Tenth-grade Georgia student Emma Pitman’s exposure to the dairy industry in middle school and FFA was her inspiration for writing a book, Just a Glass of Milk: The Story of a Girl and her Dairy Cow.
“When it came to the idea of fundraising for our agriculture program and what I could contribute, I decided I was going to write a story,” Pitman says. “I could fundraise and share my story.”
The spark for Pitman’s interest in agriculture ignited while in middle school, thanks to the encouragement of her ag teacher and FFA adviser Katlyn LaVelle Thomas. Pitman, living in a suburban area with limited exposure to agriculture, found her connection through Thomas which led to exhibiting in the dairy project at a local county fair.
“She’s always supported me. Looking at agriculture from an urban standpoint, a lot of people find they have to be in a certain box or mold to get involved with agriculture activities or have livestock,” Pitman says. “But she never made me feel like I didn’t belong here.”
Thomas’s unwavering support and guidance provided Pitman with the confidence to explore new avenues despite her lack of agriculture experiences. This relationship was vital in fostering Pitman’s newfound passion for agriculture.
“I don’t know what in her mind triggered her to say, ‘Oh yeah! I want to do this (write a book.)’ I don’t know what I said or what she heard, but something clicked and she said 'Let’s do that,'” Thomas says. “For any student, my goal is to be there to cultivate their passion.”
The children’s book is based on a true story about Pitman’s experiences exhibiting a dairy heifer at the county fair. With the assistance of Thomas and a local dairy farm, Pitman was paired with a calf named Maggie as a first-year exhibitor.
“I got into showing and realized how cool it was and how in love I was with all the farm animals. Learning more about agriculture each day and also seeing how much time and dedication I was putting into caring for my animal and being present each day, it inspired me to want to share that with others,” Pitman says, now completing her third year as a dairy youth exhibitor.
With the help of a community connection and college graphic design student Emma Chandler, Pitman’s book came to life through vibrant illustrations and text. Through the book, the reader is taken on a journey of what preparing and the day of a show looks like for a dairy youth exhibitor. The story unwinds to not only offer a peek into the world of exhibiting in the dairy project but also valuable life lessons.
“Building a greater appreciation and understanding for the agricultural community is the purpose of the book,” Pitman says. “The overall message and takeaway is not necessarily the competition, but more so what we learn from caring for these animals.”
Additional motivation came from Jay Moon of Moon Dairy where the heifer Maggie is housed.
“He was very excited to see not only was I inspired by the experiences he’s given me, but how I noticed everything that happened and how I wanted to share that with other people,” Pitman says after gifting the farmer his very own copy.
Pitman’s book has resonated with her community, gained support from fellow agriculture advocates and found a place in school libraries. She described the experience as humbling to know it is reaching audiences across the nation.
“It’s really made a difference in our community in honoring dairy workers,” Pitman says. “They loved seeing the book published and somebody noticing everything they do. Then they decided to share it with someone else.”
Additionally, Pitman’s engagement in pageants complements her role as an agriculture advocate, and she currently serves as Royal International Miss Georgia Junior Teen.
“I know my story very well,” Pitman says. “But trying to describe it to others who haven’t seen or may not know anything about agriculture and trying to put it in simpler terms so they can understand was challenging.”
While she comes from a non-farming background, Pitman still found her place in the agricultural community when she felt heard by her ag teacher.
“When it comes to glitz and glam, that is her jam. Even though I’m a female in agriculture, it’s also my jam as a glittery glitzy person,” Thomas says after teaching Pitman for three years. “There’s not a mold. You can be who you are and do different things and still enjoy agriculture.”
Pitman started her book-writing journey in 2022 with the guidance of her mother and was able to bring her creation to life by early 2023. Partnering with Amazon and acquiring an international standard book number (ISBN) made her commitment to sharing her story on a broader scale a reality.
“It’s really cool to see my story is getting out there,” Pitman says. “It’s cool to go through the whole publishing process. I couldn’t actually see it and really envision it as a real thing that people are going to look at, read to their kids and share with other people until it was in my hands.”
Proceeds earned from the book go back to where it all started for Pitman, the Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy FFA chapter in Georgia which was chartered just four years ago. She recognizes the need for funding to grant others the same opportunities she’s had.
“After publishing the book, my first thought was 'How can I turn around and give that back to the next person?'” Pitman says, who’s now serving as a chapter FFA officer.
Over $1,000 has been donated, and the back of the book includes more information about the FFA program because without it her agriculture story would not have begun.
“Those agriculture education programs are really the foundation of stories like this and how many kids, like me, have experiences like mine,” Pitman says.
Many times students like Pitman say agriculture teachers influence them, but it can also happen the other way around.
“As much as I have inspired Emma, she really is truly an inspirational young person,” Thomas says. “As an agriculture educator, I feel our jobs are almost like multiple jobs in one. We teach all day, promote FFA, have farm responsibilities among many other things, so when you have a student you can inspire at least even a little bit, it makes it much more worth it.”
During a busy time of the school year on Thomas’s 30th birthday, she found a gift from Pitman waiting to be opened. Reading the book brought the teacher to tears.
“I sat down to read it, and I just cried because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so great. I can’t believe she did this and I got to be a tiny part in this journey for this student,’” Thomas says.
From interactions in the classroom to students, Thomas hopes the story can encourage other young people.
“Hopefully, it’ll inspire other students to get into showing or learning about where their food comes from,” Thomas says.