Preparing for the future: NAYC gives students a springboard into a future in agriculture
For nearly a half-century, young people from around Nebraska have been sharing the agriculture world with elementary and high school youth.
The Nebraska Agriculture Youth Council (NAYC) is a group of college-age men and women who spend a year educating school kids across the state about agriculture.
For the 2019-2020 school year, 21 young people have been selected to serve on the NAYC.
Council applicants must go through an application process which includes submitting letters of reference, an interview, and a GPA requirement that must be met.
Once they are council members, they are required to attend bi-monthly meetings. Members are put on different committees, and on the weeks there is no council meeting, they meet with their committees.
In the fall, NAYC members take industry tours to different agricultural businesses, depending on what their interests are. For example, if a student is interested in horticulture, they might tour a nursery. They’ve visited such places as the Case-IH plant in Grand Island, Kappa Ethanol, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard near Gretna, and Settje Agri Services and Engineering.
In the spring, members visit kindergarten through third grade classrooms in Lincoln, doing “fun hands-on activities,” said Christin Kamm, NAYC advisor, and preparing the kids for their visit to the farms. Farms in the Wahoo area are the destination, and for some students, it’s the first time for them to set foot on a farm.
The visits with elementary students to farms opens council members’ eyes for how ag is viewed by the kids. Kamm recounts an incident where an elementary student jumped off the bus, saw a corn cob, and said, “that’s where they get tater tots from.” “If you cut the corn cob, it looks like tater tots,” Kamm said. The kids “open my eyes as to what we should be talking about in the classroom.” Elementary students get to do a variety of things, like put their fingers in a milking machine to see that it doesn’t hurt the cow.
In the spring, NAYC members also attend the state FFA convention, to advertise their biggest project: the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute (NAYI).
The NAYI is a five-day program held in Lincoln each summer for about 225 high school juniors and seniors, to learn about agriculture. “They come to Lincoln, free of charge,” Kamm said, “and for five days, get submerged in learning about the ag industries and careers available in the ag industry, and how to work towards those careers, all while having fun and interacting with peers.”
The seminar includes talks about animal production: beef, swine, poultry, and dairy; commodity board sessions: corn, wheat, pork, beef, soybeans, and more; and information sessions about such topics as ethanol, farm management decisions, careers in agriculture, and more.
There’s time for fun, too. Seminar attendants are treated to pizza parties, street dances, and time to make friends.
NAYI participants don’t need to be farm kids to go to the summer seminar, Kamm said. “Anyone who has an interest in learning more about ag is encouraged to apply.”
The NAYI conference is a great way for those interested in ag to network. Kamm has seen companies offer students at the seminar internships, and she’s seen kids who weren’t going to pursue a career in ag change their minds.
NAYC members can be on the council for up to three years, and it’s a great way to make friends and network.
Felicia Knoerzer, who grew up on a row-crop farm near Elwood, Neb., is an animal science major who is in her second year as a council member. For her, the friends are one of the best parts of NAYC. “I’ve met my best friends because of NAYC,” she said. “It has helped me build friendships and networks that have taken me farther than I would have gone without them. I’m very thankful for that.”
Knoerzer has advice for anyone who might want to be a council member. “I think if anyone wants to invest in themselves, for a zero cost fee, this is the easiest and most effective way to do it. NAYI and NAYC have both been great networking opportunities and personal and professional development. You get to build your leadership and organizational skills like crazy.” It also enhances a life perspective, she said, including “hard work, teammates, and the amazing industry we’re all so enthusiastic about.”
Being on the NAYC is a springboard for life for the members, Kamm said. She has seen past council members go on to do things such as serve on different commodity organizations, serve in Trump’s administration, and more. “It’s fun to watch them grow. I’ve always told them, that if NAYC is the best thing they’ve done in their life, I have failed them miserably, because this is just a stepping stone.”
Whatever they do, she wants them to do their best. “If they choose to go back and farm, then go back and be the best you can be. If you go to (Washington) D.C., represent us the best you can.”
Knoerzer summed it up this way. “Ag is a big part of what our nation is built on, and I think (being a council member and going to the summer seminar) is a great opportunity to learn and find a career you might not have known you were interested in.”
More information on the NAYI and the NAYC can be found at https://nda.nebraska.gov/nayi/nayi.html
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