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Moving It Forward: Behind-the-scenes work leads to statewide award

Issue Date: October 14, 2020
By Kevin Hecteman
Butte County Farm Bureau member Shay McCluskey says she was humbled to receive the statewide Star YF&R award in recognition of her service to the Young Farmers and Ranchers program.
Photo/Courtesy Shay McCluskey

(Editor's note: This is the first installment of a three-part Ag Alert® series highlighting individuals and committees participating in the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program.)

It was the end of February, and Shay McCluskey had a conundrum: go to the California Young Farmers and Ranchers conference in Visalia, or stay home and work on the annual Butte County Farm Bureau clay-shoot fundraiser, scheduled for the same weekend in Corning.

Ultimately, McCluskey chose to dedicate her time to the local event. Her friend Kayla Dunlap did travel to Visalia and back—and caught McCluskey off guard with an announcement at the post-shoot raffle.

"She was saying how the award ceremony was, and how the conference went," McCluskey said. "Then she surprised me with getting the Star of the Year award."

McCluskey said she's "humbled" by being named Star YF&R—an award given annually by the YF&R State Committee—describing herself as one who likes to stay out of the spotlight.

"I'm more of the person that likes to stand in the back and do the behind-the-scenes work," she said.

Folks in Butte County said the recognition is well deserved.

"Nobody was surprised that she won an award for doing great work, because she was doing great work when she won it," said Colleen Cecil, Butte County Farm Bureau executive director. "She was making sure that our local event happened in the manner that it needed to happen."

Lee Heringer, a tree-crop farmer in Chico and Butte County Farm Bureau president, said his group is "very proud of Shay and the work that she's been putting in," such as her decision to stay home and tend to the county Farm Bureau's biggest fundraiser of the year.

"Not only does that speak volumes for her dedication to Butte County Farm Bureau and Butte County YF&R, but it also, I think more importantly, shows personally she's not in it for the accolades," Heringer said.

Born in Woodland, McCluskey grew up around agriculture—first in Dixon, where her father, Mike, managed a row-crop farm. When she was in the eighth grade, the family moved to Red Bluff, where Mike works at Tehama Cattle Ranch, owned by her aunt and uncle, and her mother, Kendra, works for North Valley Ag Services. The elder McCluskeys also have their own Black Angus herd, as well as prune trees.

"Growing up and even now watching them have full-time jobs and then going out to check on the cattle and make sure the trees are tended to has taught me so much about responsibility and that you must work hard to be successful," McCluskey said of her parents.

McCluskey went to Shasta College in Redding, intending to become a teacher, but changed her mind and started taking agriculture classes instead.

"I did livestock judging there, and that's where I found my niche, where I just really want to be involved in agriculture for the rest of my life," she said.

From there, she went to California State University, Chico, where she earned a degree in agricultural business.

"I found my niche with ag business, because I just liked everything about it," McCluskey said. "You could be an accountant, you could be in insurance—you could do whatever you wanted."

Her college years led her to the Butte County Farm Bureau—where a senior-year internship evolved into a full-time job after graduation—and to YF&R, the California Farm Bureau Federation program for members ages 18 to 35. McCluskey has been involved in Butte County YF&R for seven years, including stints as secretary in 2016-18 and as chair in 2018-20.

"I got my hands dirty with the clay shoot and the drive-through dinners, and with just every little thing that I possibly could," she said.

As the chair, she worked to "increase the volume of members by just making it fun and laid-back and just having a good time, meeting new friends, not making it too long of meetings."

Cecil said the Butte County YF&R committee likes to meet at agricultural businesses where they can take a tour, learning and networking along the way.

"Shay was very strategic as the YF&R chair, and on the executive committee, coordinating those meeting locations and organizing and doing that work behind the scenes to make those meetings successful for everybody who attended," Cecil said. "That right there, her work ethic, is why I believe she was the Star YF&R member."

Heringer agreed.

"Shay is a very positive, upbeat, can-do person," he said. "She's got a great attitude, and it's kind of infectious."

McCluskey's professional career led her to Heritage Insurance in Chico, where she works as a claims service associate. She said she plans to remain involved in Farm Bureau.

"I just think it's such a good thing to be involved with," she said. "No matter what county you're in, I feel like everybody should be a member of their Farm Bureau."

While farmers, ranchers and professionals take care of their operations, she added, "the Farm Bureau is doing that back work for us to say, 'Hey, these are the things you should be looking out for; these are the things that's coming to your table soon; we're working on these things for you.'"

McCluskey said she goes home to Red Bluff about once a month to visit family.

"I like to see how the trees are growing and how the cows are doing," she said.

There's another thing going on at home: wedding planning. McCluskey is engaged to Matt Benzel, who works for Simplot in the Sacramento Valley, with the ceremony set for March.

Heringer said his county Farm Bureau is "very proud of the fact that we've got a great young group of ag professionals."

"We've had a string of very dedicated, exemplary YF&R members," he said. "Shay is the latest in a long line of success stories that we have with Butte County YF&R."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

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

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