This time of year is known as “conference season” for many of us in the agriculture industry.
If you’ve spent any time at agriculture conferences, you’ll notice one thing is different from a lot of other conventions and trade shows – there are children, and lots of them.
96% of American farms are family owned and operated.
Farm families are known for doing everything as a family, from harvesting crops to feeding livestock. Attending conferences is no different.
When I was growing up, all of the Laurent kids tagged a long with my dad to the Kentucky Pork Producers Annual Meeting every year.
We played with the other farm kids shared coloring books and toy tractors. We got excited hearing the ring men hoop and holler at the scholarship auction and cut a rug right along with all the grown ups at the dance.
Today, Lorelei tags along with me when I work at agriculture meetings and conferences throughout the year.
As a mom, I can now see just how wonderful an opportunity my parents gave me by bringing us along to farm conferences.
My non-ag clients are often surprised to learn that I bring my toddler with me to so many events. Since I grew up in ag, I didn’t realize just how unique that was.
So after explaining so many times to non-ag friends and clients, I decided to put it all in one post.
Here’s why we bring our kids to ag conferences:
Learning never ends.
If you had asked 6 year old Celeste who was the world’s leading expert on beef cattle, I wouldn’t have thought twice about my answer: my dad.
Part of that was because I was a child and as far as I was concerned my parents were perfect (except when I was in trouble). The other part was that my dad is an Extension Associate. His job is to help other producers learn how to raise cattle more safely, humanely and efficiently. In my mind, that meant he must know everything!
By attending ag conferences with my dad, I watched him learn.
I watched him ask questions and discuss issues with other farmers. When we came home, I was there to watch him implement new techniques and figure out the best way to apply new technology to our farm.
Over the years I went to banquets, meetings and livestock events with my dad and made friendships with men and women in all sectors of ag simply because my dad worked with them in some way.
My dad never said “make sure you get to know him, he’ll get you a job someday” or anything like that. Instead, he introduced me to their kids who also showed pigs or we joked about how they were just as obsessed with their favorite team as we were with LSU football.
I never knew that “Mr. Mike” who always goofed off and played with my siblings and I was the director of the Ky Pork Producers and one of the most respected men in Kentucky agriculture. To us, he and his family were just our friends.
Without ever telling me, my parents were teaching me about what networking is really about – forming true friendships and working relationships with people in your industry who you respect and who respect you as a person and your work.
When I graduated college, so many of the people I had first gotten to know at an ag conference were there to offer me career advice, a reference or tell me about a job opportunity. Not because I had spent years sucking up to them but because we were truly family friends.
How to strike up a conversation with anyone.
There’s a lot to be said for knowing how to make polite small talk.
Whether I like it or not, I look like my dad with a ponytail so there was never any denying that I was “Kevin’s daughter.”
This meant that people who hadn’t seen me since I was 4 would often come up and start a conversation with me, assuming that I remembered them as well. I learned from a young age how to politely navigate these awkward conversations and never let the person know that I had no idea who they were!
Guess what? That’s a skill I still use on a regular basis in my professional life.
Getting involved in the political process
In a post this summer, I tallied how many times Lorelei has heard Commissioner James Comer speak in her short life. (We can now add the 2013 Ky State Fair and 2014 Pork Producer’s Annual Meeting to that list).
Many people go their entire lives without ever hearing from their elected officials, let alone talking to them or making their voices heard.
At agriculture conferences, children not only get to hear from elected officials but learn what is happening in Washington and their state capitol and how it affects agriculture.
They get to see the political process in action, not just read about it in a text book.
The importance of giving back
Every ag conference or convention I’ve ever been to has some form of fundraiser to give back. Whether its a scholarship fund, a donation to a non-profit or raising money for a youth organization, its hard to find more generous people than those in agriculture.
Every year, the Kentucky Pork Producers has a scholarship auction to raise money for the scholarships they give every year. As children, we loved coming to the auction and hearing the ring men hoop and holler while the bidding went higher and higher.
When my brother was about 8 years old, some friends let him bid for them on a pottery piggy bank.
He was so proud to be the one casting bids and as the bids went higher he got more and more excited. He ended up winning the piggy bank at the whopping total of $350.
Even as kids, we knew $350 was WAY more than a piggy bank was actually worth.
That night, my parents explained to us that bidders were paying an inflated price because it wasn’t really about what they were buying, it was about supporting another generation of farmers as they pursued a college education.
I think most of my farming friends would agree, agriculture conferences just wouldn’t be the same without the children.
And I, for one, hope that never changes!
Why do you bring your kids to ag conferences? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!