I may have married a dairy farmer instead of striking out on my own, but now it’s time to return the favor by helping kids in 4-H and FFA whenever I can. With having a small dairy herd like ours, my husband, Sam, and I do all the chores ourselves. While it’s not easy to take time off, we make it work. It can range from something as simple as taking younger cousins on a tractor ride or letting them help feed calves, to something as important as judging a contest that can have a big impact on a child or teenager’s future.
Either way, all of those little things add up, even if they mean that chores need to get done earlier or later than usual. I frequently competed in speaking contests through FFA in high school, and my prepared public speech on eliminating direct payments from the farm bill took me all the way to state my senior year. Almost a decade later, I jump at the chance to judge contests and have an opportunity to shape the next generation of farmers and agriculturists in some small way.
A couple of weeks ago, I judged the sectional FFA speaking contest in the next town over with two other people. A bright, intelligent and articulate farm girl was the winner and state qualifier of the category I judged. About a week later, she messaged me to not only ask if there were any judges’ notes she needed to see before competing at the state convention this summer, but if I could help her write a letter to the editor of her local newspaper about the impact of family farms on rural communities. She was coming from a place of concern and worry, and understandably so as her friends were watching their parents decide to sell their cows.
I was tickled that she thought to ask me to help her craft a very important piece of writing. Our conversation then evolved into what I ended up considering my best explanation of federal order pricing, which was still about as clear as mud. I recalled what we talked about to Sam, and I commented that I was impressed she even cared about milk pricing.
“Most kids don’t care or know,” I said.
Sam replied, “Maybe they don’t know that they should care.”
As the number of family farms continues to dwindle, a treasure worth far more than a herd of cows is also leaving on the trailer with them – the treasure of intergenerational knowledge. I think many other dairy farmers would agree we wouldn’t be where we are without the generations of farmers who came before us and paved the way for us to stake a claim and turn our dreams into reality by not only setting up farms for success, but imparting their wisdom along the way as well. Let’s share as much of the knowledge and experience we worked hard to gain with the next generation as often as we can before it’s too late.
Brittany Olson is a dairy farmer and freelance writer from Chetek, Wisconsin. She and her husband, Sam, milk 40 registered Holsteins and Jerseys on their 116-year-old farm.
PHOTO: Supporting youth in agriculture is key to making sure the industry continues for generations to come. Pictured is the American FFA Degree, the highest honor an FFA member can receive at the national level. Photo by Brittany Olson.