LETTER: Minds must be open to community
GREENFIELD, Ind. -- I felt compelled to respond to Katie Pinke's recent column in Agweek (Dec. 5, page 6, "Do I Need to Renew My Membership?"). I am 34 years old and an active and passionate member of my state farm bureau organization. But I also...
GREENFIELD, Ind. - I felt compelled to respond to Katie Pinke's recent column in Agweek (Dec. 5, page 6, "Do I Need to Renew My Membership?").
I am 34 years old and an active and passionate member of my state farm bureau organization. But I also understand the realities of an aging and declining membership in ag and civic organizations across the country. I think it's important to point out that many state organizations are getting it right when it comes to engaging young farmers and ag professionals. Indiana and Ohio Farm Bureaus are great examples of that, but there is still much work to be done.
As a young farmer, I would agree that it is challenging to propel young farmers into state and national leadership positions because they are just beginning their careers, farming operations and many have young families at home.
From my experience, some young farmers are getting burnt out on farm bureau after years of involvement early on. After they reach the 36 year-old threshold, they are ready for a break and oftentimes promise the senior leaders they'll be back. For some that is true and for others, we never see them again.
My husband and I have had incredible opportunities through the young farmer program. We have experienced tremendous professional growth, and even grown within our relationship as husband and wife. My husband was recently elected president of our county farm bureau, and our county was ready for a new vision and a fresh approach to farm policy and leadership. It is an honor to be able to even have the opportunity to lead.
I understand not every member is willing to pass the torch to the next generation. Many civic and farm organizations have realized the importance of engaging the younger generation just recently and have been playing catch up ever since. It is a difficult, but doable task. Personally, I would like to see more organizations develop a mentor program and be more accommodating of young farmers who might also be working a full-time job. I work full-time off the farm, and my husband works full time at the farm - overtime most days of the week.
Many young farmers cannot attend day meetings, and evenings are set aside for family time. It's a challenge, but that is one thing I have always loved about our state farm bureau organization - it is very family-friendly. Kids are everywhere. Can we create an atmosphere and a schedule not so traditional and continue on a track conductive to the over-committed schedules of young farmers? Are we ready to host more web-based meetings? Maybe not right now, but I do believe it's a direction worth looking to.
While it is partly the responsibility of the older generation to groom and transition leadership positions to the next generation; young farmers and professionals also have to be open to the opportunity. We have to understand that if we don't stand up for what we believe in, then we do not have a voice in creating a prosperous environment for our children to own and operate a business and raise their children someday.
The time is now. Membership is important. Every voice matters!
Editor's note: Foster lives in Greenfield, Ind.