Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience

Opening eyes, expanding horizons through Youth Pathways

In only two days, one Adams County student went from knowing nothing about Ohio agricultural cooperative businesses to considering it as a possible career field.

“I had no idea of ag cooperatives,” said Zander White, a senior this fall at Ohio Valley Career and Technical Center in Adams County. He was one of the center’s 16 students who toured Ohio State University’s Columbus campus and several cooperatives in the Columbus area in 2019. The tour was part of a pilot project sponsored in part by Hocking County Farm Bureau and OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives.

In a cooperative, White said, “You can be in business and have different partners. You don’t have to be a master of all trades.”

With funding from a 2020 Youth Pathways for Careers in Agriculture grant from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, the pilot project morphed into a recently launched free, online program, the Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience. Initially it is being offered to high school students in 32 of Ohio’s Appalachian area counties to help them discover career and educational opportunities in farming, food and agri-businesses where nearly 470,000 job openings are predicted over the next 10 years.

The region’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate was 5.2%, a point above the state average, while the college graduate rate of 21.8% of residents is below the 32.9% state average, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Inspiring students to consider careers in agriculture cooperatives

“We hope students are inspired to consider careers in ag cooperatives. We aim to show them pathways to pursue those careers and empower them,” said Ivory Harlow, Ohio Farm Bureau organization director for Fairfield, Hocking, Pickaway and Ross counties.

Thanks to the foundation grant, the program is offered for free, Harlow said. “The virtual program will be marketed to vocational agriculture teachers, FFA advisors, 4-H advisors, high school guidance counselors and other educators across Ohio in future marketing efforts.”

Because of pandemic restrictions, the program pivoted to a virtual format, Harlow said. “Post-pandemic we see the online experience as a standalone or complement to an in-person experience.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation grants support agriculture career pathways

The project was among 11 applicants for foundation grants and two recipients in 2020. The foundation is “particularly interested in programs that create career pathways that allow students to explore with mentors learning opportunities that present a wide variety of careers in related fields,” said Luke Houghton, Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation director of development.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation launched the youth pathways grant offering in 2018 with a focus on introducing students to and training them for careers in food, agriculture and environmental sciences. Organizations throughout Ohio are invited to submit proposals for innovative projects to attract more young people into these fields.

“The Foundation’s signature grant program, Youth Pathways for Careers in Agriculture, has been successful in awarding funding to organizations that help introduce youth and young adults to careers within agriculture and related fields,” said Kelly Burns, Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation executive director. “Even during challenging times like 2020, we are still able to reach students in the most innovative ways to illustrate the many successful careers one could have within agriculture. Hocking County Farm Bureau and the Center for Cooperative’s Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience is a great example of how we are able to reach so many students statewide in the most engaging ways.”

The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience site includes video interviews with a variety of co-op members and tours of three cooperative businesses: Heritage Cooperative in Delaware serves customers in seven states in agronomy, energy, feed, and grain merchandising; Casa Nueva in Athens is a worker-owned restaurant and cantina; and Nationwide in Columbus, which was started by Ohio Farm Bureau as a small mutual company, grew into one of the largest insurance and financial services companies in the world.

Various employees discuss their backgrounds, the nature of the business, on-the-job learning opportunities and other aspects of a cooperative. Casa Nueva Business Director Leslie Schaller said, “Don’t rule out that even at a young age you’re an entrepreneur, that you’ve got to go elsewhere. There is a lot of opportunity here in rural Ohio.”

In a video interview, Dan Durheim, Nationwide’s associate vice president, sponsor relations, talks about growing up in a small Minnesota farm town. He was active in 4-H and FFA, and interested in the business of farming. He said, “I wasn’t just a plows, sows and cows kind of kid.”  Students who visit the site should quickly see there’s more to agribusiness jobs than plows, sows and cows.

Online Extra – Take a visit

The Youth Cooperative Leadership Experience Online site includes hands-on activities, plus video tours of co-ops and interviews with their members.

Educators can contact [email protected] to learn about future in-person opportunities. Hocking County Farm Bureau partnered with the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives to develop the program.

Youth Pathways Grants 2022

The request for proposals period for 2022 Youth Pathways for Careers in Agriculture grants opens Sept. 1, 2021. Learn more

Photos submitted by Hocking County Farm Bureau