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P&E leadership loses one vet to retirement, promotes another to chair

Outgoing state P&E Chair Julie Stephenson with her husband Eric and their young ones Joslyn and Saywer.
Date Posted: December 22, 2021

Every new year brings a reshuffling of Farm Bureau leadership, from local committee chairs and county presidents to the state-level program leaders and the MFB Board of Directors. As we head into the meaty part of meeting season, Farm Gate will introduce some of the newcomers and salute those stepping down to make way for them. We start this issue looking at the state Promotion & Education committee.


After two years as your state P&E chair Julie Stephenson is relinquishing her gavel but not leaving the room; she’ll remain on the committee for at least another year.

It’d be easy to look at her term and think Julie’d been dealt a bum hand. It began two years ago in December 2019, just weeks before an aspiring new virus started making headlines on the other side of the world. The subsequent meeting season was cut short when a pandemic stopped the world and life as we knew it changed forever.

COVID forced P&E leaders back to a drawing board that bore no ready ideas for sharing the gospel of agriculture in any way other than personal, face-to-face interaction.

“We all know our county volunteers are extremely creative and resilient. We went through a couple years of reinventing and thinking outside the box to reconnect with the audiences P&E targets,” Stephenson said.

“Counties took it upon themselves to do virtual Projects RED, teacher appreciation boxes, statewide FARM Crate promotion… The mobile lab wasn’t on the road and we were looking for something to take its place, so we started FARM Crates as kind of a filler and were surprised how quickly it took off.”

Even with COVID’s grip loosening and the FARM Science Lab back on the road, Stephenson is encouraged that “The FARM Crates have had enough stick that we’re planning on continuing that, offering crate refills and some new curriculum.”

More encouraging still is the unexpected uptick in program involvement.

“We tapped into new [human] resources that weren’t there before,” she said. “To some degree it’s time management: We’re not asking volunteers to give us entire days. I think we’ve tapped some potential that we haven’t seen in the past.

“We’ve got a pile of farmers chomping at the bit to read books in classrooms and we’ll absolutely rely on them. And there are also a lot of mentorship opportunities there,” she added, noting that traditional P&E outreachers have a lot of valuable knowledge and experience to share about engaging with consumers.

“As frustrating as the last couple years have been, I feel like I’ve been part of the board when the organization was really intentionally finding members to get involved. It’s not a bad thing in any way. Both Farm Bureau staff and volunteers are very creative thinkers.”

Stephenson farms in St. Joseph County alongside her husband Eric. She runs the farm market side of the operation, selling fresh greens, green beans, peppers, pumpkins and squash directly to hungry customers with good taste.


Succeeding Stephenson as chair is Washtenaw County’s Nancy Thelen, an eminently qualified veteran of the P&E program, practically since its inception.

“I’m excited — I’m really looking forward to it,” Thelen said about her new role. “We have some great goals we’ve set and additional resources and opportunities to work with county chairs and help them grow their programs.”

Those goals include launching monthly idea-sharing conference calls for county P&E chairs; boosting their access to practical program guidance; offering new resources for connecting with school districts; and enhanced focus on consumer education for 2023.

“I think we have a great committee — a diverse committee. In the five years I’ve been on state P&E, it’s probably the most diverse we’ve had.”

An active Farm Bureau member for more than 35 years, Thelen was among the group who first devised Project RED in the early 1990s. For that and dozens of other achievements, Nancy and her husband Steve last year earned Washtenaw County Farm Bureau’s Outstanding Service to Agriculture Award.

Nancy and Steve live outside Saline, only a few miles from the dairy and beef operation she grew up on. After six decades raising beef cattle, the MSU extension retiree is now invested in embryo transfers and leaves the field work to renters.


The state Promotion & Education committee loses veteran member Warren Schauer to retirement after seven years on the body. The Hiawathaland Farm Bureau stalwart brought a career’s worth of insight to state P&E, informed by his work as an MSU Extension educator in Escanaba.

Those seven years saw the program card some major milestones, most notably the FARM Science Labs and now the pandemic-inspired FARM Crates. Schauer played a key role in arranging the FARM Science Lab’s tour of Upper Peninsula schools this past fall, and before that raising awareness of the FARM Crates deployed in lieu in-person classroom visits during the pandemic.

“I’ve enjoyed it — it’s been really good for me,” Schauer said, recalling that he started as a Farm Bureau newcomer, first joining in 2013 after retiring from Extension. After a career educating students and communities about agriculture, P&E was a natural fit.

“My motivation and the role I wanted to take on was Promotion & Education — that’s what got me into Farm Bureau because that’s what I enjoyed.”

Schauer grew up on a small general farm near Spencer, Wisconsin. When dad wasn’t working at the local International Harvester dealer, he was working the 80-acre farm, milking 20 cows and feeding a handful of pigs, poultry and the “little bit of everything” that invariably happened along, like the orphaned lamb that sparked Schauer’s years showing sheep in 4-H.