A Bright Future in Farming

After the Ohio State National Championship victory, coach Urban Meyer said more than once: The future is bright at Ohio State. Well, the future is bright at Ohio Farm Bureau, too. Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Agricultural Professionals program is seeing unprecedented growth. This year’s Winter Leadership Experience drew more than 500 members ages 18 to 35 for two days of learning, networking, and most importantly, fellowship.

Young Agricultural Professionals have their own advisory team, led this year by Nathan and Jennifer Brown from Highland County, who assist with creating educational and leadership development programs including Excellence in Agriculture, Outstanding Young Farmer and Discussion Meet contests, all of which culminated with their respective national competitions in San Diego, Calif. at the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in January.

Ohio’s top finisher was Medina County’s Victoria Shaw, who made it to the Sweet 16 round of the American Farm Bureau Discussion Meet. The contest is not a debate, but an exercise in working together to discuss a problem and then find ways as a group to come up with a solution.

Just a second-year Farm Bureau member, Shaw heard about the contest at the Young Agricultural Professionals Winter Conference and was intrigued. She participates on her family’s farm but does not have a farm of her own, so Farm Bureau has been an avenue for her to stay involved in agriculture. “I want to be involved for the rest of my life, and Farm Bureau is an opportunity for me to be involved now, even though I can’t start my own farming venture quite yet. Farm Bureau lets me be engaged in different activities and stay connected to the industry without actually working in it,” she said. Currently, she works at ALICE Training Institute as a project manager. ALICE Training Institute promotes proactive strategies to improve the chances of survival during an active shooter event.

Shaw said it is important to be accepting of other participant opinions and focus on working together. “It’s OK to have back and forth, but in the end you need to include everybody’s perspective,” she said. Homework is required: Internet research, conference calls, American Farm Bureau resources and personal contacts, especially if the topics are not Ohio issues, such as federal rangelands management, which was her first topic in Round 1 of the national competition.

As she participates more in Farm Bureau, Shaw said one theme that comes through is that farmers need to be more engaging with consumers. “I want to start my own website/blog to help nonfarmers learn about farm issues. Farm Bureau encourages transparency…and is a huge reason for me doing that. It inspired me to do this,” she said. Connect with Victoria at agvocacynow.com.

Kelly and Michelle Abfall of Athens County were the recipients of the 2014 Outstanding Young Farmer Award, which recognizes farmers age 35 and younger for the growth of their farm business and involvement in Farm Bureau and the community.

Often, young farmers get into farming as part of their family’s farm, handed down over generations. But for the Abfalls, Kelly said his family actually discouraged him from farming. In their application for the award, they said the love of the land and livestock took root in their heart. Kelly said he dreamed of a career in full-time farming, and Michelle participated in 4-H as a child. They met at Ohio State University and both earned degrees in agriculture. “After graduation, we made the choice to follow our dreams and together we set out to do what many people told us was impossible: building a farm from the ground up.”

After graduation, Kelly worked for a small feed/fertilizer company part time, and Michelle had a full- time job. Since starting their farm in 2003, it has grown to 1,030 acres where they raise corn, soybeans, hay and beef cattle. Kelly farms full-time and Michelle stays home with the children, takes care of bookkeeping and supporting the operation.

“The thing I love most about farming is the family aspect,” Michelle said. “The togetherness. Farming is long hours and a lot of work, often seven days a week, but it’s not seven days where he’s away from us all the time. We can go help, bring dinner to the field and the kids can ride in the tractor or combine with him. There are opportunities, even when we’re working we are still getting family togetherness. I love watching the kids grow up on the farm, and it is a good childhood for them. They’re learning a lot and they love it.”

The Abfalls admitted to being surprised to win the contest. Kelly said he tends to focus on what isn’t quite right on the farm and tries to make them better. “I don’t always take time to pay attention to what we do right. Winning this award, somebody showed me what we did right.”

Kristin Reese of Fairfield County is Ohio Farm Bureau’s Excellence in Agriculture winner, which recognizes successful young people 35 years old or younger who are involved in farming but whose primary occupation is off the farm.

Reese was born into a farm family and says she got her love of farming from her dad.

“Spending time with my dad in the field and in the barns shaped me into the person I am today,” she said, noting she learned to become a leader through her involvement in 4-H and FFA. She studied agribusiness and economics at Ohio State University. Today she is a full-time real estate agent and lives on a small farm raising egg layers, meat chickens and hay with her husband, Matt, and their children Campbell and Parker.
She also is the owner of Local Flavor Foods, a private cooking business that uses foods raised on the Reeses’ farm or other area farms in the county. “I started this business not only to prepare foods that my customers will love but also to share my personal story about food and farming.”

“Answering questions about where food comes from and what traditional agriculture is all about is a great privilege,” she said in her contest application. She is a volunteer with Common Ground, a grassroots group of farm women across the country who share their farm stories across the United States and around the globe. Most recently, Reese returned from a second trip to Beijing to talk about genetically modified organisms and biotechnology with Chinese women. “It’s eye opening to talk about us as consumers in America and how we’re not that different from them in China.

“I’m a mom. I am raising two little agriculture advocates. One of the many wonderful things about agriculture is that it is a family affair. Growing up on a farm is not always easy, and I enlist the kids’ help on a daily basis. They are learning by doing and growing up knowing where their food comes from. On many occasions I have heard them have little conversations with friends about raising sheep and making hay. This is the future of agriculture, and it makes me so very proud.”

Ohio Farm Bureau Young Agricultural Professionals are age 18 to 35 who are interested in improving the business of agriculture, learning new ideas and developing leadership skills.

They are full- and part-time farmers, OSU Extension educators, teachers, consumer educators, former Ohio Farm Bureau youth participants, FFA and 4-H alumni, farm media communicators, livestock and equine enthusiasts, wine makers, alpaca breeders, seed representatives, beekeepers, green industry employees, gardeners, foodies and more.

“Like” Ohio Young Agriculture Professionals on Facebook or contact Ohio Farm Bureau. Applications are being accepted for the 2016 advisory team and are due May 29.  The next Young Ag Professionals event is the Summer Outreach Program June 27 at Miami County Fairgrounds.