Crystal Carson of Kansas reached out to tell us about her experience as chaperone of two FFA members and a 4-Her (as well as 85-year-old Nana) to Lubbock, Texas, for the National American Agriculture Movement Convention. It was rural kids getting to spend time in a big city at an exciting, diverse convention where they took center stage. It was a meaningful experience, which Crystal describes here in her own words:
“At first glance to most people rice fields, feedlots, soybeans, cotton, orchards, or wheat wouldn’t appear to have much in common. However, to a much smaller group, an American farmer can be seen — one, like many others, who prays to break even at the end of the day. The dream to not only attain parity but to invest profits into a stable future for the next generation of agriculturists.
“Recently there was one such place where this melting pot of American farmers could be seen. For two days, Jan. 4 and 5, about 75 ag producers and their families converged on Lubbock, Texas, for the National American Agriculture Movement Convention. Just as A.A.M members made themselves a voice 40 some years ago, they are still politically involved today. This organization lobbies for ag industry equality and growth, and for protecting and increasing conservation and natural resources to name just a few.
“This year’s meeting would also move for a committee to develop and line out stipulations that may allow youth ag organizations interested in representing A.A.M to receive resources and financial aid. It was an exciting reveal welcomed by all! A.A.M sees the need to invest in the future of agriculture.
“Always jumping at the chance to involve youth, it wasn’t surprising that three FFA members were slated to present at this year’s annual convention. What a thrill it would be for us native Kansans to see three girls boasting “KANSAS” on the back of their corduroy blues in front of this kind of audience! Macy Elliott and Hayleigh Vanvalkenburg of the Rural Vista FFA Chapter and Hallie Wettstein of the Hugoton FFA Chapter all prepared to advocate for their future.
“Contacted in August by A.A.M President David Senter, Rural Vista members geared up for a leadership opportunity of a lifetime! Myself, a former FFA advisor, escorted Macy and Hayleigh, along with my son, Gavin, of the Willing Workers 4-H Club, and my grandmother and lifetime A.A.M member Donna ‘Nana’ Riffel, the 560 miles to the convention.
“The trip wouldn’t be easy; an hour before arriving in Lubbock sickness struck Hayleigh. She was laid up that evening and the whole next day! She would make a grand appearance in official dress however on Saturday to lead the opening meeting ceremony, and she would end up working the entire A.A.M auction.
“A.A.M members enjoyed her enthusiasm, and Hayleigh found herself on the receiving end of numerous auction items! Macy would fly solo Friday night (due to Hayleigh’s sickness) with a presentation that was intended for two!
“This crew of Kansans found the business meetings and guest speakers immensely enlightening. One such speaker, Leslie Bissell, of the Southwest Guidance Center, gave a suicide awareness presentation that would hit deep within their hearts. It was apparent that this topic was of value across our rural country. According to her speech there has been a 20 percent increase in rural suicides from 2004 to 2013. While the number of rural area call-ins to receive help have decreased. Also, statistics showed that male farmers and ranchers are committing suicide at a 50 percent higher rate today than farmers and ranchers of the ’80s. Economic and natural disaster similarities then and now are all too eerie. The alarming stats have caused additions to the 2018 Farm Bill that will aid rural health care facilities. A small start, centers like Southwest Guidance Center are doing their part to reach out and make people aware that they are not alone and that they can make a difference.
“However serious the meetings may have become at times, there was no doubt that most of the trip was filled with much laughter, learning, tons of amazing food, and new friendships. On the agenda for the weekend was a tour through Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection, Buster’s Cotton Gin and Cotton Museum, a tour of the WWII Silent Wings Museum, and an outstanding visit through the Bayer Museum of Agriculture! The Rural Vista group would also sneak in appearances to the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in Amarillo and the Prairie Dog Town Reserve in Lubbock.
“Evenings ended with a relaxing and laid back visit to A.A.M’s hospitality room. A highlight for many, it was clear why this room was such a draw. Conversations were bubbling in every corner, and there was food on every table and drinks for anyone’s taste. One would never have imagined these folks having any stress factor or care in the world. Laughter busting seams from 40-years gone tractorcades and political victory stories — this kept the air light. Experiences from the youngsters about their trials and operations gave much insight, particularly when considering the current agricultural times.
“My older travel companion, Donna Riffel, went strong long into each night — she said she hadn’t had that much fun in eons! And it was her first A.A.M. convention in 40 years. After her husband, Leon, a Kansas A.A.M. spokesman, passed away in 1986, Donna found it hard to stay in touch with the organization while still trying to farm and raise kids and cattle. Donna had been forced to sell the family farm and most of the livestock after Leon’s passing. She relocated to a neighboring area to continue farming on a smaller scale. Many old timers can recall similar accounts during the farming crisis of the ’80s.
“If one thing jumped out at you during this convention, it would be that the A.A.M is still very much alive and active across our United States! A.A.M has seen an increase in memberships in the past couple of years, and to keep up with the times, they are in the process of updating their ‘dino’ webpage to meet today’s standards. They also maintain a Facebook page.
“To learn more about how you can be involved, stay in the know, obtain merchandise or to become a member please go to www.aaminc.org.
“On a final note from the author, speaking on behalf of our small Kansas group, we would like to thank the A.A.M and all affiliates for the big Texas hospitality we received on our trip! As well at the conclusion of our trip I asked the kids, Macy, Hayleigh, and Gavin to write a report about their experiences and how it impacted them. What I received from them gave me great hope for the future of agriculture! I am so very proud of these kids for taking out on this venture!