Inevitably there comes a point in every child's life where they desire to have the same occupation as one of their parents when they grow up. Whether their parent is a police officer, a teacher, or receptionist, there is usually an affinity by that child towards that occupation simply because it is the only occupation that child has exposure to. Sometimes this affinity persists long into the child's teen years and sometimes the child inevitably takes up the occupation of their parent.
In the same aspect, there are times when a parent is depending on their child to assume the same occupation as them, such as when there is a family-run business. While some may say this scenario is unfair for the child, as it limits their ability to determine their own paths, so long as the child obliges, the business continues to be family-operated.
The problem therein exists when a child determines they do not want to continue a family business. Does the business then get sold to different owners? Does it cease to be completely?
The youths pictured above represented Chautauqua County in the 2012 Western District 4-H Quiz Bowl contest in Wyoming County. Front row, from left, are Zachary Wolcott, Katelyn Miller, Heidi Moss and Chance Miller. Middle row, from left, are Kayla Nefedov, Bobby Nagel, Joyce Wiltsie, Cheyanne Wolcott and Justin Dye. Back row, from left, are Hewitt Meeder, Andrew Miller, Benjamin Dye, MacKenzie Miller, Trenton Meeder and Clarke Wiltsie.
This is one of the greatest concerns that family-run farms face. When a child branches off to pursue their own dreams and there is no one left in the family to run the farm, often times there are few options other than closing down the farm left.
Unfortunately farming isn't exactly a burgeoning trade amongst school-age children who have no previous background in the business. Throughout a child's life there are occupations which they are naturally exposed to and that they may become inclined towards; they encounter teachers in their schools, doctors when they are sick and actors and entertainers through the television. However, when a child deals with food, that encounter usually takes place at a grocery store rather than on a farm itself.
A combination of all these factors have contributed to the plight of the family-owned farm. With every subsequent generation potentially looking towards the horizon and very few new faces looking to get into the business, the sun could be setting on the age of the independently-owned family farm.
However, there are organizations that have taken all of this into consideration and are doing their best to keep the youth of tomorrow interested in farming and agriculture. In cultivating an interest in youths in cultivating the land, organizations are hoping to create a new generation of farmer, one who may not have gotten into the business without the organizations' help. With a focus on increasing the exposure of farming to youths, independent and family-owned farming can survive long into the future.
CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY INITIATIVES
Here in Chautauqua County, fertile land and wide-open spaces have allowed farming to flourish as a trade. With the exception of a few select places, it's difficult to drive 15 miles in any given direction from any point in the county and not pass at least one farm on the way. In order to keep those farms producing well into the future, organizations are doing what they can to interest the youth of the county in taking them over.
One such initiative is the Dairy Youth Explorers program hosted by 4-H. The Dairy Youth Explorers is a program for students 13 to 18 years of age in Chautauqua, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties who are interested in discovering exciting opportunities in the dairy industry. Dairy Youth Explorers connects youth to the leaders in the dairy industry and facilitates placement and work experiences. The program involves hands-on workshops and educational trips that take place once a month.
Eric Lindquist, a mechanic at Zahm and Matson Ag and Turf in Falconer, recalls his experience with the program.
"Basically, you're going out, you're spending time with your friends and you're experiencing something different," said Lindquist. "It involves job shadowing, which is great for gaining experience for your future. I did my job shadowing here (at Zahm and Matson Ag and Turf) when I was in the program and now I work her permanently, so it shows how important it can be. I was always interested in mechanics and now I do it for a living."
Lindquist was a member of the inaugural program in 1994. The program has continued to flourish since and continues to attract children with a potential interest in farming.
"I would definitely do (the program) again if I had to go back and decide and I would definitely suggest that any kid with an interest tries it," said Lindquist. "You meet a bunch of good people and you get to experience things that you'd never get to experience otherwise."
And though Lindquist can't go back and do it again, he can, and has, helped to contribute toward the program as an employee of Zahm and Matson Ag and Turf, as current Dairy Youth Explorer participants visit the shop as part of the program.
"At Zahm and Matson Ag and Turf we learned that a lot of old tractors are being retired for new high-tech, more efficient tractors and that all new tractors have a computer in the engine so that when you plug in a laptop, the tractor will do a self-diagnosis and tell you what is wrong," said Hewitt Meeder, a member of the Sherman Kountry Kids and Tail Waggers 4-H club who participated in the Dairy Youth Explorers program in 2010. "They also have a GPS so you can map out your fields and the tractor will know where you have already spread or where you need to spread and the GPS can also direct the tractor around the field cutting hay in addition to many more tasks."
During his time in the program, Meeder also visited Sorrento Cheese, Cornell University, Empire Farms Days and several area farms.
"At the Sorrento Cheese factory we learned how cheese is made - how the milk is accepted into the plant and made into cheese. We also learned about the many different types of cheese such as Colby, Jack and Sharp Cheddar. We also toured a Wegmans store and learned about selling dairy products."
For the job-shadowing portion of the program, Meeder worked with Wally Miller at Wiggers and Son, Inc., which is an agriculture and farm equipment business located in the town of Clymer. There, he recorded 27 hours of shadowing and did plenty of hands-on learning.
"I learned how to change oil and filters, fuel filters, spark plugs, sharpen blades and put on a mower deck. I also learned how to change a tractor battery and patch a tractor tire. I had a great time and would love to do it again next year."
Aside from California and Wisconsin, New York produces more milk annually than any other state in the nation. To keep New York a perpetual dairy powerhouse, there are statewide initiatives aimed at interesting young adults in pursuing a career in the dairy industry. One such initiative is the Jr. Dairy Leader Program.
The Junior Dairy Leader Program is intended to reach youth between the ages of 16 and 19 who have interested in exploring careers in the dairy industry and would like to gain hands-on experience in the field. The program consists of a series of workshops that focus on specific facets of the dairy industry, such as veterinary science, dairy nutrition and production management.
Because the Junior Dairy Leader Program is intended for youths a bit older than the Dairy Youth Explorers, the program allows its participants to travel further and experience how the business works outside of New York.
"We went to represent New York at the National 4-H Dairy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin," said Kelsey Neckers, a student from Panama. "During the conference we got the opportunity to visit many dairy businesses like Nasco, ABS Global and Hoards Dairyman. We also got to interact with other 4-Hers from across the United States who have a common interest for the dairy industry."
Julia Knight, a graduate of Maple Grove High School and Cornell University who currently works for Western New York Crop Management is an alumnus of the program and said she believes the program helped to shape her career goals.
"I always grew up wanting to be a large animal veterinarian," said Knight. "However I also saw through this program that there are plenty of things I could do and that got me thinking about going back to the farm more and seeing what I could do with (my family's farm). Right now working for Western New York Crop Management - I never would have thought about doing this without going to college and participating in this program."
Western New York Crop Management is a cooperative which is owned by local farmers. Through the cooperative, Knight scouts fields to look for weeds as well as examines plant and crop growth on a day to day basis. Knight knows, however, that without farms, the cooperative wouldn't exist, which is why programs that interest youths in farming is so important.
"These programs are important because less and less people are involved in agriculture," said Knight. "I believe it's less than one percent of the population and it's still declining. We need to get young people into agriculture even if they didn't grow up on a farm. I know a lot of farms out in Central New York have older managers with no one to leave the farm to. Once those managers pass away, the farm gets split up or sold, so I think it's very important to get young people involved and interact with each other."