Reflections of the 2014 Heritage and Cooperative Award Tour to Washington, D.C.

Jenny Jackson 2014 Youth Ambassador Illinois Farm Bureau

Jenny Jackson
2014 Youth Ambassador
Illinois Farm Bureau

It seems that just yesterday I was beginning my summer internship here at Illinois Farm Bureau. In early May and I was given a list of all the fun events I would get to attend this summer. I was warned that one of my biggest tasks for the summer is to be a chaperone on the Heritage and Coop trip to D.C. I was a bit overwhelmed at first, I won’t lie. The thought of 77 FFA kids and just a few adults startled me. Or maybe it was more the fact that I was going to have a bus of 38 kids to myself….yes that was it! But shortly into the trip I realized that my job wasn’t going to be as stressful as I thought!

Whole group

The whole group before we hit the road.

As soon as we hit the road and the State FFA officers onboard my bus began ice breakers and singalongs, I suddenly remembered what it was like to be one of those FFA kids. They were well-behaved, well-mannered, and independent. I really didn’t have any worries! Within the first hour of the bus ride those 38 individual kids had become groups of new friends. Soon enough, there was not a single stranger left on board. That’s when it came to me….my fondest memory of my FFA years: making countless new friends everywhere I went. You see, in the FFA organization, we all have a common interest…agriculture. In my mind, there is no industry that provides a stronger, more substantial peer network than agriculture. By the end of our five-day journey, those 38 kids had built a peer network bigger than they ever expected in such a short amount of time. Even the most shy people who walked onto that bus walked off with a handful of new friends and one amazing experience.

Group Photo in front of the White House

Group Photo in front of the White House

We gave the students a short evaluation form to complete on the last stretch of our drive home. After reviewing all 77 evaluations I found one thing immediately in common. The question was:

Please indicate what you liked best about the week:

  • “Meeting new people”
  • “Making new friends”
  • “Fun group time”
  • “Meeting people from diverse places”

…and the list goes on, you get the hint!

In just a short amount of time our two charter buses covered over 1,500 miles of American soil. To be brief, here is a list of the places that we visited:

  • Gettysburg Museum & Battlegrounds
  • Air & Space Museum
  • Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington
  • Ford’s Theater
  • Holocaust Museum
  • Night Tour of D.C.
  • International Spy Museum
  • Smithsonian Museum of American history
  • Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
  • Newseum
  • Capitol
  • Library of Congress
  • Arlington Cemetary
Capitol Group up close

Blue Jackets in front of the US Capitol

As you can see, we were mighty busy! By the end of that Thursday afternoon our feet were sore, bodies exhausted, sweating from the heat trapped in those corduroy jackets, and our minds full of information.

Was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

Does it make me miss wearing my blue jacket? ABSOLUTELY!

A big thanks to all of the FFA chapters in the state that completed a Heritage or Cooperative Program. Your hard work truly pays off!

Also, another big thanks to the newly elected State Officers and 4-H Reps for their amazing contributions to the trip. There were lots of comments on the evaluations about the energy and fun that you brought to the table. Good luck on your upcoming year!


State FFA Officers L to R: Cody Morris, Renee Kinzinger, Andrew Klein, Willow Krumwiede, and Tommy Jutison.


4-H Rep Maggi Maxstadt

Patti B

4-H Rep Patti Benedict












More to come from my next adventure!




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A Month into my Internship: A New Work Family

Carly N. Holcomb, 2013 Summer Youth Ambassador, IFB

Carly N. Holcomb, 2013 Youth Ambassador, IFB

Good morning readers!! My name is Carly Holcomb and I am the Youth Ambassador at Illinois Farm Bureau this summer. It is my pleasure to be writing to you, and I am looking forward to blogging more as the summer progresses. I am from the small town of Mt. Pulaski, IL, a whopping 1700 people, but I like it that way; would not change a thing! I graduated in 2008, and enrolled in courses at Lincoln Land Community College that fall. I earned my Associate’s Degree in 2010 and transferred to Illinois State University (Go Redbirds!). I fell in love with ISU and the Department of Agriculture…so much that when I graduated with my B.S. degree in Agricultural Communications & Leadership, I decided to continue my education and pursue my M.S. degree in Agricultural Education & Leadership. In all seriousness, ISU is amazing, but I wanted to learn more about communications while incorporating agriculture into my studies, with the hopes of landing myself an AWESOME job where I can apply my education!

