BY TAMMIE SLOUP
Had someone told Aaron Mitchell during his first discussion meet years ago that he would be helping shape the 2023 Farm Bill, he would've thought the idea was crazy.
But earlier this month, that's exactly what he was doing on the delegate floor at American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention.
How did he wind up on that path? The Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Committee chair said it's because he learned to say "yes."
"You'll never know how far Farm Bureau can take you," he said during the IFB Young Leader Conference in East Peoria Saturday. "I was more or less told that I was going to be competing in my first discussion meet. But if I hadn't said yes to that opportunity, I highly doubt I would be here today."
Mitchell's time with Farm Bureau has provided him the opportunity to network with farmers across the state and country, meet with legislators on issues affecting agriculture and help shape policy at the state and national level.
Mitchell used his opportunity Saturday to address hundreds of Young Leaders and highlight their achievements the past year. Among those accomplishments, the organization pivoted during the pandemic to ensure fundraising efforts for Harvest for All continued despite a lockdown. Mitchell noted they raised $21,000 for food banks across the state.
"While our meetings and events were disrupted, our members remained active and engaged," he said.
The national recognition received last month during the AFBF convention exemplified how strong the Young Leader program is across the state.
"But the Young Leader program is ultimately what you make it; the more you put into this, the more you'll get back on it," he said.
IFB Vice President Brian Duncan also spoke to the group, telling them he didn't want to address them as Young Leaders, but leaders of Illinois Farm Bureau.
"It's a great opportunity, a great privilege to serve this organization," Duncan said, encouraging the members to pursue roles within Farm Bureau.
Duncan noted Young Leaders active at the county level are involved with most influential organization in their town, and local issues will have the most impact on members.
"So keep your eye on the ball on local issues," Duncan said. "And you're also going to feel the most concern from your members. It's all about the members in this organization. They don't serve us leadership. We serve them. Never ever forget that."
He pointed to IFB's policy book as the roadmap, stressing policies are put in place by membership.
"That's what's so cool about the policy process, any one of you in this room can impact the direction of the organization," Duncan said. "No other organization that I know of in either agriculture or any other sector provides you that opportunity."
Duncan pointed to the Young Leaders as the future of IFB.
"We've got a lot of muscle and I'm looking at it right now," he said. "You're the ones that need to make the calls. You're the ones that are going to lead this organization. You're the ones that are going to drive our relationships and the friendships that are going to matter for the members, that are going to count for the future of agriculture in Illinois, in this country."
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.