IFB Young Leader chairwoman hopes to keep momentum going on, off farm

Kaylee Heap says interest in Young Leader program is encouraging, but growth still a top priority.

IFB Young Leader Chairwoman Kaylee Heap farms with her husband, Kevin, son, Milo, and in-laws, growing corn, soybeans and pumpkins near Minooka. (Photo courtesy of Kaylee Heap)

By Daniel Grant

Kaylee Heap, the 2019 Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader (YL) State Committee chairwoman, hopes to draw on personal and professional success to help the program prosper this year and beyond.

Heap farms near Minooka (Kendall County) with her husband, Kevin, and his family, and she works off the farm as business manager for FS Grain in nearby Morris. She recently took the reigns as leader of the YL Executive Committee.

“I joined Young Leaders about six years ago. I’ve really got a passion for it,” Heap said during a rare, slow day on the farm just before the holidays. “I always like being involved in something. I work in ag, I live in ag, so (IFB) seemed like the right organization to get involved in.”

She served on the YL state committee the past four years and credits the program with opening lots of doors.

“I’ve gained great friendships, business connections, learned how to grow my own business and be an advocate for the business,” she said. “I can’t say enough about being involved in Farm Bureau and Young Leaders.”

And that’s the same experience she hopes to cultivate for other young farmers around the state.

Heap lists continuing the growth of the Young Leader program statewide among her top goals this year.

“One of our goals is to continue to grow (the program designed for young farmers and ag professionals between 18 and 35 years of age),” she said. “We have some members aging out. Hopefully, we can keep the pipeline of younger faces coming in.”

Young Leaders enjoyed recent success as they recruited 49 new members last year.

Interest in the upcoming Young Leaders State Conference in East Peoria (Jan. 25-26) and Ag Industry Tour (Feb. 25 to March 1 in New Mexico and Texas) was so strong that both events reached maximum capacity. There currently are waiting lists for both events if any other YLs would like to sign up.

“It’s great to see the interest (in the YL programs). We want to keep them engaged,” Heap said. “It’s also really promising when I looked at participants of the discussion meet, I saw a lot of new and young faces. That’s really encouraging.”

Heap also has been encouraged by recent success on the farm. She and Kevin grow corn and soybeans, and operate an agritourism business that focuses on pumpkin production. The couple has a young son, Milo.

Video: Young Leader Chairwoman Kaylee Heap talks about she got involved with the state Young Leader committee and her goal to bring new members into the Young Leader program statewide. 

“We talk about how operations have to diversify to let the next generation come home,” she said. “(Pumpkin production) was something Kevin started as a little business and it kept growing. He had an opportunity to do it full time when he came back from college.”

The pumpkin business blossomed to the point the Heaps now grow 30 acres of the fall classic. The Heaps’ location near Chicago and other population centers just off Interstates 55 and 80 also make their farm a prime location for agritourism.

They provide numerous activities for farm visitors to enjoy the whole experience.

“All of those things definitely help draw people here,” Heap added. “It’s a family thing.”

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.