Conference helps young farmers enhance advocacy


Issue Date: March 1, 2017
By Christine Souza
YF&R member Celeste Alonzo of Coachella, above, test-drives a new tractor during a tour of a Kubota Tractor Corp. facility in Lodi, while service manager Steve Americano gives advice.
Photo/Christine Souza
YF&R members learn about the Trinchero Family Estates high-tech bottling facility in Lodi from Jim Reed, the winery’s operations technical manager.
Photo/Christine Souza

To help young farmers and ranchers negotiate the financial, political and regulatory challenges that come their way, young agriculturalists met in Modesto for the 2017 California Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference.

California Farm Bureau Federation YF&R members—farmers, ranchers and agricultural professionals ages 18 to 35—attended the conference to take part in farm tours, hear from speakers and participate in sessions on topics including political engagement, technology and the power of social media.

The 2017 state YF&R chair, Napa County farmer Johnnie White, said YF&R members choose to be involved in Farm Bureau "because we understand every decision today affects our future in agriculture."

"Every day, new regulations make our future a little more difficult," White said, "and Farm Bureau is the organization fighting to assure agriculture a viable future."

Tyler Blagg of Lodi, immediate past-chair of the State YF&R Committee, told his fellow young farmers and ranchers it is critical for young people in agriculture to be advocates and communicate to regulators and non-farm residents.

"This conference offers ideas of how we can spread our message. Everybody has an idea of what they do and how they farm, but when you speak to someone who has influence, like a potential voter or an official, you get mixed messages. We need to work on our messaging and have a more unified voice," Blagg said. "I hope a takeaway from the conference is that you pick up some new skills as far as being a better advocate."

Learning how young farmers can expand their advocacy efforts, the conference heard from the "Peterson Farm Brothers": Greg, Nathan, and Kendal Peterson, siblings who farm with their family in Kansas. Together with their sister Laura, whom they describe as an "honorary bro," they create musical parodies about their lives as farmers, which they post to social media. This effort has gone viral, and they now have several hundred thousand social media followers.

The siblings encourage other farmers to follow their lead and tell the story of agriculture.

"Three farm kids from Kansas make a video and all of a sudden, it's going everywhere for people to see," Greg Peterson told the conference. "Take the initiative; you never know the impact you are going to have."

Jon Dinsmore, a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation YF&R committee from Yuma, Ariz., told participants, "Every minute you share with people is critical. The time you take is very valuable. Continue to share your stories."

CFBF President Paul Wenger, an almond and walnut farmer from Modesto, discussed his time in the YF&R program, but also talked about how to combat today's challenging regulations.

"There are some storm clouds on the horizon, but they won't be as daunting because of individuals like you. We can fight markets, we can survive weather, but what really bothers me is all of the regulations that are coming down the line," Wenger said, adding, "But it's not inevitable. It is because of organizations like this that we can change our future."

American Farm Bureau Federation Director of Media and Advocacy Johnna Miller encouraged the young farmers to use social media for advocacy and noted that "for every one negative message, you need four positives to counteract that one negative message." Miller also mentioned that social media matters on Capitol Hill and is a way young farmers and others could see success when advocating on a particular issue.

"Lawmakers are now using social media to communicate with constituents and they learn what matters to you: the issues," Miller said. "You've heard that you should tell your story, but I'll take it one step further: Tell how that issue affects your farm or your ranch."

Celeste Alonzo of Coachella, who works at her family farm Junior Enterprises, which grows bell peppers, green beans, squash and corn, said the Young Farmers and Ranchers conference was her first, because she is new to the program.

"I joined the Young Farmers and Ranchers program because I noticed that there's not a lot of representation in Riverside and San Bernardino counties and I'm really proud of my valley, so I said I really want to represent Southern California," said Alonzo, who joined the group a month ago. "I've never really ventured out to this part of the agriculture community in California. I like learning about the different aspects; it's really interesting."

Sonoma-Marin YF&R Chair Andrew Ryan, who sells wine and helps raise cattle at the family ranch in Bodega, said of the conference, "I'm here to meet new people and learn about the latest agriculture."

"We want those associated with agriculture to come to our meetings as well," Ryan said. "It's about how to recruit more people, learn about agriculture and where your food comes from."

Michael Ponti of Chico, who works for North State Drilling, said of the conference, "I've really enjoyed it. I've made at least two-dozen friends and they are all great."

Noting that the state YF&R chair became a voting member of the CFBF Board of Directors this year, White called the change a recognition of California young farmers' activity.

"Around the state, county Farm Bureau boards and executive committees are filling up with YF&R members," he said. "I think there has been a real acceptance that YF&R is the future of Farm Bureau."

For more information about YF&R in California, see yfr.cfbf.com or the group's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cayfr.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.