KALAMAZOO — Winter storm What’s-His-Name whimpered away when almost 350 young farmers from as far away as the western U.P. gathered in Kalamazoo Feb. 9-11 for Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) 2018 Young Farmer Leaders Conference. The annual gathering of the state’s up-and-coming agricultural generation defied the elements, braving unplowed roads and dodging highway pile-ups en route to the biggest event on the Young-Farmer calendar.
The trio of regional ag-related facility tours departed on schedule early Friday afternoon, albeit with itineraries trimmed to account for dramatically increased between-stop travel time. Despite the weather-induced cancellations, rapt patrols of Young Farmers were still able to tour Mendon Seed Growers, Sportel Greenhouse, Kellogg’s, Binder Park Zoo, Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery and the Kalamazoo Nature Center.
Day two was dominated by an ambitious agenda of breakout sessions drilling down into dozens of topics relevant to every corner of modern agriculture.
Nitty-gritties of the farm environment was addressed in workshops about farm shop layout; silage management; on-farm safety; livestock health protocols; and a pair of finance workshops. Ever-advancing technologies were the focus in sessions about agricultural mobile apps; new herbicide-resistance options.
The tremendous—and too often overlooked—human factor was examined from several angles, from social etiquette and intra-family communication to stress management and human resources.
Updates on Farm Bureau organizational programs looked at farmer engagement in the political system; leadership development opportunities within MFB’s Young Farmer program.
An outreach theme urging attendees to expand their willingness and acumen at better communicating with the vast non-farming majority ran throughout the conference.
A breakout session rooted in Farm Bureau’s popular Promotion & Education program highlighted the popular Ag in the Classroom program. Donna Moenning from the Center for Food Integrity briefed attendees on CFI’s findings on building trust within the food sector and the power of shared values in communicating with consumers.
That research was validated in a luncheon panel of millennial parent consumers, who, in explaining the rationale behind the choices they make buying food for themselves and their families, made real for the farmer audience the gap of understanding that’s grown to separate farmers from consumers over the past 100 years.
Social programming included a euchre and cornhole tournament Friday evening and a popular DJ Trivia contest Saturday night. Both played on the innate competitiveness inherent in the Young Farmer demographic and between districts.
“From the outside looking in, it’s easy to look at Young Farmer social events and think they’re all about barley and hops, but the reality is—and the more ‘senior’ Young Farmers will tell you this—the reality is the camaraderie and community-building that happens in these settings is priceless,” Schnabelrauch said. “Later in life we call it ‘networking,’ but when you’re in your 20s, it looks more like hanging out and finding common ground with your peers from across the state.”
The same competitiveness that makes cornhole more serious than it looks also buoyed fundraising efforts throughout the event.
Inter-district one-upmanship in the annual Change War led to a staggering Harvest for All donation totaling almost $3,500, with District 3 ($2,044) surprising early pace-setter District 8 ($324) in an epic, come-from behind upset.
And an auction of member-made, farm-themed items raised more than $4,800 for Harvest for All through the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
A keynote address from western rodeo standout Amberley Snyder capped off the conference, sending the cohort of Young Farmers home with a sobering message of hope and encouragement. Titled “Get Back on the Horse,” Snyder’s presentation detailed her rise to rodeo stardom at an early age, then the day that world changed forever—in a gruesome rollover accident that rendered her paralyzed from the waist down.
Wheelchair-bound since that day in early 1991, Snyder’s story is one of psychological recovery and resiliency, and of finding new ways to pursue greatness and fulfill the promise of one’s spirit.
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference,” Snyder counseled, “We all have moments of fear, growth, change… Allow them to shape you into something better … and don’t be afraid to accomplish what you can accomplish.”
Even without the use of her legs, she’s returned to competitive rodeo and is committed to walking again someday.
“Four years after my accident, I was invited to speak at an elementary school in Arizona, where a young boy asked me a question I didn’t see coming: ‘If you could go back to that day and change it, would you?’
“First I thought ‘well yes, of course,’ but then I thought about all the good things—all the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve been given because of this silly chair. I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason, and I thought, there’s a reason I’m in this chair.
“There’ll be times in life when we don’t understand ‘why,’ but I promise you: you’re tougher than you ever imagined. So I challenge you: next time you have that moment of doubt, dig a little deeper.
“You can get back on the horse, no matter what happens in life.”
To get involved with your county Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer program, contact your county Farm Bureau office or MFB regional representative.