If you made it to the 2017 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, this year, you may have noticed a large group of urban school children taking in the sights and sounds of the ag industry. How did they wind up at the nation’s largest outdoor farm show? Well, Howard Buffett had a hand in getting them there.
Buffett, the son of Warren Buffet and a farmer/rancher with operations in Illinois, Nebraska, Arizona, and Texas, is the Chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation — one of the largest private charitable foundations in the United States. That Foundation helped fund the venture to Farm Progress this year, but Buffett says the idea came from a local Decatur radio announcer. And the two have plans to do more.
“We have so many kids in Decatur that wouldn’t even know who ADM is or Staley is and they are the biggest employers in our city,” Buffett told the audience during his session “A Deep Dive into World Agriculture Issues” at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting National Convention in Kansas City Wednesday.
Brian Byers, WSOY Radio approached Buffett with the idea as a way to show Decatur kids there are more opportunities in the area, especially in agriculture, than “dealing drugs on the corner.”
Buffett said it also didn’t hurt to have so many giant tractors on hand.
“I don’t know too many 12-year-olds that don’t think a tractor is pretty cool,” Buffett said. “You can get their attention and then you start there.”
Their next move? Byers hopes to put FFA programs in Eisenhower and MacArthur schools in Decatur, modeled after Buffett’s son success in Omaha.
In 2012, Bryan High School became the first and only Omaha public school to have an agricultural program, thanks to the work of Howard Buffett Jr. Today, the Bryan FFA chapter is the largest in the state of Nebraska. At the academy, students utilize knowledge of both urban and traditional agriculture to be innovators in their field and positive members in the community. Agricultural themes are incorporated into their core coursework such as plant and animal science and food production.
Buffett concedes that when his son mentioned he wanted to do this, he thought he was nuts and it would never fly. But the Bryan program has been so popular, that a year and a half ago, the Buffett Foundation gave another $1.5M to construct a building, expand the program, and hire a couple more teachers.
“That is the kind of opportunity we have to give our young kids and we have to figure out how to get them interested in it, how to keep them interested in it, and how to be productive citizens, and I think ag plays a unique role in that with the high schools, the FFA programs and I think it is amazing,” Buffett said.
He hopes Byers can get similar programs started at both schools in Decatur in the next few months.
Buffett says he also has an alternative motive for getting FFA more active in Decatur.
“I think that the kids today don’t have the opportunity at home to see the leadership, have the mentorship, to learn how to speak, to learn how to take responsibility, to learn how to see something that turns in to something productive and positive … a lot of those kids are missing that and they can get that in an FFA program,” Buffett said. “What better program is there where they can get that? I don’t know one.”
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