keep in touch with extended family has evolved into a growing agvocacy platform. Now, between classes and work you can find me drafting posts and scheduling social media to share my agricultural passion. Friends laugh as I snap photos of our trips, food and class projects. I can’t go anywhere without someone smirking, “Are you going to blog about this?”

Maybe all this is why nobody was surprised when I announced my post-graduation plans that were less than traditional. Just before Christmas, prayers were answered, cards fell into place — and I turned down all job offers.

While my classmates are accepting full-time positions and buying houses, I’m making sure my car is in tip-top shape and planning my biggest adventure yet. I’ve committed to freelancing my way around the country for at least the next year. In May, I’ll begin traveling to each of the 50 states sharing the stories of agriculture. Big, small, conventional and non-traditional agriculture have a positive, long overdue tale to tell. Through Roots and social media, my followers will meet the people that feed and fuel our busy lifestyles. I can’t wait to connect people with agriculture in their own backyard and inspire them to go see it at work across the nation.

Whether you’re interested in where your food comes from, meeting the people who grow it or just want to keep up with a fellow daydreamer, you can follow the next chapter of my journey by checking out my blog at www.therootsjourney.com. Follow Roots on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, as well. Feel free to reach out to suggest travel stops, and keep your eyes peeled for a crowd-funding campaign in the spring. I’ll be thrilled to have you along on Roots’ road trip!

Sents (pictured above - far right) is a freelance writer, blogger and Iowa State University student in ag business.