Indiana's new director of the state department of agriculture gave a speech in his home county. Joe Kelsay, Whiteland, returned to Scott Hall on the Johnson County Fairgrounds to speak at the soil and water conservation district annual meeting.
He spent the early part of that speech in a trip down memory lane, explaining key points in his life where he made decisions to become involved in 4-H, or FFA, or economics, or become a farmer, or even date his future wife, Amy.
I'll have to take his word on dating his wife- I certainly wasn't there and she wasn't at the meeting to defend herself. But I could verify his earlier statements, especially when he talked about starting 4-H in the third grade. He duly gave my wife, Carla, and I credit for being his first 4-H leaders.
Joe also was in the Youth Conservation Board while I was an advisor. I still am. It may be the only youth conservation board affiliated with a soil and water conservation district, left anywhere. One project the kids do every year is present pine seedlings to fifth graders. In Johnson County, that's roughly 2,000 kids.
They just don't walk in and hand out seedlings. The seedling is a hook. The real purpose is to get 30 minutes with every fifth grader in the county. They take the seedling home in a bag with the district logo and contact information. Maybe a few of them still talk to mom and dad at night like kids did in the old days. So it's a pipeline into hundreds of homes with a positive message about agriculture and the environment.
So what if they are fifth graders? It's still a challenge for our high-school-age presenters. Try standing in front of 100 fifth-graders yourself and answering their questions before you scoff at just how important that experience can be.
It was when he got his seedling, not when he presented to kids, that Joe recalled in his walk down memory lane. That'a when he became really aware that conservation existed, and that it was important. It's a commitment he still honors today.
Our new ISDA director isn't the first person that has impressed me with what they learned while young that carried over later. Some 30-plus years ago in what seems like a different lifetime, I was a vo-agriculture teacher. Our FFA took the message about farming and food to third graders. A few animals to show the kids got us that magic 30 minutes to talk to them.
At one program a hand shot up and a kid with a wily grin asked, "How does a hay baler work?" he asked. My stunned high school presenters looked at me, and I looked at them. When they looked at me the second time, I rescued them and mumbled some sort of answer. I knew all along he already knew the answer. He wanted to see if we knew.
That 'kid' grew into Jason Misiniec, an accomplished livestock showman and judge, and the person who operates Don Villwock's farm while Don serves as president of Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc. Jason is a stellar mechanic. Imagine that!
So the nest time a youngster asks a question and you think 'he or she won't remember what I say anyway,' be careful. You just might be dealing with an agricultural prodigy and someone who knows as much as you do!