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Young farmers find inspiration and ideas at annual Indy event
Associate Editor

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Energetic young farmers from across the state of Indiana joined for a fun-filled weekend of educational sessions and networking with fellow farmers during the Indiana Farm Bureau (IFB) Young Farmer Leadership Conference Jan. 25-27 at the Marriott East in Indianapolis.

“We had approximately 610 people attend our conference this year, it continues to be a great event, in fact it’s one of the largest young farmer conferences in the country (second only to Missouri),” said Chris Fenner, young farmer program coordinator for Indiana Farm Bureau, who has spent 10 years perfecting the young farmer program, assisting in the planning and coordination of the annual leadership conference, award programs and facilitating state committee activities.

The 2013 Young Farmer Conference served as Fenner’s last official duty as the young farmer program coordinator as he takes on a new role within the IFB organization. Courtney Rude, former IFB outreach program coordinator will serve as the new young farmer and women’s program coordinator.

“I think we’re continually surrounded by good people in Indiana, good young farmers,” he added. “When I look back over my tenure, our conference has nearly doubled in size.”

Fenner who has been heavily involved in the coordination of the three competitive young farmer events in Indiana including the Achievement Award, which recognizes young farmers whose farm management techniques and their commitment to their community set a positive example to those involved in agriculture, the Excellence in Ag award, which recognizes young farmers who do not derive the majority of their income from their farming operation and the Discussion Meet, which helps participants acquire a better understanding of how people think in groups for the purpose of solving problems.

“For the Achievement award, (in the last 10 years) we’ve had two national winners, two national runner-ups and four top ten finalists. In the Excellence in Ag contest, we’ve had one national runner-up and seven top 10 finalists. In the Discussion Meet, we’ve had one national winner, one final four participant and six in the sweet 16,” said Fenner.

“In six of those 10 years, we’ve had two couples serve on the AFBF Young Farmer Committee. Two of those individuals actually served as the vice chairman of the committee. And I don’t say all those things to brag, but to reiterate that we have good people here and good things happen when you surround yourself with good people and our program shows that and it’s growing and it’s strong. We’re relevant to people’s operations and hopefully we can keep that going.”

This year’s Ag Achievement award winners were Orville and Jessica Haney, dairy farmers from Kosciusko County, while the Excellence in Ag award winners were John and Marybeth Feutz, veterinarians from Gibson County. Both the Haneys and the Feutzs competed well at the national competition hosted during the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville, Tenn. earlier this month, each serving as top ten finalists.

In addition, Indiana was also well represented in the national young farmer Discussion Meet, with Julie Thelen, an ag teacher from Clinton County winning the state competition and going on to compete at the national level, advancing to the sweet 16 contest in Nashville.

In addition to honoring the state’s high-achieving young farmers, hundreds of attendees at the young farmer conference helped assemble more than 30,000 nutritious meals during a three-hour period in the “Kids Against Hunger” volunteer activity on Jan. 25.
During three, one-hour shifts, five to six assembly lines filled up with young farmers and their families helping to pack nutrient-ready meals, filling hundreds of boxes that will help feed hungry families across the state of Indiana, according to Fenner.

“Your participation in this conference, in activities like the ‘Kids Against Hunger’ project will make a positive difference in your life,” said Don Villwock, president of Indiana Farm Bureau and former state young farmer committee chairman, as he addressed the crowd during the opening session on Jan. 26. “We hope this is time well-spent for you and your families and that hopefully you will come home with ideas to make your farm more profitable.”
Following Villwock’s address, keynote speaker Josh Bleill, community spokesperson for the Indianapolis Colts and former U.S. Marine corporal took the stage. Bleill, a native of Greenfield, Ind., shared his inspiring story with the group, from his journey to enlistment at the older than average age of 27 in the U.S. Marine Corps to active duty in Fallujah, through two years of rehab after losing both of his legs in a roadside bomb, and then ultimately to finding his dream job as the community spokesperson for the Indianapolis Colts.

“On Oct. 15, 2006, I lost two of my best friends and lost my two legs, I thought my life was over, but because of the support of my family and friends and even complete strangers, I quickly realized that I had a life worth fighting for,” said Bleill. “I have a beautiful, loving wife who has been with me through it all, two awesome kids and the kind of job I only ever dreamed about having. I am truly blessed. It’s about finding that smile in your heart and knowing that sometimes we all need a little comfort and support to get through the tough times.”

Bleill, who worked on an Indiana farm baling hay and detasseling corn growing up, offered a sign of his gratitude to the farmers in the group.

“You know you don’t hear it enough, how appreciated you are,” said Bleill. “We could never be the country we are today without the hard work of farmers just like you.”

In addition to Bleill’s captivating keynote, attendees at the conference were also entertained by Sam Glenn, author, inspirational speaker and self-proclaimed authority on attitude. Glenn’s humorous approach was to motivate attendees to change their attitude and recharge, staying positive at all costs in order to reach life goals and dreams.

Also, throughout the conference, participants enjoyed games, karaoke, a “Minute to Win It” contest, a series of breakout sessions on such topics as variable seed rate planting, fertilizer regulations, advanced vegetable gardening, taking better photographs, crock pot tips, flower arranging and more.
For additional information on the Indiana Young Farmer program, upcoming events or to become a Farm Bureau member, visit

The Indiana Farm Bureau Young Farmer program is for IFB members between 18 and 35 years old.