An awards ceremony for farmers – that’s what the Seneca FFA in Seneca, Ill., wanted to see. “In every other occupation, career milestones are marked with celebrations and gifts,” says member Isaac Brockman. “Farmers, however, are never recognized for their longevity in a very challenging occupation.”
FFA advisor Jeff Maierhofer’s ag management class began talking about the idea, and “it just kind of morphed from there,” Maierhofer says. The final plan: a Golden Farmers evening during National FFA Week 2019 honoring 16 farmers older than 70 who have been farming for more than 50 years. (One was 92 years old and still operating a combine.) The gift presented to each honoree read, “Farming: It’s not just the way we make our living. It’s the way we make our life.”
That sentiment is timeless. Even though decades and technological advancements separate the Seneca FFA members and their honorees, the level of commitment required remains the same. “You have to work hard and be dedicated to get the job done,” Maierhofer says. “Hard work will never go away.”
Neither will the pride. As the Golden Farmers tearfully shared their stories and answered FFA members’ questions, “you could just see the pride these farmers had in their lives,” Maierhofer says. “My students can’t get that kind of emotion from a textbook.”
Maierhofer says his chapter hopes to host similar events every five years, but he’d especially like to see other chapters follow suit to honor the Golden Farmers in their areas.