By Jennifer Bergin
At the airport on my way back from the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention, I reflected on the questions and comments I hear in my local community, in the big city, when traveling and from friends and family. These include, among others:
You are so involved in Farm Bureau; you must have been raised in it.
You must have been in FFA – you are so involved in agriculture and educating about it.
What agriculture degree do you have?
What did your family raise on your farm/ranch?
These are all the beginnings of conversations that my husband and I have had. Every assumption is false, not in its entirety, but because…I was not raised in agriculture, nor do I have an agriculture background or degree. I married into agriculture and from the day I said “I do” we moved forward in life and into the Farm Bureau family together, as it was the organization my husband was a part of already.
Some background – I was raised in a small town in Montana (a “city” of 2,000 compared to the town of 80 near where I now live). My parents were not involved in agriculture. I participated in sports, speech, drama; FFA was not offered at my school. We watched for good steaks to go on sale at the grocery store, never giving any thought to the people who raised the beef cattle. Actually, the only time I thought about the impact of agriculture growing up was when people talked about taxes. For example, when a needed tax increase for worthy community projects was debated by city homeowners, who would see property tax increases of a few pennies a month, farmers and ranchers who said it would cost them much more.
My life path changed drastically after I went to college. I moved to a bigger city, loved every second of it and then realized after a few years that I missed home and Montana. I returned to Montana State University to complete my degree in secondary education, English and history. There I saw the cowboys, the rodeo team, the guys everyone thought were cute…but that was still my only connection and view of agriculture.
After graduation (not ag education), I was off to teach at a private school on one of the Indian reservations. I loved every second of it.
Then, I met a guy and he was a rancher. By then I had learned a little more about ranchers and knew they worked hard and didn’t do much of anything else. My guy had a different outlook on life and a different perspective on the world.
My entire future changed into one that I had not seen coming when I married my rancher, left teaching and moved to the ranch to start our new life and family. But the idea of teaching was still near to my heart. Once we had our three boys, I felt that I needed to do something more, after seeing for myself that many people held beliefs and perceptions about agriculture that were just not true (some of them I had believed, too).
Fast forward to when I was invited to a local Farm Bureau meeting, a group we had been a part of for five years but just paid the membership and never really got involved. At that first meeting I recognized what I had not seen before, a way to teach others and to help make agriculture a better place.
Through Farm Bureau I have been blessed with many leadership opportunities, valuable experiences and training. It has allowed me to stretch my comfort zone and to share my views on agriculture in a variety of ways, from the perspective of a “city girl gone country” who is the proud mother of three sons who want to be back on the ranch one day, like Dad.
My husband was asked not long ago, “Why is your wife doing all that stuff for Farm Bureau, aren’t you the one who should be doing it?” Bill had the best response: “Why shouldn’t she do the ‘stuff’ for Farm Bureau? She is doing a job that feels right for her, doing it better than I could as we both have strengths and weaknesses…she’s making sure she is fighting for a better agriculture, not only us but for the boys in the future, too. Actually, for all the boys and girls in the future.”
So, while I wasn’t born into agriculture, I am extremely proud that I found the right rancher and married into agriculture and the Farm Bureau family. Agriculture is my focus, for the present and the future and I couldn’t imagine life any other way.
Jennifer Bergin is a rancher and Farm Bureau member in Montana. She serves on the Montana Farm Bureau board of directors and AFBF’s Promotion & Education Committee. She graduated from AFBF’s Partners in Advocacy Leadership program in 2017.