Collegiate Farm Bureau educates, advocates for agriculture
Ashley Bergsbaken, left, and Matt Kortbein stand on a tractor at the 2017 Ag Day at UWRF. Photo courtesy of Matt Kortbein
Every spring on the UW-River Falls campus, also known as “Moo U,” tractors and animals take over the middle lawn of the University Center. The display offers a real-life look into the agricultural industry.
The Farm Bureau’s motto of “a voice for farmers, a vision for agriculture” applies directly to the teaching and advocacy work they accomplish on campus and at the local level, said Joelle Liddane. Liddane has been a member of the Collegiate Farm Bureau since 2016.
“The greatest way (to educate) is on Ag. Day, where we take over the middle lawn of the University Center and it’s open to everyone,” Liddane said. “It’s so neat to get to see a girl or guy from the middle of the city, and they get to physically interact with a goat. Then somebody shows them how to make goat soap and that we can use their milk to create cheese. It’s about being able to give them that connection rather than just telling them about it. Seeing it really helps people.”
Ag. Day also follows a theme each year, with last year being “Who’s your farmer?” The UWRF event was almost the same size or larger than UW-Madison’s Ag. Day, which gives organization members a lot of pride.
“(Farm Bureau) is an organization that I’m investing in – something that I will be able to see 50 years down the road,” Liddane said.
The Collegiate Farm Bureau was one of dozens of student organizations set up to answer questions and recruit new members at last week’s Involvement Fair in the University Center.
One common myth, said Agricultural Engineering Professor Sierra Howry, is that agriculture only involves the food you see on your table. Advocating for the many roles that agriculture plays in any person’s daily life is one of the main ways to educate those who don’t give much thought to where their food or products come from.
This is one of the main reasons that the Collegiate Farm Bureau became an organization on the UW-River Falls campus in 2012. Howry has been the adviser since 2013, and she said that the organization is open to a variety of disciplines.
“It’s open to anybody that is interested in agriculture,” Howry said. “Building community is extremely important, and the ag. community is a very tight-knit community. We can continue to build that network because people from all over Wisconsin and Minnesota come to this campus.”
UWRF is one of three UW schools with a Collegiate Farm Bureau, which serves as a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. UW-Platteville and UW-Madison also started their organizations in 2012.
Their mission is to build up their own knowledge in the agricultural industry and then advocate to people from non-agricultural backgrounds about where their food comes from.
While the club focuses on the many aspects of agriculture, there are many opportunities to get involved for people who might not necessarily come from a production background.
“That’s what’s really great about this organization,” Howry said. “It’s not just about one type of major. In any of the meetings, students can see how it connects back to their coursework because it’s so broad.”
Howry’s classes in farm management are some of the clearest examples of how experiences in the classroom can transfer to the industry. She’s very proud of her students and maintains that she doesn’t run the club. Rather, she lets the students take the lead and acquire skills they will use later in life.
“They may be running a business or a board meeting, and after (getting the practice) it becomes a lot more natural for you,” Howry said. “I help out in any way possible.”
Members take full advantage of the Young Farmers and Agriculturalists conference in the Wisconsin Dells to begin networking with other professionals and farmers from around the state. They also hear from keynote speakers about the platform for their agricultural message.
“That gets them at the state meetings and gives networking opportunities that are beyond just a career fair,” Howry said. “It’s an opportunity to network with other Farm Bureau members at a state level and participate in workshops at those conferences.”
According to the American Farm Bureau’s website, the American Farm Bureau’s student outreach efforts reached 62,620 students last year.
The 40 members come from a variety of ag. backgrounds and have worked hard to get others involved, said Matt Kortbein, a senior who is in his third year with the organization and is now the president of the Collegiate Farm Bureau.
“We can always strive for better, but we’ve seen a lot of growth in the last year and I’m thrilled about that,” Kortbein said.
Kortbein was especially pleased with the way their adviser has helped support the club and allowed for its growth.
“She’s always right there if I need anything, and she comes to all of our events,” Kortbein said. “Our club is definitely very lucky to have her.”
The organization also brings in speakers to their biweekly meetings. The speakers come from a wide range of disciplines and display real-word experience for members. However, one large event on the UWRF campus is probably what most people associate the organization with.
“We have Ag. Day on campus every spring, and we have clubs from all over to help spread the message of agriculture through education and learning,” Kortbein said.
Two of the organization’s officers start planning for Ag. Day in the fall and go all the way through to the event’s completion. The College Farm Bureau sends out letters to many businesses, and a lot of sponsors come on board to make the event successful. Kortbein said they are looking to continue to grow the event this year as well.
The club is open to all majors and meets every other Tuesday in Agricultural Science room 116 at 6 p.m.