Tyler and Hannah Shepherd

Bombarded daily with poor crop forecasts and bankruptcy reports, it’s easy to worry the future of agriculture might be bleak, but that future looked bright — blinding, even — at this year’s Young Farmer Leaders Conference.  

About 350 young farmers took over the Grand Traverse Resort Feb. 21-23 to learn more about how they could grow as both businesspeople and community members. As the new Young Farmer program specialist, it was inspiring to see so many eager faces taking time out of busy schedules to bring back information to their counties and farms.

Members went on local tours; networked during “larger than life” board games and cornhole; and attended a full day of sessions ranging from financial management to the importance of incorporating stress-relieving activities to their daily routine. 

As a new MFB staffer, the most rewarding part was hearing about our members’ experiences firsthand. They were both encouraged and excited, making me geeked for a whole year of programing with this amazing group, and looking forward to next year’s Growing Together Conference, Feb. 19-21, 2021 in Grand Rapids.  

One member told me the session titled “Building Stronger Relationships in Farm Families,” presented by Ron Hanson from the University of Nebraska, validated their thoughts on the tough discussion about succession planning they would have when they returned home.

After our keynote, Paul Long, challenged us to ask questions in ways that cause people to smile, I had attendees asking me what the best part of my morning was. Other attendees told me they intended on doing stretches taught in Sarah Zastrow’s session on mental health and self-care.

The information and practices these young farmers gained from attending YFLC were not just exciting in the moment but made a strong impact on our members. If you don’t believe me, here are some thoughts they shared on social media:

  • “This weekend I traveled north for #yflc2020 up near Traverse City. As always it was a great Young Farmer conference. Got to see and network with friends and other familiar faces this weekend along with learning a lot. But in the last picture, these ladies I have never seen or met before until this weekend. As I was sitting and having a drink with a few friends these two came up to me and said ‘I couldn’t help but over hear that you guys are farmers.’ At that moment for the location we were at I thought for sure I was going to have to defend our occupation, but by my surprise they wanted to thank us and say how much they appreciate farmers. They were surprised by my response when I said thank you and I went on to explain that we don’t hear that too often and I really appreciated their support.” Cody Ferry, Genesee County 
  • “Mike and I spent the weekend networking, learning and relaxing with other Young Farmers at #YFLC2020. First, I never thought I’d learn social media strategies from an agronomist. And second, this weekend has made me so proud to be a part of the farming community. I don’t think the general population realizes how relevant farming is in our daily lives. And that it’s so much more than planting and harvesting. I’m looking forward to our 2020 season and being more involved, aware and hopefully beneficial to Schwab Farms! Thanks for the adventurous weekend, MFB Young Farmer Program!” —Lauren Schwab, Bay County

  • “Tyler and I had an awesome opportunity this weekend to attend the Young Farmer Leadership Conference! We are so thankful to Farm Bureau for hosting this event and providing us this experience! We hope to bring many ideas, techniques, and managing skills learned this weekend into our farm.” —Hannah Shepherd, Saginaw County  

If you come across a young farmer in the upcoming months, make sure to ask them if they attended and if so, what they loved the most. I’m confident it will make you smile knowing the future is promising for agriculture.

Megan Sprague is MFB’s new Young Farmer program specialist.