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Young Farmer Leader Winner Elaine Palm

Elaine Palm farms with her parents, Jim and Sherrie Bristol, in Ogemaw County. Their flock of 400 mixed-breed sheep prospers in a rotational grazing system that has them mowing down paddocks of alfalfa hay in season and tearing through round bales throughout the winter.
Date Posted: June 13, 2023

Coming from one of Michigan’s smallest county Farm Bureaus gives 2023 Young Farmer Leader Award winner Elaine Palm a unique and very share-worthy perspective on what it even means to be a young Farm Bureau leader. 

The tidy structures county Farm Bureaus are encouraged to adopt work best where farmers are thick on the ground, but in a county with fewer than 250 regular members, the active must improvise. Elaine Palm exemplifies the kind of resourceful flexibility it takes to shine and prosper in a small county. 

Her Ladder

Elaine has a prime take on leadership so let’s start there: “In Farm Bureau there’s a place for people to lead no matter what seat they take. Everyone’s leadership ladder looks different. 

“If you want to be involved at a small scale, if you want to be involved at a large scale, there is a place for people to lead in agriculture through Farm Bureau.”

Her county Farm Bureau — Ogemaw — is among the smallest in the state in terms of membership numbers, but that matters far less than the drive she brings to the table: “We rise by lifting others, and being involved with our peers helps us all to grow as leaders in our communities. 

“I don’t really have coworkers, so being involved in Farm Bureau helps me — being involved in conferences, attending learning seminars — to do business just a little bit better helps over time.”

It warrants noting that one of Elaine’s strengths as a leader is keen communication. She knows connecting with an audience is about delivering a solid, simple message — and then repeating it:

“I think ‘leadership ladder’ and ‘leading from any seat’ is really important to my story. I’m not on a board of directors. I’m not officially on any committees. But I’m still very involved in Farm Bureau. 

“You can lead from any seat. You can raise your voice in any capacity that feels right to you.”


Her Deeds

Elaine applies that leadership by indulging in a passion for informing non-farmers about agriculture: “Inviting people for tours — opening our barn doors — to help people learn about modern farming.”

Examples include hosting U.S. Senator Gary Peters during his statewide summer motorcycle tour; a “First Friday Farm Tour” for consumers with MSU Extension; and an American Lamb Summit tour.

“I’ve also enjoyed leading groups through multi-stop events to help them discover the different practices used by farmers across the state. I love being part of amplifying farmers’ voices.

“Being together as farmers and just being around one another can kind of lift you up and feel like you’re not in it alone.”

Her Route

The path to Elaine’s ladder began normally enough, detoured through the industry’s backstage, then led her right back home.

“I grew up in agriculture: involved in 4-H, involved in FFA, and involved in Farm Bureau as quickly as I could be. In 2005 I attended Young People’s Citizenship Seminar — my first Farm Bureau experience outside what my parents did.

“After that summer I came back to Ogemaw County, started editing the county newsletter and from that point I was a Farm Bureau member as much as anyone.”

She interned at Michigan Farm Bureau while earning her degree in agriculture and natural resource communications, putting her on a track behind the organizational curtain. 

“I kind of got involved on the back side” and after graduating promptly took a position with American Farm Bureau. “I moved out to Washington, D.C. and I worked at AFBF for four years.

“The last summer I was there I was driving home about every three weeks to help with hay harvest. Living in D.C. wasn’t sustainable for me, so I moved back to Michigan and worked for another ag organization.

“Six months into that I bought my first farm here in Ogemaw County — conveniently located across the street from the farm I grew up on. I started farming with my parents then and growing the business.”

Her Farm

Operational since 1988 and branded as Great Lakes Lamb in 2019, the family sheep operation rolls off a dead-end road between West Branch and Rose City. 

The mixed-breed flock numbers about 400 head for meat, breeding stock and wool production. The crop side is all forage: some hay to cut for nearby horse and cattle farms, but most of it sectioned off into bite-size paddocks for segments of the flock to mow down, one by one.

Parents Jim and Sherrie Bristol are at the helm, with Elaine merging in alongside with husband Rick Palm and their young daughter Makenna in tow.

“Everything we do here is very much we. Coming back to the farm was not a choice I made; we made that together, as a family.”

Similarly, any modifications to the farm’s rotational grazing system are also thoroughly thought-through collectively, and with priority on “getting better before we get bigger.

To that end Great Lakes Lamb is verified in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program’s cropping system, and is just the third operation nationwide to earn a Level III certification in the American Wool Assurance Program.

“There’s a lot of pressure from the industry to consider big technologies, but on our farm we’re still loving our 1962 John Deere 4010. Technology doesn’t have to be big and bold. 

“Balancing what’s good with what works for you is where technology is for this farm.”

Her Reward

“I grew up around farming — around this farm. 

“Being able to be close and have a relationship with my grandparents and care for them as they aged, outdoors, in the space that made them happy, was really important. 

“Now, being involved every day on the land they had a great passion for and a vision for, makes me feel like I’m still close with them even though they’re not here.

“Being able to do that alongside my parents, and now as our family grows, that’s just a really special feeling.”


MFB’s Young Agriculture Leader Award honors successful young agriculturalists who earn most of their income from a farm operation for their outstanding leadership in the organization and throughout the agricultural community. As this year’s state-level winner, Palm receives a lease on a New Holland compact tractor or utility vehicle from Burnips Equipment; a $1,000 AgroLiquid Certificate; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference.

Portrait of MFB Member Communications Specialist Jeremy Nagel.

Jeremy Nagel

Member Communications Specialist
517-323-6885 [email protected]

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