Tag Archives: rural

Lucky Man

By Jeff VanderWerff

On Sunday, the upper Midwest saw some of the most severe storms we’ve ever seen this late in the year. While the damage was nothing like what the folks in places like Illinois saw, it was still significant around our area in Michigan, and my family was affected.

On Monday morning, I arrived at the “main farm,” where my grandparents live, and saw for myself what had happened: one post frame building destroyed, debris around the yard and no power. We spent most of the morning and afternoon removing building pieces so we could get equipment out, hooking up generators, and trying to get things up and running again. When the power went out, we’d had the grain dryers running, so on Monday we still had thousands of bushels of wet corn in trucks and bins that would start molding quickly if we couldn’t get it dried, and fast. As I worked around throughout the day, one thought kept creeping into my head:

I’m a lucky man.

My family is safe. My farm buildings and home are (for the most part) still standing. I didn’t lose any equipment. Compared to many farm friends south of me, I’m extremely lucky.

Lucky Man - Photo 1When I took to social media with pictures and stories, it wasn’t about looking for pity or a “hey, look at how bad this is” moment. I’ve decided that I’m going to share my farming life with the world via social media, and this was part of that. The good, the bad, everything.

Then, something even more humbling than I can put into words started happening.

First, it was text messages.

Then, the Facebook postings.

Finally, the phone calls.

Other farmers and ranchers all over the country were reaching out, contacting me, wondering how we were doing, how bad the damage was and asking if there was anything they could do to help out.

Then it struck me.

Compared to having a town leveled or losing half your cattle in a blizzard or having an entire crop lost to flooding, this was a minor inconvenience. And these people, these wonderful friends, many of whom I know only on Facebook and Twitter, were asking if we were OK and telling me they were praying for us.

I was beyond words.

And then, it hit me:

This is farming. This is what I do. And this – and they – are why I do it.

I am truly, a very lucky man.


Jeff VanderWerff is a 4th generation farmer from Sparta, Mich. and a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. Learn more about his family farm at www.youtube.com/agsalesman.

Internet in Classrooms Will Boost Rural Communities

With about three-fourths of people in rural areas who have sub-par or no Internet connection and most schools with so little bandwidth that they have assigned times for teachers to check their emails, it’s easy to see we need improvement. A recent Focus on Agriculture column dconnectediscussed the benefits of updated technologies for rural schools in a new program sponsored by President Barack Obama called ConnectEd.

Rural students don’t always have the opportunity to take all the classes needed to be prepared for college and therefore have limited options when it comes to choosing where or if they will continue their education and what they will pursue as a career. The ConnectEd program would update technology allowing students to take classes over the Internet with video conferencing and online tests, giving them many new online class options.

Good schools are usually a large factor when families are choosing where to live or whether to stay in an area. Rural communities need good schools to have well-educated students who want to come back to their community to live and raise a family. Internet connectivity is the first of many steps that can help rural communities continue to be competitive and to thrive.

Life After PAL?

How many of you have been to a conference or training that was amazing and impactful and then you get home and you put the binder of information on the shelf to gather dust? You may utilize a few strategies or ideas, but for the most part you don’t utilize many of your new discoveries. That’s where my friends and I sit today. Three modules, four days each, lots of homework and now we are nearing the end of a chapter in our lives! PAL Class 6 has completed the PAL modules and we have a bit of homework to complete before Graduation, then we will each have a chance to reevaluate our own destiny.

First, PAL (Partners in Agricultural Leadership) is a program offered by some great sponsors including American Farm Bureau, Monsanto, and Farm Credit that is an intense two-year leadership training and development experience. The class is made up of 10 young farmers from very different farm backgrounds across the country who were selected to grow in their leadership ability for agriculture.
The next piece of the puzzle is that not only did we focus on leadership development; we also spent time on engagement and the political process. Some of the greatest learning came from fellow class members and learning about agriculture in their world.

We are filled with excitement and ideas, but what do we do with it? What is the right choice for us as individuals and does this match what is best for our ag and food industry? Opportunities to be engaged and active in agriculture exist, so what activity do we jump into next? The members of this class are ready to hit the ground running with new ideas and abilities. Life decisions abound!

I am blessed to have five amazing kids and a few responsibilities so it adds another level of thinking before making decisions. Many of us have spouses that have stayed home with the farm chores and the kids to make it possible for us to be involved in activities like PAL. Do we take the risk to move on with exciting leadership opportunities? As a working Mom, how do we make the call to move on to the next opportunity in work and life? In a perfect world, I would help on the farm and volunteer for any and all ag advocacy opportunities. Life isn’t perfect and I do enjoy my job, but is working full-time best for my kids? Would it be worth the risk to not have health insurance and be able to have time to start a farm fresh/direct farm business on top of what we are already doing with some of the knowledge I have gained? There are always conflicts in life to work through, but when you have a conflict between commitment to family and commitment to a passion for the future of your industry, what is one to do? I wish I had some great ideas on how to answer these questions, but I do believe there are some consistent ideas that would work for all of us and other decisions that are very individual. The best ideas so far: pray and communicate with those closest to you to measure the pros and cons. No matter what path life leads you on, make sure to make a difference and share your passion!

Congrats PAL Class 6, we survived, but now we have to survive in the rest of our real life and make an impact beyond a safe learning environment of role plays! Look for us at the AFBF National Leadership Conference and Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference in Phoenix this February and ask us about our experience or share your ideas on how to better make these risky life decisions.