I have been at IFB for almost a month, and I am loving my job to the max! I learn something new every single day, and I am always challenging myself to make my next Facebook post more interesting than the last (it isn’t easy, let me tell you…finding out what makes our followers tick is a science). The employees at Illinois Farm Bureau have welcomed me with open arms, and they all will lend a helping hand when needed. Although I have not been at IFB all that long, I can already tell how much care and passion there is for this organization from its employees, and vice-versa. And I have never experienced a workplace like this before; it’s humbling! There are people of all ages here, and before learning about the employees, I assumed that they all have not been here for long. I quickly learned, though, that some people have been here for 20 or 30 years or even more! WOW! Now that is passion. The Rug Runner has even been here since the mid 80s!! He recently retired, though, but what a career!

The Rug Runner, fully decorated on his last day at IFB :(

The Rug Runner, fully decorated on his last day at IFB :( We wished him a Happy Retirement!

Throughout my time here at IFB, my boss, Mariah Dale-Anderson, has scheduled me to meet with various people within IFB to learn about their job and take any advice that they are willing to share :). I have met with four people so far, and honestly, I love all of their jobs!! A question I have asked each of them is “What do you like most about this organization?” Each person answered something along the lines of ‘they really like the people here,’ and ‘some employees have been with IFB for 20 years or more, and they like that a lot.’ I value relationships with people I respect, care for, love and trust very strongly, so to see this same belief resonate at IFB, made me feel good.

This is my family: (L to R) My dad, Mike, me, my younger, yet taller (WAY taller) brother, Harrison & my mom, Paula.

This is my family: (L to R) My dad, Mike, me, my younger, yet taller (WAY taller) brother, Harrison & my mom, Paula.

My family are wonderful people (but maybe I’m biased), and they have taught me life-long lessons that I carry with me today. Two of the main lessons is having a solid work ethic and a never-give-up attitude, which I use every day at IFB. I have my parents to thank for that!

I am learning the importance of having a work family, and all the people at IFB have welcomed me into their family. I loved this organization the first day I began my internship, but as my days go on, I can easily see why the employees love this place! I feel comfortable asking the employees at IFB for help, if needed, and I know they will gladly help me accomplish my task. I feel that the people here want me to succeed, and having that feeling of care at my workplace is outstanding! I am already sad that I have only two months left of my internship at Illinois Farm Bureau, but I conclude each day knowing that I have learned something new and made the most of this day.

Carpe Diem-Seize the day :)

~Until next time

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Youth Ambassador: Wrapping up a terrific summer

Claire Benjamin, IFB Youth Ambassador

Claire Benjamin, IFB Youth Ambassador

When I was little, I wanted to be a photographer. That Christmas, my parents gave me a Canon. It was my prized possession. I took it everywhere, and photographed everything. It eventually broke, and by that time, everyone was upgrading to digital point-and-shoot cameras. So my days of dreaming of being a professional photographer were waylaid until this summer.

Once again, I have taken my camera everywhere, and photographed everything – only this time for Illinois Farm Bureau. I photographed souvenir photos at the Illinois FFA State Convention. I captured the Illinois Farm Bureau Youth Education in Agriculture’s Heritage and Cooperative Tour. I took pictures of the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Young Leader’s Quiz Bowl Tournament. I documented Master Showmanship at the Illinois State. And the list continues…

In this way, I have gotten to see firsthand so many of the opportunities Illinois Farm Bureau provides its members and our youth in agriculture. The trip to D.C. was one of the most rewarding opportunities I have had at Farm Bureau. Not only did I have the opportunity to see months and weeks of planning come to fruition, learn about what it takes to organize a trip and keep to a jam-packed schedule, but I was able to fulfill an integral leadership role. It’s not often that a college student is given responsibility for 40 high school students – or was it 38? Just kidding!

