As the first lady of the Iosco County Farm Bureau, Jane Nelkie has championed the organization’s Promotion & Education program for decades. Stepping back from that role after a quarter century of outreach work in area schools, Nelkie recently bequeathed her collection of materials documenting the projects she helmed that took the farm to local youngsters year after year after year.
Dozens of collages and posters no longer cluttering the second story of her home outside Tawas City document more than two decades of Nelkie’s work planning and executing Iosco County Farm Bureau’s major outreach activities benefitting generations of area schoolchildren.
Over the years she had a hand in coordinating countless farm safety programs, Ag in the Classroom lessons, third-grade poster contests and other staple functions of county Farm Bureau outreach programming.
“Prior to this I used to do farm tours and I had lots of kids coming,” Nelkie recalled. “They came from West Branch, they came from Hale…”
Those tours turned out to be relatively simple affairs compared to the logistical challenges of pulling off a successful Project RED, where all her prior experience was put to the test on a single annual event. The coordination necessary to welcome busloads of schoolkids to a central location, then see them through a sequence of thematically distinct and well-presented education stations — that’s some heavy lifting best not done on one’s own.
Beyond her fellow Farm Bureau members, hands-on assistance came from area 4-H chapters that lent manpower to the event itself, managing a farm story reading tent and helping Project RED participants.
“It’s just to see the expression on the kids’ faces,” Nelkie said. “I just loved seeing the smiles on their faces when they get up there on a big ol’ John Deere — that was fabulous to them — or they got to see a little baby calf. A lot of them didn’t want to leave!”
Another key component of her success involved enlisting support from local businesses. She’d visit them personally and solicit their support in the form of in-kind contributions to the goodie bags Project RED attendees would take home from the event.
Afterwards she’d revisit those sponsors with a hand-made collage of photos from the event.
While Nelkie’s Project RED days are behind her, she’s ready and willing to bring a successor up to speed on every detail of her successful methods for planning and executing future events.
“I still have my notebook with examples of our charting processes,” she said, referring to the deceptively simple-looking diagrams that map out every step along every route through every station.
“The planning takes time and you have to enjoy that component of it as well as the final product.”