Kane County’s Young Farmers committee fills void after FFA, 4-H

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
John Biddle scoops hay to feed his beef cows at his Elburn farm.

Like any organization, the Kane County Farm Bureau has to get its leadership somewhere.

And in the Farm Bureau’s case, that leadership often comes from its Young Farmers – a committee for those ages 18 to 35 with a passion for agriculture.

“You don’t need to live on a farm or grow up on a farm to be involved,” said longtime member Andy Lenkaitis, who works for GEA Farm Technologies.

The Young Farmers program includes social, educational and leadership components, Kane County Farm Bureau Manager Steve Arnold said. He said it fills the natural void after 4-H and Future Farmers of America.

“I would call it a transition to what we hope is a lifetime of service,” Arnold said.

The Young Farmers committee meets regularly – about once every month or two months – but is more active in the summer, member John Biddle said. He said members also help with such events as Touch-A-Tractor, Ag Days and the Kane County Fair with setup and tear-down.

“To me, the Young Farmers are kind of the muscle of the Farm Bureau,” Arnold said.

Now in his late 20s, Biddle said he joined the group at age 18 or 19 because he had been in agriculture his whole life.

Biddle said his involvement with the Young Farmers gives him an opportunity to meet others in his industry.

He looks forward to the annual two-day Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Conference, he said, noting it gives him a chance to learn from his peers’ farming experiences.

Lenkaitis also joined the Young Farmers at 18, just as his older brother was finishing his time with the program, he said. He said it has been great for him and his wife, Sarah, to be with others who share their passion.

He also appreciates the opportunities for personal development, such as the annual state Young Leaders Discussion Meet, he said. The farm bureau describes this competitive event as a way to help members develop their ability to communicate their agricultural knowledge and network with others.

“This is not a debate – it’s a discussion,” Lenkaitis said. “You don’t necessarily rebut someone’s point. You try to move the whole group to a bigger goal.”

Now 31, Lenkaitis has only a few years left to participate in the Young Farmers, but he said he doesn’t expect his time with the committee will be the end of his involvement with the farm bureau.

“Being involved in Young Farmers exposed me to other opportunities in the farm bureau,” Lenkaitis said.

His comments complemented those made by Arnold about the bureau’s perspective on the Young Farmers.

“We have to get our leadership from somewhere,” Arnold said.