Seth Earl doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind about issues affecting farmers.
He spoke eloquently and authoritatively while winning the 2015 Young Farmer State Discussion Meet during the 96th Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) State Annual Meeting at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and DeVos Place in Grand Rapids last December.
Yet, after earning the honor of representing Michigan at the national level, he almost didn’t make the trip to Orlando to compete in the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmer Discussion Meet just one month later.
The hesitation stemmed from his wife, Lyndsay, being due to give birth the same week as the AFBF national convention and discussion meet. Seth didn’t want to miss being there to share that special moment with her.
“We had talked about it and she told me to go because, ‘You’re going to win.’ It ended up that my daughter, Madisyn, was born Jan. 7, the day before I flew out mid-morning to AFBF for the discussion meet,” he recalled.
“The toughest call I had to make was to tell my wife I got beat. That one stung. I hate getting beat because I’m an ultra-competitive person.”
The couple’s shared passion for ag-vocacy is why MFB named Seth and Lyndsay its State Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture Award winners this year. The Earls are being honored Nov. 29 at the annual MFB Awards Banquet.
“We, as an industry, need to do a better job of telling our story,” Seth insists. “You have to open up the barn doors, because there’s so much more to agriculture. The message we need to get out there is that farming is a complex, highly technological industry that’s constantly evolving. The modern-day farmer is sitting behind a computer, making business decisions. Farmers are innovators and risk takers. We’re growing everyone’s food.
“If we put more of an emphasis on telling that story, you’d see an entirely different public attitude toward our industry,” the 32-year-old Mason County Farm Bureau president said. “It needs to be told, because people will listen.”
Seth, a district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Lyndsay, a Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA) member representative, are uniquely positioned to share the modern story of agriculture.
Both are outspoken and well-spoken millennials who understand that farmers need to be much more proactive in educating the general public—especially the “foodie culture” in America—about where its food comes from.
They organize local farmers to promote the Mason County commodities as part of the “Friday Night Live” festivities during the summer months in downtown Ludington. The free event is part street fair and part farm exhibit.
It attracts between 8,000 to 9,000 people and features farmers offering samples of their products and farm animals for children to pet—all for the purpose of helping creating a friendlier dialogue between farmers and the non-farming public.
“We’re promoting agriculture,” said Lyndsay, 29, who serves as Young Farmer chair of Mason County Farm Bureau. “We have a bunch of baskets of Mason County products just showcasing what we have in the area and in the county. We have a couple of calves down there so kids can come and pet the calves, and just get to know what we have in the area and where their food actually comes.
“It’s all about making that connection between the farmer and the public.”
Seth said it’s important to keep making and affirming those connections so that popular misconceptions about agriculture are dispelled.
“There’s a face behind every product at the grocery store,” Seth said. “There’s a set of hands that planted it, a set of hands that grew it and a set of hands that produced it. These people are no different than you or I. We need to embrace who we are, we need to embrace our industry and we need to be open to questions and innovation.”
Seth and Lyndsay, who reside in Hamlin Lake with daughters McKenzie, 2, and Madisyn, 9 months, come from different backgrounds.
Lyndsay is part of the Stakenas Farms family and was raised on a dairy farm that milks approximately 500 cows, spans 1,600 acres and includes corn, hay, wheat and pumpkins. Seth grew up around agriculture in Reading, just east of Coldwater, and he worked on Hillsdale County dairy farms, although he wasn’t raised on a farm.
She graduated from Michigan State University with an animal science degree and an emphasis on agribusiness, while he graduated from MSU with a two-year degree in agricultural industries and a four-year degree from Colorado State University in soil and crop science.
Their shared appreciation for agriculture ultimately is what caused their paths to intersect.
“We met when Seth was working with my dad on a project through his job,” Lyndsay recalled. “My dad said, ‘I have a daughter you need to meet.’ We were friends for a couple of years and then we started dating later on. We met in 2008-09 when he moved up here, and we started dating about two years later. Shortly after we started dating, I moved down to Coldwater for a job.
“I worked down there for Michigan Milk Producers for a year, and, after being down there a year, we decided that we’d like to get married.”
Lyndsay accepted a job with MMPA as a member representative, working with 70 farms in four counties on quality control and animal care, and moved back to northern Michigan. Now, she and Seth both help out with her family’s farm.
She could tell from the moment they first met, Seth had an ambitious streak in him.
“He’s very outgoing and very determined, and he’ll get any job done,” Lyndsay said. “After being friends for a couple of years, we just realized we had a lot of common interests and we met up one night and he fed me a line from a movie that, ‘I’d rather have one summer with you than none at all.’ So, we hung out for the summer. I was planning on moving down state at the time.
“And, well, the rest is history,” she added with a laugh.
After getting married, they decided to start a family, but both felt strongly it should be done close to her parents’ farm.
“Both Lyndsay and I, we talked at length a long time ago about the importance of raising our family here,” Seth said. “This is a fourth-generation dairy farm and our kids will have an opportunity come back and be a fifth generation. Even though Lyndsay and I aren’t involved in day-to-day operations, her whole family feels it’s really important for all generations and all relatives to get a really good experience of this way of life. We agreed.”
It’s why they spend a lot of time with their children on the farm. It’s further why they’re involved in efforts like “Friday Night Live,’ part of Mason County Farm Bureau leadership and why they serve together on an advisory committee that helped start an FFA program in their county last year.