State Fair Ag Day: Honoring farmers, inspiring future agriculture leaders

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 4:38 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - There are over 72,200 farms in Illinois and 97% of them are run by families. State leaders celebrated those families and future farmers of America during Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair.

From Quincy to Effingham and Peoria to Chicago, agriculture connects everyone in Illinois.

187 farm families were recognized for their dedication to the land of Lincoln during the Ag Day breakfast Tuesday morning. The Illinois Department of Agriculture said the industry enhances every life thanks to work in fields, classrooms, and agribusiness.

Most of these families have run farms for over 100 years. Although, some have hit the bicentennial milestone in 2022.

“This is what it looks like to connect, to find common ground by nourishing ourselves and each other,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “Because breaking bread together is how we build community.”

The Pritzker administration recently announced the Department of Agriculture will use $550,000 in state funding to cover FFA membership dues for every student taking agriculture classes this fall.

Gov. JB Pritzker told farmers and lawmakers at the packed breakfast that every ag student deserves all that FFA has to offer regardless of their economic status.

“The engagement of our young people in our agricultural industry is vital to our state’s success and our future growth,” Pritzker said.

While many FFA members join the organization following in their family’s footsteps, some are starting their own journey into the agriculture industry. Stratton invited students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences to thank farmers for inspiring them. Those students have the opportunity to get hands-on experience with crops and livestock on the far south side of Chicago.

“It takes a lot of skill, effort, and commitment to do what you do on a daily basis,” said senior Kylie Norwood. “As a student at Chicago Ag, through my own experiences, I can better understand the daily troubles you have to face. The process of growing and producing your commodities and distributing them to consumers takes time, effort, money and a lot of organization.”

Some state leaders like Treasurer Mike Frerichs agree it’s time to see more young farmers. Frerichs recounted working in a grain elevator years ago when he was in charge of night drying. His family gave him a BB gun to help shoot rats coming near the grain elevator. Frerichs spent several other summers working at other ag facilities across the state.

“But when we look out over our fields, we see an awful lot of gray hairs,” Frerichs said. “And we know we need to attract that next generation of ag leaders.”

FFA Illinois board members appreciate that state leaders are supporting them however they can. FFA President Rachel Hood of Industry, Illinois noted the average farmer in the state is around 60 years old.

“That’s slightly alarming for our industry and we definitely need more youth in it,” Hood said. “So, that’s why we have youth organizations like the FFA to hopefully foster that and have more farmers and agriculturalists come from the youth.”

The FFA Pavilion is one of the most popular spots for people to learn how food gets from farms to your table. FFA Treasurer Kate Colgan of Peoria is also the Ag Literacy Committee Chair.

“The goal of that committee is to make all people agriculture literate,” Colgan said. “It’s just making sure that they are educated on the topics and have a firm understanding when they walk into the grocery store or anywhere that sells agricultural products.”

Colgan said working to bridge that gap between producers and consumers is very rewarding for FFA members.

Pritzker also helped young farmers by participating in the commodity auction and governor’s sale of champions competition. While the annual Ag Day wrapped up with a Willie Nelson concert at the Grandstand Tuesday night, you can enjoy plenty of activities inside the Agriculture Tent every day of the State Fair.

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