Ken Davis laughs while reflecting about a funny incident during his Farm Bureau youth years. Students at one of the Farm Bureau youth camps couldn’t resist hiding or decorating a statue nicknamed “Delilah” after the then popular Tom Jones song.
“We did all kinds of things to it. The music director Ariel Lovelace would roll his eyes but he was good natured about it,” said Davis, who grew up on a farm in Highland County. “The youth programming was about much more than having fun – it was about learning how the legislative process works, what cooperatives are and how to be a leader.”
Davis’ years of participating in Farm Bureau’s youth camps, also called youth schools, in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped him develop important life skills. After serving in various youth leadership roles, he went on to become an OFBF president, board of trustee member for 10 years and has been on Nationwide’s board since 1999.
“The Farm Bureau youth program is something special – there are opportunities that exist that don’t at any other organization,” said Davis, a full-time farmer.
The youth program dates back to 1935 when Farm Bureau leaders decided they wanted to teach young people about cooperatives. Darwin Bryan was brought in to start the program and two others have led the program: Shirley Boyd and Darrell Rubel.
“Back then there weren’t a lot of opportunities for young people to do professional and personal development other than 4-H and church. This was a great way to get rural youths involved in Farm Bureau and give them experiences and networking skills,” said Rubel, now director of leadership development.
For decades, Farm Bureau youths learned the inner workings of co-ops by running a cooperative store during their youth camp. They would sell candy, drinks and snacks during the camp and then figure out what their return was at the end.
“It was the real thing. We sold refreshments, and the profits were divided up just like a real co-op,” Davis said.
The youth program eventually started focusing more on policy development, government and how the organization’s grassroots approach worked. During their county youth meetings, students would debate public policy issues. At the camps, they would participate in a mock house of representatives with the students establishing their viewpoints before lobbying their positions. The goal was to get their mock bill passed. Some of the issues discussed and voted on were rules that they had to follow during their camp, Davis said.
To emphasize its partnership with Nationwide, young people learned more about the insurance agency during their youth meetings or at the camps. Nationwide sponsored events such as defensive driving classes and youths set up a mock auto insurance agency.
From the very beginning, the program offered a variety of workshops that were relevant to youths. Those included public speaking, self defense, how to survive the first year of college, photography and social media. For Benjamin Colston of Summit County, etiquette was one of his favorite sessions.
“We had a date night. It was a neat experience. We’d have a session on dating etiquettes: what to talk about, how to meet parents, conversation starters and table manners. It was all done in a non threatening atmosphere,” he said. “We’d dress up and have dinner and a nice dance and after one dance the date was over.”
For Colston, his Farm Bureau youth experience helped him realize that he wanted a career working with children. At age 7 he started attending the youth meetings with his older brothers. He came from a non-farming family and enjoyed seeing where his food came from by going on the Farm Bureau sponsored farm tours. Like his brothers, he was active in the youth program and served as chairman of the State Youth Committee.
“I loved being around kids and interacting and being a mentor to them,” said Colston, now a 22-year-old junior at Walsh University studying early childhood intervention. “In my leadership position, I’d help plan camps and introduce speakers. It was a huge confidence builder. At the monthly meetings,
I was always around good people and when you surround yourself with that type of people, they rub off on you and can help develop your future.”
Today the goal of Farm Bureau’s youth program hasn’t changed much – to provide youths with important life skills, find future ag leaders and build relationships. However, the organization is examining new ways to deliver programming.With young people being involved in so many activities today, Farm Bureau is looking at ways to make the most of its youth programs.
Katy Endsley, who is program manager for Ohio FFA Association, said OFBF has helped sponsor some of its summer programming, including an Ohio Leadership Camp.
“It makes sense to work together and pool our resources together because a lot of our students share similar interests and are in both organizations,” said Endsley, who won OFBF’s Excellence in Agriculture award a couple of years ago. Farm Bureau has done similar collaborations with 4-H and works hard to ensure that its programming is unique and not offered by other groups, Rubel said.
“Farm Bureau always has been, is and will be about relationships. The more we do to build youths’ confidences and leadership qualities, the better they will be ag ambassadors,” he said.