Four well-deserving Young Farmers who competed with 12 other contestants in four categories – Agriculture Achievement, Excellence in Agriculture, Agriculture Leader and Agriculture Employee – have been announced as winners of Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) 2021 Young Farmer Awards.
They are Ashley Kennedy, Loren King, Michael Genovese and Sara Reisinger.
Every year Michigan’s best young farmers, ages 18-35, face off in categories geared toward measuring their agricultural involvement, leadership and achievements.
“Our Young Farmer Award winners are an elite group of passionate agriculture leaders who take time to give back through service to the agricultural organizations that work to support Michigan’s food and farm sector,” said Megan Sprague, MFB’s Young Farmer program specialist.
“With more than 63 highly-qualified contestants vying for awards this year, these finalists exemplify the hardworking, committed, passionate character of Michigan agriculture.”
The Young Farmer Achievement Award recognizes successful young farmers (individuals or married couples)who derive a majority of their income from an owned production agriculture enterprise and showcases their achievements in the business of farming.
Ashley Kennedy milks 240 head alongside her husband Eric and their youngsters Calli and Adeline. The farm outside Bad Axe also boasts about 600 replacement heifers, 60 steers and 240 acres of corn and hay.
An active member of the Huron County Farm Bureau, Ashley takes considerable pride in the farm’s automated calf feeder barn.
“Building the feeder barn meant completely changing how we manage calves,” she said. “I won’t lie, we have had a lot of growing pains, but today I am raising healthier and bigger calves than ever.”
As a co-owner of the family dairy, Kennedy handles everything from herd care and employee management to recordkeeping and field work. Technology plays a big role in the operation’s prosperity, with four robotic milkers and automated feeding systems.
The farm is a study in measured generational transition, with Kennedy and her husband gradually taking ownership one component at a time, along with taking on equipment investments and building projects.
Future goals include further diversification and moving toward more direct-to-consumer marketing of niche products like heirloom beans and Wagyu beef.
The other three Achievement finalists were Ben and Jessica Bryant (Isabella County), Robyn Fogarasi (Arenac) and Isaiah Wunsch (Northwest Michigan).
As the state winner, Kennedy receives a Kubota tractor; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; up to $1,000 of business/estate consultation from Clark Hill; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Annual Meeting to compete in the national competition, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The Excellence in Agriculture Award is designed to recognize young farmers (individuals or married couples) for their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau.
Loren King’s home farm is in St. Joseph County, where his family raises corn and soybeans near Burr Oak. That family includes his siblings Jared and Jacie, and parents Bart and Angie.
King brings to the table a forward-looking perspective keenly trained on the need for improved ag education and consumer outreach, better application of technology toward on-farm problem-solving, and the implementation of public policy to protect agriculture’s progress moving forward.
As a digital media specialist currently living in East Lansing, King works across Michigan agriculture to tell farmers’ stories. His skill in that arena is evident in the recent publication of his undergraduate research paper examining the role of technology in ag education.
In Farm Bureau King sees a means of advancing both his personal goals and larger industry priorities.
“I believe strongly in the idea of a statewide committee that would review the impact of advancements in the industry and make recommendations,” he said. “If a Farm Bureau committee was created to monitor innovation, I would work tirelessly to participate.
The other three Excellence finalists were Darcy and Coy Hansen (Sanilac County), Kyle McCarty (also Sanilac) and Marie and Frank Zwemmer (Gratiot).
As the state winner, King receives a three-month lease of a Michigan CAT Skidsteer; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; up to $1,000 of business/estate consultation from Clark Hill; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Annual Meeting to compete in the national competition, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The Young Farmer Agriculture Leader Award honors successful young agriculturalists who earn most their income from a farm operation for their outstanding leadership in Farm Bureau, farming and throughout the agricultural community.
Michael Genovese runs Summer Dreams cut-flower farm near Oxford, raising 3.5 acres of dahlias and 2.5 acres of peonies, sunflowers, zinnia and cut foliage. He also manages field work at his family's 19-acre Christmas tree farm nearby.
Genovese takes pride in starting his flower business from scratch; it’s now one of the largest dahlia farms in the country. An outspoken advocate for agriculture, he makes the most of his active role in the Michigan and Oakland County Farm Bureaus, engaging in consumer outreach and lobbying farm priorities in Lansing and Washington, D.C.
His “work smarter, not harder” mantra and the scarcity of reliable labor inspired Genovese to mechanize his business as much as possible. For his especially delicate, perishable crops, that’s meant creating much of his own custom equipment.
“As I move forward I think, ‘Can this farm exist without me?’ not because I have plans of selling or leaving,” he said, but instead to drive him toward dialing in every aspect of the business until it’s turn-key, with clear procedures, effective management and financial stability.
The other three Leader Award finalists were Emily Boeve (Ottawa County Farm Bureau), Elaine Palm (Ogemaw) and Sarah Zastrow (Midland).
As the state winner, Genovese receives a lease on a New Holland compact tractor or utility vehicle from Burnips Equipment; a $1000 AgroLiquid Certificate; up to $1,000 of business/estate consultation from Clark Hill; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF FUSION Conference, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The Young Farmer Agriculture Employee Award recognizes farm employees and ag professionals for their contributions to the success and long-term profitability of their workplace. Nominees are also judged on their leadership involvement in Farm Bureau, agriculture and the local community.
Sara Reisinger works at her family’s seventh-generation agritourism destination near Midland, featuring 10 acres of apples and seasonal attractions that bring thousands of visitors annually for baked goods, a corn maze, hay rides and pumpkin patch.
From her early years sorting apples, Sara’s responsibilities have grown to encompass managing 40 staff, organizing tours, managing the retail market, planning events and coordinating social media outreach.
“My goal is to educate consumers,” Reisinger said. “We work to help teach over 5,000 kids and adults about the industry, environment, pollination and more.”
Beyond Farm Bureau, she’s also involved in the Michigan Apple Committee and Michigan Agritourism Association. In recent years she’s worked with local government to craft an agritourism ordinance that protects businesses and allows for their growth.
The other three Employee finalists were Mitch Bigelow (Bay County), Andrew Heinitz (Van Buren) and Chelsea Smith (Missaukee).
As the state winner, Reisinger receives $5,000 off the first payment of a lease or installment on a 100-horsepower or larger tractor from GreenMark Equipment; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; up to $1,000 of business/estate consultation from Clark Hill; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF FUSION Conference, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
All award finalists will receive a Michigan Farm Bureau jacket and a $400 cash prize from the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.