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Community and public service are values that have always gone hand in hand with Ohio Farm Bureau, so it’s no coincidence that several Farm Bureau staff and members are found wearing many hats within their towns, counties, school boards and beyond.
Taking on roles of leadership may be the natural result of lives embedded in small but tight-knit rural communities, where pitching in is part of daily life. Maybe it has something to do with the work ethic and dedication that comes from working on and around farms. Whatever the “it” factor is that drives the desire to lead, those involved in Farm Bureau have it in spades.
Plain City Mayor Jody Carney is a former Ohio Farm Bureau organization director with a lineage familiar with public service. She even recruited her husband, Adam, into the Farm Bureau world when he joined the staff in 2017and now serves as senior director of membership sales and marketing. She believes the impact an individual can have on a local community is extraordinary and worth the time and effort to become involved.
“Decisions are made or influenced by the ones who are present at the meetings or events,” Carney said. “By continuing to be a part of the conversation, you are able to bring your perspective to legislation that will impact your livelihood.”
Having diversified her career serving as an ag teacher, organization director for Delaware, Franklin, Madison and Union counties and now as mayor, she has done precisely that.
Carney hails from a grain and cattle farm in Athens County, New Marshfield to be specific, where her parents still farm full-time. After graduating from Wilmington College in 2006 with her bachelor’s degree in agriculture and education, she taught school for a few years before taking the position with Ohio Farm Bureau.
At a young age, Carney took an interest in local government, sparked by her father’s service as a township trustee for 22 years. Her mother was also active as a 4-H advisor and supported Jody’s childhood journey through the 4-H and FFA programs.
Even before holding local government roles, Carney was active in improving Plain City. In 2011, she worked with the city’s library director to form the farmers market committee to resurrect the Plain City Farmers Market. Then in 2017, she made the decision to run for an open seat on the Plain City Village Council. Only three years later she was voted in as president pro tempore when the mayor at the time stepped down. In 2021, she ran for the unexpired term and was elected to serve for two more years.
“I am honored to be the mayor of Plain City because I can help keep transparency in how local decisions are made for our town,” she said. “It is also a way to be able to create a conversation between the people in town and the agriculture community that surrounds Plain City.”
A few events that benefitted local farmers stand out to her thus far during her term. One was hosting an event called “Ice Cream with a Farmer” in partnership with Madison and Union County Farm Bureaus. Two hundred residents showed up at a local park to meet their farmers and even see some equipment up close and personal.
Promoting safety for farmers is another staple of her advocacy. In spring 2021, Carney filmed a planting safety video with Fred and Josh Yoder about the real dangers farmers face when traveling on the road with heavy equipment. It also taught viewers how to support their farming neighbors by safely sharing the road.
“Plain City will be experiencing the construction of a roundabout this summer, ‘’ she said. “By being at the table when plans are drawn, it was imperative that we build this roundabout so that farmers can easily navigate their equipment through it.”
Matt Aultman, a Darke County farmer and county commissioner, got his start in leadership from years in both the 4-H and FFA programs. This led him to involvement on the county level with his local Farm Bureau. He went through the Ohio Farm Bureau AgriPOWER leadership institute and then sat on the Young Agricultural Professionals State Committee. That experience eventually led him to run for a seat on Ohio Farm Bureau’s state board of trustees, to which he was elected in December 2020 as District 14 representative.
“I see the value and need to be engaged in the community I live in, to be a part of the decision-making process and to volunteer with organizations that help make our community better,” he said. “I am also passionate about helping those who need it and supporting those who work hard to provide services and programs to our county.”
He believes strongly in getting people involved in the community to accomplish goals. Rural communities especially, he said, have lots of their own benefits. It is locals, the movers and shakers that show up when needed, who are the best to determine and act on those needs.
“Rural communities are slowly losing young people every year to city centers because of amenities and services,” he said. “If the local community doesn’t make changes (it) will continue to fade into existence. Now is the time (to act) if you ever wanted to be engaged.”
It is that type of locally-sourced leadership, Carney said, that is important for shaping the future of communities.
“I am learning quickly that change is inevitable, but we can keep our history alive by incorporating it into our zoning codes and the relationships we form with our neighbors,” she said. “It isn’t an easy task, but the satisfaction of knowing you tried to make a difference is worth it.”
Sometimes the task faced by a community leader can be more than just difficult.
A 22-year Ohio Farm Bureau employee, Berlin Heights Mayor Connie Ward resides in Erie County and remains active on her family’s farm. She has served as mayor for her village for two years and prior to that sat on the village council for 10. Like Carney, she too attributes her passion for community service to her parents.
Among the most meaningful contributions she’s made throughout her career path happened just recently.
One of the 13 military personnel killed in action during the August 2021 Afghanistan evacuation was Maxton Soviak – one of Berlin Heights’ roughly 630 residents. As mayor, Ward assisted in the heavy task of helping their community rally around Soviak’s family for mourning and burial. She was among the small assembly to pay respects as Soviak returned home.
“It was by far the most challenging thing that our village has dealt with in a very long time,” she said. “It’s just something you never imagined you’re going to have to see in your lifetime alone.”
Amid that sorrow, Ward also experienced firsthand the profound outpouring of care and support of her entire community.
“(We had) thousands of people that came to their prayer vigil, to the funeral and lining the streets for the procession,” she said. “That’s the kind of community I want to be a part of. That very unfortunate event really highlighted for me why I live where I live.”
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