Photos by Rick Buchanan and Neal Lauron
Adam Sharp’s feet are planted in two worlds of Ohio agriculture. One is firmly planted in the farm community that was part of his upbringing on his family’s farm in Fairfield County. The other foot is stepping into the world of Ohio’s food and agribusiness sector, where 1 in 7 Ohioans work in a job related to feeding the rest of us.
“I’m a farmer and a foodie,” he said, and he wants to lead the rest of Ohio Farm Bureau into a new world called “Ohio’s food community.”
Sharp was recently hired to fill the shoes of John C. “Jack” Fisher as executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Fisher retired in July after 20 years as Farm Bureau’s leader.
After 10 years working in various policy and government relations roles with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Farm Bureau Federation in the nation’s capital, Sharp and his wife, Lisa, decided to move back with their children to central Ohio 12 years ago. He’s been with Ohio Farm Bureau since 2004 and most recently served as vice president of public policy.
Sharp grew up working on his family’s farm, which he now owns and operates with his brothers Scott and Kyle. Another brother, Nathan, is studying at a Christian seminary in Kentucky.
When he was introduced as the new executive vice president for Farm Bureau, state President Frank Burkett noted that he was “one of the nation’s foremost policy experts in agriculture and has a deep understanding of the rapidly changing food and agriculture industry.”
Understanding what those changes are and charting a course for Farm Bureau to navigate through them is paramount to Sharp. “We have to be as strong as we can be at all levels,” he said. “We need to have more interaction among our volunteers in the counties, our state staff and with American Farm Bureau and Farm Bureaus in other states.”
More interaction with agriculture educators, other farm groups, young agricultural professionals and those entering fields that have a direct link to farming is also necessary Sharp said.
“We need to better interact with Ohio’s food community,” he said. “There is a natural interest growing in this area, it’s not just a fad. We need to make an effort to interact with broader groups of people who have the same core values and the same set of interests as we do. We are interested in food. We must connect with these people and grow our organization with them.”
Listening to farmers who already have a lifelong connection to Farm Bureau is equally important, he said. To that end, Sharp is embarking on a “listening tour” where he plans to visit every county and hear from members about what they like about Farm Bureau and what they think needs to be changed in a rapidly changing industry.
“You tell me,” he said. “I want to be in every county within the next year and I want to listen, whether it’s at your farm or a local diner. I really enjoy meeting in small groups the most.”
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Board Member Karin Bright of Athens said it’s Sharp’s understanding of that changing agricultural landscape and his ability to talk to all members that makes him an ideal fit for Farm Bureau at this time in its almost 100-year history.
“He wants to be out on the front lines,” Bright said, echoing what Sharp said about his current tour of the state. “Given his experience with OFBF and at the national level (with American Farm Bureau Federation) Adam is the perfect fit,” she said, noting that one of Sharp’s talents lies in looking at a broad picture. “I don’t think we could have picked a better person. He is what we need at this time. He has big shoes to fill, but he has an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm (to bring to his new role).”
Outreach to current and potential Farm Bureau members is one of Sharp’s passions as he moves ahead in his new job. Sharp graduated from Ohio State University in agricultural communications and is interested in connecting with members in a variety of different ways – from engaging, short multimedia communications to face-to-face meetings. The goal is for both farmers and friends to make a solid connection with Farm Bureau.
Diversity is also key to the organization’s future, Sharp said. He’s encouraged to see the number of women serving in Farm Bureau leadership positions as well as the number of young professionals and members of all ages participating in the organization.
Sharp also noted that Ohio Farm Bureau has one of the most diverse state boards in the country with a mix of age and gender, as well as the type of farming each person does.
“We have row crops, all types of livestock, a major horse breeder, a goatherd, several fruit and vegetable producers, a beekeeper, a Christmas tree farmer and a hydroponic grower…we truly are a strong, general farm organization representing all ag interests,” he said. However, Sharp said while Farm Bureau is a diverse organization related to types of farm businesses it represents, it needs more leadership diversity in ways that reflect society in order to continue to engage in decisions made in public policy, business and communities.
“There is an opportunity for more diversity in our organization,” he said. “If agriculture doesn’t have that diversity within our ranks, we miss out on opportunities to engage. If we’re not at the table, then someone else will influence opinions.”
While building a strong, varied membership is important, Sharp’s roots are firmly planted in farming. His family has been farming land in Fairfield County since the 1840s.
Both of Sharp’s parents have passed away in recent years, but the farm transition was always part of the plan. “We were all business partners with my dad,” Sharp said. “Dad focused on the dairy, and my brothers and I focused on the crops and hay.”
Kyle now runs the organic dairy and Scott and Adam manage the crops. They farm corn, wheat, soybeans, hay and some various cover crops.
“Conservation is very important to us,” he noted and it shows. The family was awarded the Ohio Environmental Stewardship Award in 2013 from the Ohio Dairy Producers Association.
With two active children – in sports, the arts and 4-H—Sharp said finding a work-life balance can be a struggle. Having the kids be at an age where they can work on the farm helps, he said, but integrating Farm Bureau life and family commitments isn’t a foreign concept to him, or many members of the Farm Bureau.
“I grew up going to Farm Bureau council meetings,” he said. “All the families came together. Those are the kids I grew up with.”
Those are the people he still knows well on farms across the state. When he looks at agriculture in Ohio, it is family farms he sees. Sharp said the perception by some that agriculture today is largely “corporate farms” is simply false.
“The image of who we want to be is one that we need to shape,” he said.
“The reality is, we’re all family farmers and that’s true across the state and across the country—large, small, all sizes, from top to bottom—that’s who we are, that’s our strength, and we have to communicate that to the public. What does Farm Bureau want to be when it turns 100 years old in 2019?”
Originally published in the September/October 2016 issue of Our Ohio Magazine.