I look forward to continue working with the next generation of agriculturalists this fall at the University of Illinois where I will help foster the first Collegiate Farm Bureau in the state of Illinois. We are so excited to expand the Illinois Farm Bureau programming to college students and provide them an organization that they can stick with beyond their four years in college.

This summer, I quickly discovered that the satisfaction of taking pictures to share with others is far more meaningful than taking pictures for oneself. I have valued the opportunity to capture an organization I truly believe in through my camera’s lens and, more importantly, in my heart.

Reporting to the Illinois Farm Bureau Action Team on my experience as the Youth Ambassador!

I’d like to thank Melissa Rhode and the Illinois Farm Bureau Action Team for without them, this internship and these experiences would not have been possible. You have shown me how much can be accomplished with a small budget and big dreams. I really enjoyed meeting everyone on the action team committee and look forward to our paths crossing in the future. I promise Collegiate Farm Bureau is in good hands.

And to everyone else at Farm Bureau – thank you. You have welcomed me with wide open arms and lots of congratulatory emails. I am sad that my time here is ending, but I am so grateful to have met so many amazing and dedicated people. Thank you for talking with me about your careers and the abounding opportunities at Illinois Farm Bureau. I hope that I find myself in a career that makes me just as passionate and enthusiastic.

Now this blog post wouldn’t be complete without thanking Mariah Dale-Anderson (and no, Mariah, I am not taking this part out). Mariah has taught me so much and I can’t thank her enough for taking the time out of her busy schedule to teach and train me.

Mariah’s organization skills will serve me well in the future – especially her infamous minute-by-minute, all-inclusive schedules. I’m leaving Illinois Farm Bureau not only with better writing, design and project management skills, but with an addiction to Pinterest and the knowledge of how to track down and kill a cockroach. But in all seriousness, thank you for everything.

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Agriculture is the foundation of America. Pretty bold statement, right?

If you don’t want to take my word for it, how about Thomas Jefferson’s?

“I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural.”

George Washington believed so, too.

I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.

And that’s just to name a few. Agriculture was the first industry in America (including Native Americans, Pilgrims and those to come after) and it is my hope that it will continue to be a solid economic foundation as other industries and fads come and go.

That’s why this article was so surprising to me.

As more and more industries move farther and farther abroad, many expect that the one steadfast industry will be agriculture. But in years such as this, with drought threatening yields across the nation, even American agriculture can be threatened by foreign trade.

The 2012 drought (deemed #drought12 on Twitter) is affecting the most states since 1934.


Jerry Gulke, president of the Gulke Group, said in the article above that he believes we will see more corn imported into America than ever before, well, ever before in his lifetime.

Sara Schafer writes in the article:

Gulke believes the export market in the U.S. is going to dry up and U.S. end users will start shopping for corn in Argentina and other countries.

It’s not a new era of American agriculture, but certainly one we haven’t seen awhile. An era where we cannot meet American demand – let alone foreign demand. I only hope that when production is up in the future we can once again compete against foreign markets.

I hope the silver lining of this drought is that 2012 will serve as a wake up call. We need to preserve American farmland and continue developing modern agricultural practices and technologies to meet our nation’s demand and global demand as well.

And while I’m on my soap box, I believe that we must not forget other parts of the country in their time of need. No year is drought free in the United States – as the graphic above illustrates. Let’s remember that in the future and support our fellow American agriculturalists in times of need.

Got questions or comments? Share them below! We love to hear from you.

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Go ahead, pin this! Tweet about it. Share it on Facebook. Let’s spread the word.

Eduardo M. Peñalver once wrote about “America’s relentless march into the cornfields.” Let’s rethink urban sprawl. Because we have to start thinking about the more than 9 BILLION mouths we will need to feed by 2050. Image

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Wednesday Words by Thomas Marten who went to Cuba.

