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Long-time Farm Bureau leader helps cultivate the future

Every place has at least one—those go-to people who seem to know everything and everyone in a community, and on the off chance they don’t, they know who does.

Pike County farm girl Kim Harless is one such person in southern Ohio. Harless, who has been an organization director for Ohio Farm Bureau for more than 25 years, oversees county Farm Bureau operations in Athens, Meigs, Gallia, Jackson, Vinton, Lawrence, Pike and Scioto counties.

The number of Farm Bureau membership meetings, county events, FFA adventures and 4-H county fair exhibits she’s been a part of is well into the hundreds, if not thousands at this point. She lends support, makes connections and provides leadership upon occasion, always keeping the goal of supporting and sustaining an active and vibrant agricultural community in the Appalachian foothills of the Buckeye state top of mind.

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Students are instructed by soil scientist Brian Cooley prior to participating in a soil judging activity at Bob Evans Farms last fall.

Preparing students for the challenges of life beyond high school, life on the farm and other 4-H and FFA experiences is one of the reasons Harless initially ran for Jackson City School Board in 2014. She’s now president of the board in the school district from which daughters Mariah, 25, and Meredith, 23, graduated. She also serves on the Ohio School Boards Association Board of Trustees, along with volunteering on a number of other boards and committees locally and around the state.

“I wanted to give back to the community that has been so generous to me and my girls as well as get the FFA program back in the school,” she said. “I felt I could offer assistance in curriculum and courses that would help prepare the students in our community for college and future jobs they wanted to go into.”

Activities from her counties reflect that desire as well. Last fall the Gallia County Farm Bureau, with the help of the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District, Bob Evans Farms and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, hosted high school FFA chapters from Gallia Academy, River Valley, South Gallia, Jackson, Oak Hill, Symmes Valley, Collins Career Center and Buckeye Hills Career Center to participate in a soil judging contest.

They came to Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande to spend the day in four-foot pits and study the soil within them. The educational event the 170 students participated in mimicked one sponsored by FFA and gave students practice in that contest for a future time.

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Student Michael Adkins at Oak Hill High School works on his small engine.

It gave them something else as well: knowledge and hands-on experience  about different soil types.  Soil education is not just for farmers; it can be applied to building houses, roads, forests, etc.

The first-time event created by Gallia County Farm Bureau was something Harless was proud to discuss as an example of the work done by her county Farm Bureaus. Two others, Jackson-Vinton and Lawrence, were awarded County Activities of Excellence by American Farm Bureau Federation this past year for their efforts.

Events such as the soil judging contest also align with Harless’ personal goal of helping ensure the next generation has the tools it needs to carry the values and knowledge of agriculture’s past into the future.

“I grew up on my great-grandparents’ (farm) that was passed on to my dad,” Harless said. “It was about 350 acres. My dad worked full time, so this was a side job or hobby as they call it now.”

Harless raised livestock for her own 4-H projects. Then she was a 4-H adviser for 25 years, splitting time between Pike and Jackson counties. She worked at Ohio State University Pike County Extension as 4-H program assistant before joining Farm Bureau in 1990.

“I am starting my 27th year with Farm Bureau and I can honestly say, I love and enjoy my job,” she said.

Matt Bennett, FFA adviser at Oak Hill High School, who has about 125 ag students who participate in 15 FFA sponsored judging contests each year, praised Harless for her overall dedication.

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Oak Hill High School students Carlee Dempsey, Morgan Lahrmer and Josie Hackney work on identifying the parts of a hog.

“She’s always been a big advocate not only for farmers but everyone in the community,” he said. “Everything she’s involved in is kid-oriented and working toward shaping strong leaders for tomorrow. She’s super involved. We’d definitely struggle without her.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Michael Clark, who is the adviser of a new FFA class of 150 students at Jackson High School.

“I’d be lying if I said it was a cakewalk,” he said about re-establishing FFA at the school for the first time since 1997.

He said Harless, her contacts and her commitment to molding future leaders in the community has been instrumental in getting the group off the ground and thriving.

“She’s helped clear the path from a lot of the growing pains,” Clark said. “She’s been the sandpaper that has helped smooth everything out.”

Featured Image: Ohio Farm Bureau Organization Director Kim Harless speaks with Kira Mullins and her FFA classmates at Jackson High School. Harless was instrumental in getting the FFA program reestablished at the school.

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Kelli Milligan Stammen is director of publications for the Ohio Farm Bureau.