So what would entice a group of young farmers and ranchers to leave their crops, orchards, and animals in Oregon and travel all the way to Pittsburgh in the dead of winter?
The Farmers United: Skills, Inspiration, Outreach & Networking Conference, of course! (FUSION for short.) This American Farm Bureau biannual conference offers hundreds of grassroots leaders four days’ worth of informative workshops, networking opportunities, and lively entertainment.
“Every time I attend a Farm Bureau conference like this, and get to interact with so many like-minded young farmers and ranchers from all over the U.S. and Canada, all walks of life, all backgrounds, and segments of the industry, it opens my eyes more to how diverse agriculture really is,” said Jenny Freeborn, vice chair of Oregon’s Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Committee.
“I always leave these conferences re-energized, ready to take on anything to promote agriculture and encourage involvement in YF&R and Farm Bureau. I’m reminded that we’re not alone. We are SO powerful together!,” Freeborn said.
Read on for a few highlights from Freeborn’s conference diary:
> Right off the bat, on the first night (Feb. 10), we started meeting great new friends from all over the U.S. and Canada at the opening reception and trade show.
> We heard from an amazing, inspirational speaker during the opening session: Chris Koch, a farmer and adventure traveler born with no arms or legs!
> Oregon State University student Andrew Miles represented Oregon in the first two rounds of the YF&R Collegiate Discussion Meet. He didn’t make the Sweet 16, but had a great showing!
> On Feb. 11 and 12 we attended workshops all day. Sessions were organized by topic tracks so you could get lots of information in one category, or you could hop around and learn from different tracks. The categories were ag education, advocacy, farm business management, leadership, social media/technology, and various others.
> That night Bob Baker from Farm Bureau Bank took the Oregon and Washington YF&R groups out to dinner. Patrick Hackley, a member of Montana Farm Bureau, joined us. Patrick is the western region rep on the National YF&R Committee.
> Saturday night entertainment was casino night and dueling pianos. Our own YF&R Chair Jason Flowers and Victoria Webb were called up on stage to do a “performance” in honor of their upcoming wedding! Several of our Oregon members won raffle prizes. It was a fantastic evening of networking and meeting people while having fun!
> The keynote speaker on Feb. 12 was Rocky Bleier, a Vietnam veteran and Pittsburgh Steelers player, who won four Super Bowls after overcoming incredible odds.
> That night was the banquet, which showcased retiring and incoming National YF&R Committee members. We also found out that the 2018 YF&R Leadership Conference will be held in Reno, Nevada! Can’t wait to go!
> Feb. 13 was the closing session with renown motivational speaker Dr. Charles Petty. Then we all took tours of Pittsburgh and the surrounding area.
> Finally, we wrapped up the conference with a finale event at Heinz Field, where we got to tour the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame. We had dinner there, enjoyed dancing and games, and were able to take photos with views of the field. It was a great experience!