By STEVE BINDER
CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. — They met as students in a meat science lab at the University of Illinois, and it was virtually love at first sight – with agriculture and with each other.
And even though Brad and Paula Zwilling don’t live on a farm now, the young couple, who reside in Fisher in Champaign County, continue to make their mark in the agriculture industry. For their efforts to help improve and promote the industry, the Illinois Farm Bureau selected the Zwillings as its “Excellence in Agriculture” award winners.
“Both of us grew up on farms, and we do want to start our own livestock farm someday soon, so agriculture will always have a place in our hearts,” Paula said.
When Brad’s work as an agriculture analyst for Farm Business Farm Management brought the couple to the Champaign area, the Zwillings immediately looked to stay active in the industry – even though they weren’t farming or ranching.
“When we moved to this area, we both became involved in the Farm Bureau Young Leader program for people (ages) 18 to 35. It gave us a connection with people our own age,” she explained. “We wanted to still have a connection to the industry somehow.
“You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl. It’s a way we can educate consumers.”
With the honor, the couple received a cash award, an iPad and expenses paid to represent Illinois at the annual state Farm Bureau Convention in Chicago and at the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn. They also attended the American Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Leadership conference in Phoenix, Ariz.
“We feel extremely privileged,” Brad said. “It’s a great way to honor the people who have helped us throughout our careers, from 4-H and Future Farmers of America advisers to agriculture instructors to our college professors, as well as our parents and people in the Farm Bureau.”
Brad grew up on a small livestock and grain farm in Jasper County, while Paula came from a similar farming operation in Mason County. After the couple received their degrees in agricultural economics in 2000, Paula worked at a pork-processing facility before staying home to raise the couple’s three boys, Dylan, Caleb and Nathan.
In addition to visiting their parents’ farms almost every weekend to help with chores, the couple stays active in agriculture on the local level. Both have served as county Farm Bureau board members and on several committees.
Brad has been chair for the Young Farmer and Rancher Committee, the FFA Acquaintance Day Committee and the Farm Bureau’s anniversary trivia night. Paula has been chair of the Bureau’s Women’s Committee and helps promote the new Learning Barn – a big toy barn filled with books, puzzles and games delivered to area classrooms for weeks at a time so students can learn how the ag industry affects their lives.
“We will have our own small farm sometime soon, because we want our boys to grow up having the advantages that we did, and learning about this great industry,” she said.