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Young leaders converge on Franklin for conference


By Sarah Geyer 3/23/2017

 

Several 2017 Young Leaders Conference attendees and their children, including representatives from Tennessee Farmers Cooperative and member Co-ops, toured the Tennessee State Capitol building on Friday, Feb. 24, the first day of the event.
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Twenty-seven outstanding representatives of Tennessee Farmers Cooperative and member Co-ops were participants in the 2017 Young Leaders Conference — a popular annual event hosted by the Tennessee Council of Cooperatives (TCC) and Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation (TFBF) — Feb. 24 and 25 at Drury Plaza Hotel in Franklin.

They joined more than 300 others from across the state, including many members of Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers, for a weekend of motivation, recreation, and education.

In the Co-op contingent were Brooks and Hayden Blackketter, Carroll Farmers Cooperative; Bass Brown, Coffee Farmers; Aaron and Tiffany Atkins, Cumberland Farmers; Adam and Carrie Joyner and Jonah and Camille Horner, Gibson Farmers; Matthew Orr, Jefferson Farmers; Matt and Becca Blount, Lincoln Farmers; Rob Holman, Johnathan and Morgan Rimmer, and Derek Giffin, Obion Farmers; Tanner Pritchett, Robertson-Cheatham Farmers; Abigayle Frazier, Rutherford Farmers; John Dehozier, Sevier Farmers; Michael and Stacey Simpson, Warren Farmers; Chad and Kim Harris, Washington Farmers; Matt and Carolanne Crisp and Tori Bryant, TFC.

“The conference has been very educational,” said Chad Harris, a fourth-generation farmer who runs a 200-head cow/calf operation with wife Kim on nearly 800 leased and owned acres in Jonesborough. “I’ve enjoyed meeting new folks and learning about their operations. I’ll take back what I’ve learned here and apply it to our operation.

“I’ve also learned some leadership skills that I can take back as well,” added the first-year member of Washington Farmers Cooperative’s board of directors.

The conference provides young couples and individuals an opportunity to network, learn more about cooperatives, discuss current issues facing agriculture and rural America, and build leadership skills.

“Each year, this conference brings together an eager group of young leaders and offers them a chance to learn about Tennessee government, the cooperative system, and current ag-related issues,” says Keith Harrison, TFC’s communications and marketing manager and past president and 2017 vice president of TCC. “As important as the education component is for these young people, the opportunity to spend a family-friendly weekend with like-minded future ag leaders is priceless as this group matures and assumes roles of leadership in our organizations.”

The weekend kicked off with a tour of the Tennessee State Capitol building, followed by a welcome session and ice cream social.

On Saturday, participants attended sessions focusing on generational communication, social media, and financial advice. Beth Harwell, the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives in Tennessee or any other state in the Southeast, shared examples of leadership during her keynote address at the conference.

The former Belmont University history teacher mentioned two Tennesseans whom, she said, illustrated true characteristics of leadership: former First Lady Sarah Polk, who moved the state’s historical documents and artifacts from Capitol Hill after the Union soldiers had captured Nashville during the Civil War, and William Crutcher, who served as pastor of Knoxville’s Mt. Olive Baptist Church from 1935 until 1985 and played an influential role as a civil rights activist in East Tennessee.

Following Harwell’s speech, East Tennessean Ricky West of Farm Credit Mid-America received TCC’s annual award for outstanding dedication to cooperatives. As a part of the award, TCC contributed $1,000 in West’s honor to the John Willis Memorial Scholarship fund that benefits college agriculture students in the state.

“The first time I attended this event 20 years ago, we had 30 participants, so to look out on this crowd of more than 300, I feel like this is quite an accomplishment,” West said during his acceptance remarks. “The sessions are important, but the people you meet and talk with at lunch and breakfast, that’s even better. Take that networking back with you and build on those relationships.”

West, a senior special accounts officer with Farm Credit Mid-America, has spent his 30-plus-year career working with branches in East Tennessee and Kentucky, specializing in agriculture credit. For 20 years, he has been a member of TCC’s board of directors. He has served in various roles, including secretary/treasurer. West and wife Donna live in Tazewell, just a few miles from his childhood home and are active in the livestock association and 4-H.

Following the presentation, West was joined onstage by the TCC’s newly elected board of directors officers: Todd Blocker, president; Keith Harrison, vice president of promotion and outreach and past president; Mike Partain, vice president of policy and operations; Dan Strasser,

vice president of education; and Scott Lewis, secretary/treasurer.

For those interested in participating in the 2018 Young Leaders Conference set for Feb. 23 and 24 in Franklin, contact your local Co-op or Keith Harrison at kharrison@ourcoop.com.

 
 
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