by Steve Wagner
Recently Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and First Lady Susan Corbett hosted a breakfast for officers and advisors of the FFA and 4-H at the Governor’s Mansion. Though overcast outside, a homey yet sumptuous meal was served indoors at a long table on highly polished hardwood floors and lit in chandeliered splendor. After breakfast, Governor Corbett spoke to Country Folks. The question was: with all the serious concerns that farmers are facing today — drought, floods, tornadoes, overly ambitious federal regulation, tax burdens, nutrient management issues, and so on — what is it that makes these young people want to lead with their chins when deciding to pursue farming? Corbett answered by saying that it is in 4-H’ers and FFA members to “have a profession, have an ability to take care of themselves, and have a challenge of growing something, whether it’s an animal or livestock or flowers, trees, vegetables, whatever. But I think it’s also an independence issue. In many cases these young people come from families that do this, so it is continuing a culture that is the number one industry in Pennsylvania. People forget that. Small businesses are the majority of businesses. Farms are small businesses. Last year, we got rid of the inheritance tax on family farms. It was important for us to do that and reduce that burden.”
Hannah Govan, a Butler County 4-H’er whose family raises hogs and beef cattle, and lambs for summer market, might not become a fulltime farmer. It will likely be a part of her career but Hannah is also entertaining the possibility of becoming an oncology nurse. Because of her educational industriousness, Hannah is graduating a year early. To the same question posed to the Governor, Hannah says, “farming has been a big part of my life since day one; my family has been farming for generations. I just want to keep the tradition going no matter what the faults are.” Govan says people are not only the backbone of 4-H but that members watch each other’s backs in terms of help. “In my club, I’m the president and I try to do anything to help them. Everybody comes to each other for help, and that’s the best part of 4-H.” Should the day come when Hannah is an oncology nurse and a farmer, will one of those careers over-shadow the other, or can Hannah manage to do both successfully? “I like to accomplish everything,” she says. “I like making things hard on myself and to accomplish it all. You can ask my parents. Classes I’m taking this year…my parents didn’t think I could manage them. Actually, I thought the same thing. But I work hard for something I actually care about so I can get it done.” Hannah strongly encourages those who waver about joining 4-H to jump in for new experiences. It’s a superb opportunity to make friends. “I love showing but it always nice to help others.”
State 4-H Council President Cassidy Baker of Lawrence County has an interest in horses. Her mother is a lawyer and her father is a store owner, but they never actually farmed. Because her father always loved horses, it was a fascination that was passed on to his daughter. As a Western Pleasure rider, what can she do with horses through 4-H that she couldn’t do without 4-H? “It gives me the opportunity to learn safety about the horses,” she says. “One can make many friendships through the horse program. There are horse camps and horse clinics. In my county there are the three point shows, and you qualify to a district show.” District can take you all the way to the state horse show at Harrisburg’s Farm Show Complex. With the plethora of 4-H opportunities, Cassidy notes that she takes advantage of them to vary her activity. “I was in Washington D.C. twice for the national conference. This is where you are part of a national roundtable and discuss issues from around the country. One year we talked about suicide prevention and the second year we focused on childhood obesity.” Cassidy has also traveled to Atlanta, GA for similar events. “I’m always busy. There is never a free weekend. Next week, I’m going to California for their state council’s leadership exchange.” Unlike Govan, Cassidy Baker will not actually be farming, though farming in a peripheral sense is in her future. But like Hannah, she is interested in a possible medical career as a chief nurse anesthetist.
At the Governor’s breakfast 4-H and FFA representatives presented the First Family of Pennsylvania with gifts, tokens of their appreciation for efforts tilted toward agriculture. These gratuities were more symbolic than anything else and one tiny package seemed to be particularly apropos and touching to the Corbetts. It was a desk sign, a simple command geared as a reminder: Believe.
What young farmers are taking on
by Steve Wagner