Jacqueline Keenan didn’t find out about the FFA’s New Century Farmer program until her senior year at the University of Delaware, which happened to be the last year of her eligibility. Better late than never.
Through an email forwarded to her from Arba Henry, instructor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, Keenan learned about the program and decided to enroll, eventually ending up as one of only 50 students from across the country accepted.
She said that it was a life-changing experience. “If anybody is really serious about going back to production agriculture after graduating, they really need to look into it. I learned so much in that week,” said Keenan.
Having grown up on her family’s farm — Vincent Farms in Laurel, Del. — Keenan, who graduated in 2012 and majored in agricultural education and agriculture and natural resources, was able to learn from and network with industry professionals at the New Century Farmer conference held in Des Moines, Iowa, in July.
As part of the workshop, Keenan and her fellow New Century Farmers learned about topics such as discovering how producers can profit from value-added products and the use of technology and toured facilities including the DuPont Pioneer campus.
Perhaps the best part about the conference, however, was the lasting relationships she created with her fellow farmers from all over the United States.
“Probably half of the kids that were there, I still talk to on a regular basis, whether it’s through Facebook or email. Several of them became close friends and we text almost every day,” said Keenan.
She also added that the networking aspect of the conference was incredibly helpful, as she got the opportunity to pick the brains of industry professionals. “Talking to people who have been there and done it just really added a huge amount to my education.”
In addition to this year’s conference, there are other future opportunities afforded to alumni of the program and Keenan said she plans to take advantage of them. “Every year, they have an alumni conference, and then they have other activities scattered throughout the year,” said Keenan. “So you’re constantly going to learn more and go back and network, and that’s such a great thing that you need.”
Though she went to school for agricultural education, Keenan said that she now realizes that the place she is meant to be working is not in a school but on her family farm.
“Honestly, when I was graduating, I was so gung-ho that I was going to be an agricultural teacher, but as soon as the packing shed opened up and we got into full swing back into the melon season and the corn season, I realized I don’t want to do anything else,” said Keenan, a decision that she said will no doubt please her father.
“I know my father, he was devastated, saying, ‘So you’re really serious about being a teacher? Who’s going to work for me now?’ He wants me to be here, and I just feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. I went to school for it, I really enjoy this, I want to do nothing else. I love it.”
For those interested in the New Century Farmer program, visit this website.
Article by Adam Thomas
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