Justin Rickard was never really interested in higher education. Still, despite his initial reluctance to further his education, he’s now a professor in the ag department at Illinois State University.
“My plan was to work at home on the farm, but my parents are believers in education and it was through their encouragement that I went to community college,” Justin said. “I transferred to ISU and ag seemed like a good fit. Then, in undergrad, I met a professor and loved him. He was relatable, still actively involved in farming where he was from in Missouri, and raising livestock. After my bachelor’s degree, I took a few years off, but my professor, Bryon Wiegand encouraged me to come back and get a Masters degree.”
Halfway through his master’s degree, Justin’s professor had the opportunity to move home and teach at Missouri. When he went back, Just followed him to Missouri and got a degree in meat science. That’s when he received a call from ISU wanting to know if he would be interested in doing some part-time teaching.
“It was a really good opportunity for me to come back home,” Justin said. “I started part time, then started full time in the ag department. Once I got into academia, and saw what an affect one professor can have, well, it was a pretty emotional experience for me. Hopefully I can do the same thing for students that was done for me.”
At Illinois State University, Justin teaches ag classes focusing mostly on meat science. It also led him to start a program that is the first of its kind.
“My production background carrying into my teaching is what led myself and grad student to start something that students refer to as steer contest,” Justin said. “Students purchase pens of steers at ISU and make decisions all the way through market. Then, we bring carcasses back and they learn how to fabricate them. It’s the only program that I know of that does that. Students choose what they’re going to be fed, they choose to implant and choose how market.”
On top of Justin’s teaching, he owns and operates Rickard Farms, LLC, and Rickard’s Premium Meats. Having grown up on a farm east of Heyworth, where his folks still farm, Justin operates his business out of buildings and land his father leases him.
“Right now, I sell beef, lamb and chicken with plans to expand into pork,” Justin said. “I sell whole, half and a quarter of beef. I have a broker’s license which enables me to sell individual packages. I buy calves from father and partner and feed them out. The boilers I get when they’re a day old and feed them out and I just buy weaned lambs and feed them. The interesting thing about being able to feed calves that I get from home is I can trace everything back. One with a particularly good carcass, you know what the breeding was.”
For Justin, the great thing about his full-time job and his part-time job is that they intertwine easily.
“I can interact with students, produces and industry people,” Justin said. “I can tell stories from my home business and those real world stories give me more opportunity to give more real world example in class. Teaching changes the way I look at stuff at home. Many of my students don’t come from traditional farming backgrounds. Of those that come from traditional ag, even fewer come from livestock. That changes the way you approach things and teach. You have students who need those real world examples and experiences.”
More than anything, Justin’s work with his personal business and his teaching career means he has the opportunity to interact with today’s consumers and answer the questions they have about food and food production.
“In the U.S., we have what I consider the safest food supply, globally,” Justin said. “I try to remind people that there’s a difference between the words safe, wholesome, and quality. Safe is food safety. Wholesome is whether or not something is nutritious. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. We can provide food to multiple markets and provide it at less cost than other places.”
Don’t forget to check out all the awesome blogs happening this month over at Prairie Farmer.
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