As my first blog post, I thought I would start with a topic near and dear to my heart-the Missouri Agribusiness Academy (MAbA.)
MAbA is a week long, expense paid trip for thirty elite 4-H and FFA students in the state of Missouri. The students submit a written application, which can then be selected for them to compete as one of the top ten students in their district. There are six districts across the state where interviews are held. From the ten students in each district, five are chosen to represent their district on the academy trip, making a total of thirty eager agriculture enthusiasts. Each year, the academy rotates it’s location between Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield. In 2009, my MAbA class headed towards The Arch to gain knowledge of agribusiness here in the Show-Me State. Luckily, I was able to attend the academy again in St. Louis this year as one of the academy interns.
Five days were packed with a good variety of what the St. Louis Region had to offer the agriculture industry. However, we took the first day to tour the University of Missouri in Columbia to give the students a small dose of college experience. The students learned about the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and began with a debate with the infamous Dr. Jim Spain. Dr. Spain had the students analyze the current issues facing the agriculture industry and had the students explain each problem. The students really enjoyed his debate. The day continued with several other speakers like Dr. Jon Simonsen, Dr. MaryAnn Gowdy, Dr. Brad Fresenberg and Tim Reinbott. The day concluded with dinner and an etiquette course for the members to remember and use throughout the week.
Tuesday morning we departed for St. Louis with a day full of plant science awaiting the students. We arrived at our first stop at Monsanto Chesterfield Research Center where we toured the facility and ate lunch provided by Monsanto. The afternoon tour was at the Monsanto Creve Coeur Breeding and Agronomics Research Labs where the students learned how the scientists improve the current seed genes. Bill Ruppert of National Nursery Products spoke to the students at dinner about his agribusiness experiences.
Three days into the conference the students were still eager for new information and experiences. The morning was filled with tours of the Missouri Botanical Garden and Libraries. Soon after, we traveled to Schlafly’s Bottleworks for lunch and a tour of their facilities. The afternoon concluded with an abundance of vendors at a farmer’s market. The students truly enjoyed their speaker, Ken Ohlemeyer of AdFarm at dinner later that night. Ohlemeyer spoke about “branding” as a way for the students to market themselves in the future.
Gateway Greening, an urban farm in the middle of downtown St. Louis, was the first stop on day four of the academy. Following the urban farm was a tour of the St. Patrick’s Center, where the students learned about the Begin New Adventure Center where people can find help to start their own businesses. The bus soon traveled to a scrumptious lunch of ribs and brats provided by Lange Stegmann. The students learned about fertilizer and went on a tour of their facilities. Osborn and Barr finished off the afternoon with a burst of agri-marketing energy. Steve Peirce kept the students entertained at dinner by talking about social networking and planning for the future. Students finished their Thursday with an evening full of dancing and fun at the MAbA social.
Friday we departed for Jefferson City and had lunch at Madison’s Cafe downtown. The 30 students joined their family and friends, the Missouri Department of Agriculture staff, as well as their commencement speaker Dr. Terry Heiman in the Capitol Rotunda in celebration of their graduation from the academy. This was the 25th year anniversary of MAbA. Karen Wilde, MDA employee has been with the academy for all 25 years and was presented with a gift of appreciation.
Out of that brief summary of the week, there are so many things I left out. Things that cannot be described. Things that can only be seen, heard, tasted, smelt or felt by the senses. My MAbA trip in 2009 was one of the best weeks of my life. It was so surreal to have the opportunity to live it again. This time around feels just as special as my first time. I had the opportunity to spend my week with 30 wonderful, intelligent and passionate young agricultural leaders.
“I am looking at the future of agriculture,” said Steve Peirce, “right here.”
I was looking at the same kids that Peirce was. I looked at thirty students from all parts of Missouri. All were different in many aspects but had one common goal. If the future of agriculture is as promising as these students, our future in agriculture must be very bright.