It is often said that farming is a thankless job and for the most part that is true. With only two percent of the population engaged in producing food, it is very easy for the other 98 percent to forget about farmers. With that being said, there are occasions when those involved in agriculture get a nice pat on the back by some of their own. Rebecca and I have received what is probably more than our fair share of recognition over the last year. The pinnacle of this journey came just this week when we were named National Top 10 Finalists in the Young Farmer and Rancher Excellence in Agriculture Competition by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
This competitive award is designed to highlight the work of an individual or couple who are involved with the Farm Bureau and promote agriculture in a variety of ways, all while making the majority of their income from something other than agriculture subject to production risk. Put simply, those who are not full-time farmers. The competitive process involves lengthy written statements outlining the applicant’s personal history, agricultural involvement, and opinions about the industry’s greatest challenges and their ideas to face them. This is then followed up by a presentation that highlights all of the aforementioned.
Having won this competition for the state of Georgia last July, we found ourselves competing this week in Phoenix Arizona, against the best 28 other states had to send. This was an emotionally exhausting task to say the least. While Rebecca and I were ecstatic to make it to the top 10, it goes without saying that, when you pour your heart and soul into something like this the way we did, you want to win the whole shooting match. Bear in mind, this desire isn’t born simply from the lust for prizes and glory (in this case new trucks and tractors), but for vindication. This award is not given for one or even a handful of tasks applicants have achieved. It is given for the sum total of their life’s involvement in agriculture. You’re literally putting your life story out there to be judged against others. That’s heavy stuff!!
I can honestly say that it was a punch in the gut when we stood on that stage in front of thousands only to hear others names being called as the winner and three finalists. Having now had some time to reflect more on the matter, I have lost that competitive focus and settle back into the knowledge that what Rebecca and I do is good and right and exactly what we are supposed to be doing in life. I am so glad that we decided to put ourselves out there and have zero regrets about doing so.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank those who were such critical players in making it all possible. Taylor Sills (GA Young Farmer Coordinator), Ricky Lane (Farm Bureau District Rep.) and James Casey (Polk County Farm Bureau President) were all sources of valuable advise and constant encouragement. It is important to note that, while Rebecca and I both had agricultural roots in our families, we entered into this lifestyle having no mentors. It is through involvement with organizations like the Farm Bureau and others that we have made the contacts that have changed our lives. Our families were obviously huge supporters as well.
So what now? After a nearly a year of preparation for this competition (for which we can only apply this once), Rebecca and I are ready to find new challenges. While raising kids, maintaining jobs, and keeping afloat our current farm operation would certainly be enough to keep us busy, we just don’t operate that way. This experience has only served to steel our resolve to give back to the industry we love. As we stated in our competitive presentation, we view ourselves as foot soldiers for an industry in need of capable spokespeople. While we want to continue to grow our own agricultural business, we would be selfish to give all our energy to just that. We have an obligation to seek out leadership opportunities by which we can spread the positive message of agriculture and help others do the same.