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When does one’s path toward an agriculturally related career begin?
Is such a course towards agriculture predetermined?
What influences impacts an individual’s decision of what to do when she or he grows up?
These questions have crossed my mind recently as I consider my own course of a farm-related, lifelong career and the paths both taken and not taken.
I grew up in farm country in western Illinois. Farming is the economic driver in the region. In my youth, most of my friends had parents that farmed or were connected to farming. Even the kids that lived in-town had parents with farming related jobs.
Many of us participated in a 4-H club. We attended the county fair. We detasseled corn. We walked beans. In high school, we joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA). Some went directly into the workforce out of high school. A few went on to community college to study. Others, headed toward a four-year university. A handful of my friends seemed to know their future…next stop, farming. The rest of us, like me, wandered and wondered.
I had not been back to my high school town in decades (we moved after my senior year to my grandfather’s farm). A recent high school class reunion changed that. I won’t tell you the “number” for this reunion, but it rhymes with “shorty,” “sporty,” and “sortie”.
The return to my high school community after so many years of absence was fascinating. What remained the same? What changed? One memory led to another memory which led to another.
Upon arrival back in town, I checked out and showed my wife the two different homes/farms we lived in when I was a kid. One house was no longer there…just farm buildings. The other house no longer was surrounded by the confinement hog houses of my high school years. Time moves on.
With so many rural farm towns struggling economically, I expected to see shuttered businesses in the downtown area. Of course, the Ben Franklin dime store was gone. The Coast-to-Coast hardware store no longer exists. Also gone were the family shoe store, the barbershop, the diner. The town library was just a memory. However, in each of those spaces, new (and modern) businesses occupied the old spaces of my memory. A yoga studio, a tech company, a realtor, a boutique/nail salon, an antique store, and a Mexican restaurant now occupy those spaces. The town is looking prosperous, clean, and proud. Time moves on.
A class reunion brings memories of superficial stuff…cliques, personalities, embarrassing moments, etc. My goals: Don’t embarrass myself or my wife. Don’t do or say something stupid. Remember classmates’ names. Yes, I set the bar high.
Upon arrival, it felt like a bunch of old people crashed my high school gathering. A few wrinkles. Baldness. Gray. Some gimpy and some not (that was my main contribution). Yet, I recognized those people. Time moves on.
Stories were told. Decades of catch-up were summarized in a few short sentences. People reconnecting with people. The superficial “stuff” fell away. My brave and lovely wife joined in and participated. I’m pretty sure she was seeking dirt on me. And weird, everybody in that room was the same age. Spooky!
The reunion caused me to reflect on the career and life paths taken by me and some of my classmates.
There was Greg who has been a successful farmer after he graduated from high school. That evening, he told me that as he left the farm to come to the class reunion, he could see his father and his son harvesting together with a beautiful farm sunset behind them. I think I saw a glint of a tear in his eye.
There was Kim who originally entered the agricultural world out of college and then left it to work in the educational field. She has returned to agriculture with a job in regenerative agriculture, producing a successful, agricultural podcast. She radiated positive energy.
There was Russ who had agricultural affiliated support jobs for many years, bouncing from one to the next until he created his own agricultural equipment high pressure washer cleaning business that is going great guns. He projected a weary yet proud aura.
There was Mike who works behind the scenes at large agricultural manufacturing companies to write marketing and promotional copy. Unassuming and lighthearted.
There was Diane who helps support her brothers and family who farm around the area. She loves coming back to visit to soak up the farm atmosphere.
There was Mark who worked for a local agricultural parts manufacturing company and then bought the company, taking it to new heights, providing jobs and support for many citizens in the community. He is proud of how his company navigated the COVID years to serve.
There was Buck who used his high school farm mechanical repair skills to create a successful truck and trailer repair company. He is “supporting farms from the tires up”.
Many of my classmates from “shorty” years ago found a pathway that became an agricultural career and future. Some naturally led that direction. For others, it was not so easy. Most importantly, all are playing a vital role in today’s agriculture, helping to make farming in our country a wonderful success story.
Today, your Cook County Farm Bureau Ag Literacy Department provides agricultural knowledge and experiences for the urban youth through in-class, farm-related topic presentations, trips to farm locations, and examples of career opportunities through the Farm Shadows program. Further, the Cook County Farm Bureau Foundation continues to expand higher education scholarship opportunities and possibilities.
Like my classmates, who knows how those agricultural connections and contacts may impact today’s young people, leading to an agriculturally related career or farm future?
In “shorty” years, perhaps I will write about a whole new generation of agriculturalists!
Yes, time moves on.