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June 23, 2007   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
June 23, 2007

State Young Farmers Chairman Steve Stroud visits with delegates to the Youth Leadership Conference. From left are, Stroud, Kevin Carter II of Jefferson County, Justin Masters of Dale County, Key Harwell of Sumter County and Patience Marsh of Blount County.
COLUMBIANA, Ala. -- Although the worst drought in decades has left Alabama fields parched, a conference held June 22-24 at the 4-H Center in Columbiana gave hope that the state's farms and rural communities are producing at least one crop - a crop of future leaders.

About 120 high school students and their chaperons were on hand for the Alabama Farmers Federation's Youth Leadership Conference that identifies young leaders and cultivates the skills they will need in college and beyond. Pike County farmer Steve Stroud was a delegate to the conference almost 20 years ago. Today, he is chairman of the Federation's Young Farmers Division, which sponsors the conference.

"County Farmers Federations think highly enough of these young people that they agree to sponsor them for this conference. Our goal is to build future leaders by adding to the skills these students already have," Stroud said. "It was through youth activities like this conference that I first realized the opportunities that exist for young rural leaders, and it made me want to get involved and help future generations."

Highlights of the three-day conference included team-building activities, leadership exercises and problem-solving contests. The students participated in a ropes course similar to those used in military training. Federation Young Farmers Director Brandon Moore said the activity requires the delegates to work as a team to solve problems, negotiate obstacles and reach goals.

Kelly Gaines, a former delegate to the conference and current officer in the Autauga County Farmers Federation Young Farmers program, led the delegates in an activity titled "Operation Plantation." For the friendly competition, the students were divided into teams based on agriculture-related businesses such as an ethanol plant, a row crop farm and a cattle ranch. The groups were then assigned specific goals related to organizational structure, the acquisition of assets and production and profitability.

Gaines also coordinated a workshop on the Misconceptions of Agriculture. Developed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the course dispels numerous myths about agriculture and the food supply using scientific data.

Other presenters included the Alabama State FFA Officer Team, which conducted a workshop on leadership training. The Federation's State Young Farmers Committee also gave the delegates "Food for Thought" during a workshop that focused on the impact of farming on the state's economy and the career opportunities available in agriculture. In addition, "Operation Midas," gave the students a chance to build teamwork and display their creativity while working as a marketing and design team.

Moore said the workshop is packed with activities that will benefit future leaders whether they grew up on a farm or in town.

"Our goal is to teach the students that - no matter what career path they choose - there are industry associations, trade organizations and companies that depend on people with leadership skills," Moore said. "It also gives us a chance to highlight the importance of organizations like the Farmers Federation and, hopefully, these students will continue to develop their leadership skills and get involved in their industry associations, civic clubs and volunteer organizations."

Guest speakers for the conference included Pete McCoy, a history instructor at Faulkner University and Troy University. He shared a patriotic message about being born in a bomb shelter in Berlin during World War II and then finding freedom and opportunity in the United States. Janice Johnson, a speaker with Freedom Forums, also challenged the students with a presentation about the power of choices to shape young people's lives.

For more information about the Youth Leadership Conference or the Alabama Farmers Federation's Young Farmers Program, visit www.AlfaYoungFarmers.org.

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