GFB Young Farmers and Ranchers learn to break down barriers

By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau



The 2022 Georgia Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Summer Leadership Conference, held July 13-16 on Jekyll Island, offered participants ways to overcome adversity, share their story and break down barriers. They also had time for visiting the beach and the island’s other attractions, touring the Georgia Ag Experience Mobile Classroom and lots of fellowship.


Utah cowboy Braxten Nielsen shared his journey from a debilitating rodeo injury to walking again. Nielsen was slammed against the chute railing when the bronco he was riding bucked as the gate opened during a 2017 rodeo. He sustained multiple spinal fractures and was left paralyzed from the waist down. He tracked his course over several months of rehabilitation therapy, noting that over time incremental improvement can result in big change.


Throughout his presentation, Nielsen emphasized using available resources, wowing the GFB crowd with his auctioneer voice and his turkey call as he walked around the stage.


“We’re all put here on this Earth with talents and abilities,” Nielsen said. “We need to share them.”


Nielsen encouraged the young farmers and ranchers to maintain a positive mindset, work hard and surround themselves with supportive people.


“When life puts a scar on you, it’s giving you a legacy to leave in life,” he said. “Hard work will never cheat you.”


TikTok sensation Will Brinkley, the “Tarheel Farmer,” talked about how to leverage social media’s reach in agriculture’s favor. Brinkley has more than 318,000 followers on the video sharing app, where his humorous clips put farm life on display.


He noted statistics that show a ratio 258 people for every farm operation in Georgia. He praised Farm Bureau for its work in support of agriculture.


“If I had to go try to reach all those people, I wouldn’t get much farming done,” said Brinkley. “We’re farmers and we’ve got to advocate for our own products and our own markets, and we’ve got to do a better job for the next generation and give everybody a voice. We don’t have to reach everybody. We just have to get it out there and let it spread. A lot of us have a voice now.”


Brinkley said it is important to share benefits derived from agriculture.


“You’ve got to be positive about ag and farm life. Positivity is the number one thing.,” he said.


Lori Tiller, a public service associate with UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, led the GFB group through exercises to help bridge generational communication gaps. Primarily, she focused on individual perspectives, like historical events, culture and developments through a person’s formative years from ages 14-21. For example, one generation’s first mobile communication device might have been a flip phone, while another started with a smart phone. Or, one generation might say the 9/11 attacks are the historical event that had the greatest impact on them, while another might say the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.


“When we’re talking about those formative years, that 14-21, we know that’s a time in life where there is drama every single day,” Tiller said. “So, those things that stick, we’ve got to figure out what those are for that to be considered that that event changed their life.”


Tiller suggested that communication barriers between generations can be overcome by engaging others with questions about their memories from those formative years, including:


• What is the most historical event of your lifetime?


• Which leader or famous person impacted your generation?


• How did this experience affect you then, and how does it still affect you today?


“There are societal events that cross all generations – where people were, what were they doing when that happened,” Tiller said. “For it to have an impact on you, you have to remember what it was like prior to that event. The younger you were for 9/11, while 9/11 may have impacted you, those of us that traveled a lot before 9/11, the stark change in how to get around the country before and after 9/11 is something you’re never going to forget. So, when you’re in one generation and another generation doesn’t understand … they didn’t experience it the same way. That’s one of the things you need to always remember is how it continues to impact you.”


The conference also offered educational sessions on marketing your farm, running for public office, handling sticky conversations, accessing H-2A laborers, regenerative bioscience, building county YF&R programs and debunking agricultural myths.


In the sticky conversations session, Sharon Justice, from the Executive Farm Management Program offered by multiple southern Extension services, defined sticky conversations as those where outcomes are important, viewpoints differ and emotions run high. Justice advised using simple language, sticking to facts and resisting overgeneralization.


One key way to approach this is to use sentences that begin with “I” instead of sentences that begin with “You.”


In the marketing your farm session, Jessica Akins of Oak + Willow Creatives, Tara Green of GreenGate Farm and Georgia Farm Bureau Certified Farm Markets Coordinator Kelly Henry offered tips on using web-based tools, questions to consider when marketing farm products, use of social media and other topics.


“You are your brand,” Akins said. “We are walking billboards for our farms. Think about how you want to be marketed to, and whether you should take the approach to educate [customers] rather than sell.”


In the regenerative agriculture session, Herb Young of Squeeze Citrus in Thomas County talked about the process of restoring soil ecosystems and microbes with nutrition, innoculants and cover crops in order to provide nutrients for the crop and, in the case of his orange grove, nutrient-dense fruit.

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