When you take an opportunity you find even more opportunities will open up. For instance my recent participation in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Market Study Tour of Cuba aptly demonstrates this philosophy.

Before I went to Cuba, I was apart of the National Collegiate FFA and US Grains Council’s I-CAL program, which visited Panama and Colombia to study the implications of the then pending free trade agreements between the US and those countries.

Before that, I was a part of the first PAS State Officer Team to travel to the territory of Puerto Rico where we developed a relationship with Collegiate FFA members at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez.

Even before that I was heavily involved with the FFA and the 4-H organizations which exposed me to many of these opportunities and helped me to develop a skill set to progress forward with my professional development in agriculture.

Everything is connected, and if we are to progress as individuals and organizations then we must keep this in mind. My recent trip to Cuba was eye-opening as it built upon my prior experiences.


View from my hotel room.

When I returned home from Panama and Colombia I remember being grateful for the “stuff” we have in the United States. I realized how much stuff we have in terms of iPhones, tractors, ability to afford to go to a Cardinals game. You name it and we have it.

After coming back from Cuba, I again was grateful for stuff but that was overshadowed by a sense of patriotism and gratitude for our rights.

As we drove through the streets of Havana with their beautiful old architecture, antique cars and hospitality there was also something absent. Government propaganda was everywhere but there were no visible signs of an opposition.


Propaganda is everywhere! It can be found in homes, businesses, streets, etc. The larger poster to the left in this picture depicts the “Cuban 5”, which are five spies that are in jail for illegally being in Florida. They are considered national heroes in Cuba.

Churches were stripped down and many converted into museums. News sources were all government run. Freedom to assemble meant that you have supervision there watching you. The right to disagree seemed to be more of a felony.

It has been over half of a century since the Cuban revolution in which Castro overthrew the puppet Bautista regime. Not long after, the Castro administration seized US-held properties in Cuba, Kennedy signed in an embargo ceasing all US relations with Cuba and we lost track of a nation that is roughly as far away from Florida as the distance between Springfield and St. Louis. Needless to say relations are not the friendliest between the US and Cuba.

Let’s fast-forward several decades and we still have the same embargo against Cuba. Cuba has survived that time just as they have survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and they’ve even managed along without the US.

The problem is that Cuba still is repressive to the basic rights that every man, woman and child should expect – freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to petition, and the freedom of speech.

Additionally, the United States has lost a large potential market for our commodities such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, beef, dairy, etc. This isolation for the United States has done a disservice to the Cuban people who are blind to the freedoms we take for granted, and it has done a disservice to Americans who are losing out on a trade partner and those Americans who have friends and family in Cuba.

Turmeric Field

This is a turmeric field.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” It would seem that he is right as we’ve stubbornly expected to get different results after a half century of the same failed embargo.

Open trade with Cuba is more than just trade with Cuba – it is trade with the entire Latin American region. When Cuba needs commodities they oftentimes resort to buying from Brazil. This is like being a salesman who refuses to sell to a neighbor. That neighbor then calls your competition and now your competition has a guaranteed market in your own neighborhood to steal away your other customers. Our embargo is hurting US farmers and we are keeping Cubans in the dark to the freedoms they too should have.

Worm Castings

This urban farm had an extensive vermicomposting center. Cuba has a large organic farming system that arose after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993. Because of the loss of their preferential trading partner, Cuba no longer had access to adequate machinery, pesticides and fertilizers.

Again everything is connected. Just as I would not have had this opportunity had it not been for the blue corduroy jacket, we must realize that our embargo with Cuba means more than not having cigars. I encourage each and every one of you to do your own research and see for yourself the damage that the embargo has done to the US and the people of Cuba while preserving their dictator.


Thomas Marten of Raymond, Illinois was a 2012 IFB Cuba MST Participant.

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Love of farm and country.

Love of farm and country.

With the drought affecting livelihoods and hopes, we know that American farmers will persevere.

Please help us show our support during these trying times by pinning this photo.

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