I believe there’s a seed of farm curiosity in everyone—no matter where you’re from or what you do for a living. It’s in our nature to wonder how things grow and to want to feel a connection to the land. For some, that seed may spring into a curiosity to learn more about farming with a visit to a local orchard or pumpkin patch. For others, that seed may help sprout a home garden of fresh herbs and vegetables for the family dinner table. And for a few, that seed can blossom into pursuing a career in farming or a related field. As farmers, we know that all seeds need good soil and tending to grow, however. We don’t just scatter them and hope for the best. In that same way, if we want to cultivate an understanding of agriculture and the next generation of leaders in farming, we need to cultivate the seeds of farm curiosity beyond our fencerows today.
You might say that that sounds like a big undertaking, and you’d be right. It’s not something we can tackle alone. That’s why at Farm Bureau, we partner with the premier youth and young professionals’ organizations who are committed to getting more young people from all backgrounds to engage with agriculture. We recognize that fewer young people are growing up around farms. Not everyone can come to “farm camp” like my grandkids call it. I sure wish more could. But that’s where organizations like 4-H, FFA and MANRRS are bringing the farm to kids, college students and young professionals in all areas, from rural communities to the suburbs and inner cities.
In fact, 4-H has been doing this work in communities across the country longer than even the oldest Farm Bureaus, reminding us all that change and service begins when we’re young. National 4-H Council CEO Jennifer Sirangelo recently joined me on my Farmside Chat podcast and shared how 4-H has grown and adapted to meet the times. I am a proud 4-H alum myself and am excited for the opportunities that students of all ages, everywhere, have to take a part in agriculture. Service projects sure have changed in scope since I was a kid. For example, 4-H students today can be “Tech Change Makers,” helping their communities adapt to and adopt new technology from the classroom to the barnyard. We need these students to keep thinking creatively and bringing innovative ideas to agriculture. They could be the next agriculture researchers, scientists, veterinarians, or even farmers.
National FFA’s history runs long and deep as well. Everywhere I travel, I love to meet the students in the blue jackets. Of course, it’s not just the uniform that makes FFA leaders standout, it’s also their positive, can-do spirit and heart for service. These are the future leaders of agriculture. And they aren’t waiting for tomorrow to lead either: they have started today. It’s inspiring to hear from FFA members and leaders who have learned about agriculture for the first time through their school’s FFA program. My school didn’t have FFA when I was kid, but I would proudly wear the blue jacket any day.
Innovation and leadership in agriculture extends beyond the farm today, as related science and natural resource fields play critical roles in achieving our shared climate goals. We need the brightest minds and hardest workers in all these fields engaged to bring farming forward to protect our safe, sustainable food, fiber and fuel supply. We recently signed an agreement to partner with the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). This partnership is a natural fit for both our organizations, and I am excited about how this will further expand our Farm Bureau family to students and young professionals from all backgrounds.
Today, farmers as a profession make up less than 2% of the population, and most farmers are not much younger than me. If we’re going to continue to grow tomorrow, together, we must continue to extend our reach to students, young professionals and beginning farmers from all walks of life. We can’t always tell which seeds will take root, but we can keep cultivating in hopes that the next generation of leaders and innovators in agriculture will exceed even their brightest dreams.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.