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June 14, 2011   Email to Friend 

Jillian Clair
June 14, 2011

Ben Haynes, the Farmers Federation's Young Farmers Division Chairman, right, talks with (L-R) Madison Tew of Dale County, Haley Hicks of Montgomery County and Deontre Hollis of Lamar County at the Alabama Farmers Federation's Youth Leadership Conference June 10--12 at the Alabama 4-H Center in Chilton County.
COLUMBIANA, Ala. - Experienced farmers aren't the only leaders in Alabama agriculture.

More than 100 high school students from 27 counties around the state showed off their leadership abilities and learned new ways to implement those skills June 10--12 during the Alabama Farmers Federation's annual Youth Leadership Conference at the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana.

"This weekend students were challenged to think about the important leadership roles they hold within their schools, churches and communities," said Brandon Moore, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Young Farmers Division and organizer of the conference. "Delegates also came away from the weekend with a better understanding of where their food comes from and the people who produce it as a result of great speakers, activities and interactive workshops on the importance of agriculture."

Moore said this year's conference was geared not only toward teaching delegates more about agriculture, but also toward educating them about the importance of participation in professional organizations and associations like the Alabama Farmers Federation.

"Regardless of what career path they choose, there are industry and trade organizations in Alabama and beyond in need of strong leaders to carry out the organization's mission," Moore said.

Students began the conference with a game that simulated the need for associations that promote and protect the agricultural industry.

Small groups of students represented each of the 17 commodities in Alabama, and by the end of the game, the students gathered into two groups to more effectively market their commodities.

Correcting students' misconceptions about agriculture was a large part of the conference as well.

"These kids are in a very impressionable age--hopefully an age in which we can tell them some things they don't know and correct some misinformation," said Ben Haynes, the Alabama Farmers Federation's Young Farmers Division Chairman. "There are a lot fewer of them that understand where their food, fiber and fuel comes from than even a generation ago, so I really look forward to those opportunities to teach them about something so important."

The keynote speaker was Eva Newman, a long time Alabamian who grew up as a Czech refugee during Hitler's occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Newman inspired the delegates with a patriotic message as she recalled her experiences living under the Nazi regime, later under communism, and finally her life as a proud United States citizen and the wife of a United States Army officer.

Newman emphasized the cost of freedom and the importance of getting involved in the democratic process.

Steve Lawrence, a student from Autauga County High School, said his favorite aspect of the conference was meeting other students from around the state.

Lawrence, who is passionate about public speaking, said he also learned more about how to apply leadership skills to his daily life as well as in his future career.

"Leadership is not following a set path--it's being able to do what you feel is right without worrying what everyone else thinks," Lawrence said. "It's setting an example for others to follow."

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