In mid-January, when most of Michigan battled the season’s first significant winter storm, the 2024-25 ProFILE class converged from across the state at Spider Lake Retreat in Grand Traverse County for the first meeting of its 15-month curriculum.
Over three days our 15-member cohort unplugged from our day-to-day routines to begin forging new friendships, stepping outside our comfort zones and exercising our teamwork skills through various activities and challenges planned by course leaders Emily Reinart and Becca Gulliver.
The objective of this initial meeting was to get better acquainted with our classmates, while also creating — and effectively delivering — a prepared speech on a topic of our choice.
During the first evening that involved an ice cream social and each of us sharing “Me in a Box”: Each of us were tasked with bringing six items that represented our family, our profession/passions, and whatever else made us Us. “Me in a Box” allowed everyone to learn a bit about our fellow classmates and gain insights into who they really are.
The next day we wasted little time getting to work learning the ins and outs of public speaking from guest presenter and former National FFA Officer from Kentucky, Coty Back. Through his instruction we worked to formulate effective, compelling personal introductions; reviewed content formulas and delivery techniques for introducing speakers; discussed stage presence, body language and etiquette; and finally learned some about giving and receiving constructive feedback.
That was a lot of ground to cover, and the various components that stuck out and resonated with participants was as diverse as the ProFILErs themselves.
For Ionia County’s Chris Fox it was the axiom: “There is no comfort in a growth zone, and no growth in a comfort zone.”
Mecosta County’s Cora Okkema took home a different gem.
“One major piece I got from the retreat was ‘Start before you feel ready, and continue being open to new ideas’,” she said.
After a full day of public speaking instruction came the expectation that each ProFILEr would draft and deliver a speech, first in front of the class the following morning, then three more times in various settings throughout the coming year.
We welcomed the day’s next focus: dinner preparation!
Unlike most Farm Bureau events, this wasn’t the typical sit-down-for-a-prepared-meal situation — this took the form of an Iron Chef-style battle. Teams appointed by Emily and Becca randomly drew:
- Which course they were responsible for (appetizer, sides, entrée, dessert);
- Two ingredients they were required to use;
- A bonus item or ability, such as additional grocery items beyond the allotted 10-per-team limit, or having the option of trading an ingredient between teams.
After some creative recipe planning and an hour to prepare their dishes, each team presented their masterpieces to judges Emily, Becca and Coty. We all then sat down to a five-course meal: chicken and shrimp kabob appetizers, orange peanut mushrooms over rice, hillbilly coleslaw, a sausage and pasta entrée, and banana pudding for dessert.
“We all gave words of encouragement about the presentations on topics including youth enrichment, mental awareness, managing a farm and resources available to young farmers,” said Keion Jackson, Young Farmer chair for the Wayne County Farm Bureau. “For some classmates this was a new experience, for others it may’ve been a refresher. Either way it was also a great challenge.”
The winning courses were:
- 1st place — Banana pudding
- 2nd place — Hillbilly coleslaw
- 3rd place — Orange peanut mushrooms over rice
Once dinner and the competition were complete, classmates gathered to assist each other with their speeches, offering fresh ideas, listening ears and constructive feedback to strengthen everyone’s content and delivery. That became valuable time spent bonding as a group, telling stories and getting to know more about each other.
Not everyone was looking forward to our final morning, but the mix of seasoned speakers and more timid types — paired with everyone’s support — made for a positive experience for everyone.
After breakfast we began introducing each other, welcoming our classmates to come before the group to deliver about five minutes of their speech, utilizing the techniques Coty shared with us the previous day.
After each speech we had a feedback session so everyone could offer constructive suggestions to help each speaker solidify their content and delivery for next time.
“What is growth?” Jackson finished. “In ProFILE it means the process to developing or maturing as a person, both mentally and spiritually.
“As we continue our journey, we will take what we learned and apply it to our everyday life and our county Farm Bureaus. This is just the beginning to an amazing year as we push limits, take risks and try new things.
“At the end you will only get what you give as you commit to a growth mindset.”
Looking ahead: The 2024-25 ProFile class will convene again Feb. 19-20 in Lansing to take part in the DiSC behavioral self-assessment and attend Lansing Legislative Seminar.