By Mike Wilson, Farm Progress Co.
How Christy discovered Ag communications
It started innocently enough: A freshman campus tour at Oklahoma State University. A desire to earn scholarships. Yet, something didn’t feel quite right.
As an incoming student back in 1995, Christy Couch Lee’s father had suggested she go see one of his Ag Econ colleagues, because ‘that’s where the scholarships were.’
“The problem was, I hated numbers,” says the freelance writer, photographer and current AAEA vice president. “Then I discovered Ag Comm and realized, that is what I was meant to do. What I enjoyed most about ag was meeting people and telling their stories. “That’s how I fell in love with ag communications – I knew that was for me.”
Growing up with show cattle
Christy grew up on a purebred cow-calf operation in southern Indiana and exhibited purebred Shorthorns and Simmentals through the national junior associations. She graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1999 with a degree in agricultural communications. She worked as a field editor for the American Quarter Horse Journal; a regional editor for John Deere’s The Furrow magazine; as managing editor of John Deere’s Homestead magazine; and as director of communications for the National Swine Registry.
Christy first learned of AAEA when she was a college student and ACT member. “However, I didn’t become truly involved until I was a regional editor for The Furrow magazine, and then managing editor of Homestead, nearly 20 years ago,” she says. “The John Deere team introduced me to many within this great organization, and I was impressed by the talent and the learning opportunities available.”
Since 2009, she has been the owner of Cee Lee Communications and Cee Lee Photography, serving the writing and photography needs of many agricultural publications and agencies. She also owns a photography business in Hoopeston, Illinois, where she specializes in portraits, including seniors, weddings, families and babies.
Christy served for 11 years on the LPC board of directors, and as the association president from 2013-2014. Currently, she is the AAEA vice president-president elect, and assists with the AAEA freelancer special interest group (SIG).
“I feel like my experience on the LPC board gave me a good perspective leading a similar ag communications organization, and that we can continue to work together at AMS for the greater good of both organizations,” she says.
Tough road ahead
She knows AAEA faces some tough obstacles.
“Our greatest challenge in the year ahead is the ag economy and how it’s impacting our businesses,” she says. “AAEA remains a grass-roots driven organization, so in order to thrive, our members must be active for our organization to move ahead.
“The work being done by the membership committee to help our organization evolve to meet the changing dynamics of our industry will be critical to our success,” she adds. “We have the opportunity to at least look at new segments of members, to expand and include all those who communicate about ag issues. But we do need to keep the foundation of the organization in mind. Change can be a very positive thing but decisions need to be weighed carefully.”
And despite a tough ag economy, Christy is confident AAEA provides great return on investment for members.
“Whether your focus is in writing, photography, editing, videography or management, our programs and special interest groups are designed to help you continually grow and improve at your craft,” she says. “I love networking with the members of this organization. I have yet to leave an AAEA event without feeling inspired.”
She and her husband, Craig, have three children, Waylon, Nolan and Caroline. They live near the Lee family farm in Wellington, Ill., and enjoy being “show parents” in the Hereford cattle industry.