At The Farm GateAgriculture cultivates better communities
“My life is one big volunteer commitment. LOL.”
That’s an accurate assessment.
I inquired about a project of our FFA Alumni organization, and my aunt was fresh off two community events for separate volunteer groups that weekend. Mind you, this is after a week of watching grandkids, preparing meals for the farm crew and caring for aging parents. It seems appropriate to insert a cross-eyed, slightly stressed emoji face to our message exchange. Her bank account didn’t reflect it, but she impacted many lives for the better and profited in satisfaction.
My aunt’s level of commitment to giving and volunteerism places her in an elite category of service and selflessness. But generally speaking, farmers and other agriculture professionals are among the most giving people I know, and their explanation for this servant attitude is about as simple as the desire to farm: It’s in their blood, and it’s the right thing to do.
Previous generations taught us to volunteer out of duty and necessity. In small towns like ours, volunteers even handle firefighting and first-response medical care. Thanks to volunteers, our communities are safe, my kids have a 4-H fair and youth in our small town have soccer and summer baseball programs. Volunteers provide amenities in our parks and coordinate the town’s largest events. They share hours of their time, skills and resources to improve schools, churches, hospitals and non-profit groups for the betterment of our community. Rural areas lack paid staff to handle such life-impacting essentials.
Across Illinois, Farm Bureau families make impacts when they sponsor youth safety programs from bikes to farm equipment. Volunteers coordinate blood drives and health screenings at their county Farm Bureau buildings. The same families give their time in the church kitchen for a community dinner. They organize the school carnival, decorate for the annual FFA banquet, and understand the commitment of running a quality food stand as a fundraiser.
Just before COVID, our community won the Governor’s Cup for exemplary volunteerism to build our small town’s playground. In a tremendous effort, volunteers raised $150,000 in funds and physically built that two-story, barn-shaped playground using their farm-based skills and donated use of resources, from power tools to tractors.
At that same park, more than 100 local FFA and 4-H volunteers will gather this month to transform that space into an agritourism attraction with free admission for more than 20 activities – a bale climb, farm chore course, high-tech sprayer simulator, and farm animals among them. Local youth eagerly help organize and operate this annual agriculture festival, and seasoned volunteers find satisfaction knowing they have instilled an ethic of service in the next generation.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in west-central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and farmkids.