Some 10 years ago or so, Peggy Kay Fish had the idea to pair up young farmers and Master Farmers for a mentor experience. Peggy was a force at Farm Credit at the time and she came to us at Prairie Farmer with the idea. We loved it.
Conversations ensued, the idea evolved and the Cultivating Master Farmers Program was created: a two-year class with 10 Master Farmer couples, 10 (or so) young farmers and couples, and a program that involves 6-8 speakers and roundtable discussions over the course of two years. The whole idea was to build relationships, share advice and experience, and find someone to bounce ideas off of - outside your township. Sponsors like Growmark, Monsanto, Illinois Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Services of Illinois and 1st Farm Credit Services came on board, along with Prairie Farmer.
In 2015, we'll graduate our sixth class of Cultivating Master Farmers. I've had the privilege of sitting in on and leading these sessions over this time and I will tell you, I've heard some of the most timeless wisdom shared at these roundtable discussions. Young farmers ask good questions and bring incredible energy and optimism. Master Farmers talk about how to treat employees, how they diversified, how they made time for football games and piano recitals, how they built houses and saved their small town.
There was the time Master Farmer Russ and Marilyn Rosenboom told of taking their entire family - kids, grandkids and all - to Disney: "You can leave them a million dollars or you can leave them a million dollars' worth of memories."
Or when Master Farmer Jim Schaeffer told, through tears, of how hard it was for him to begin talking about retirement with his son. Important, but hard. And valuable perspective for those of us eager to take over.
Or more recently, when Russ talked of volunteering in his community, of school boards and elections and county boards and more: "If you can't make the tough decisions, you'll always be average."
That's the kind of advice you can take to the bank.
So if you're a young farmer in Illinois (and I know, that limits the pool a bit) and you think you might be interested in participaing in the CMF Class of 2017, check out this link. Consider applying, but do it quickly: deadline is March 31. And if you're a Prairie Farmer Master Farmer and you'd like to sign up? Just let me know!