Farming is a way of life in Cavalier County, and the family farm is a sacred endeavor. Across the state, one thing many of the farming communities have in common is the Farmers Union Co-op offering gas and other services to travelers and locals alike. Another service that the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) offers is the teaching and advancement of North Dakota youth in learning leadership skills.
By Melissa Anderson
The 83rd Annual National Farmers Union (NFU) All-States Leadership Camp in Bailey, Colorado, was held in June. The event encourages young adults to explore their leadership potential, discuss current events and important issues, learn more about the power of cooperatives, and identify ways to cause positive change in their communities.
“Farmers Union is based on 3 primary pillars: education, cooperation and legislation. We have a very unique camp and youth program because we teach extensively about the cooperative business model and incorporate our own camper-run co-op store at camp,” Brie Sorensen, education director at North Dakota Farmers Union, said. ”At camp we use unplugged education in a fun environment. We teach about other things such as legislative issues and community. All of our education is based around our AFNR Ag STEM curriculum.”
NDFU teaches kids from kindergarten through 12th grade about topics ranging from citizenship and farm-to-table to biodiversity and human impact. The organization also ties in ag careers and educates youth on the importance of rural America. Marcus Iverson of Langdon has been attending the NDFU youth camps since he was in 3rd grade. His attendance and participation has continued and grown since that first camp, most recently attending the All-States Leadership Camp this past June.
“It’s a great organization to be a part of. They do their policy, and you get to meet new people and talk with different farmers across the state,” Iverson said.
Iverson’s mother, Carissa, added how much she really enjoys how the camp and Farmer Union is such a part of her family’s life.
“We all have the goal of family farms first,” Carissa said.
At his most recent camp, Iverson made a huge leap in his participation and involvement within the Farmers Union organization by running for a position on the National Youth Advisory Council (NYAC) along with 16 others. The decision to run was made after the first few days of the All-States camp. After stepping forward as a candidate, Iverson spoke to his peers on why he felt he should be elected. When the results were tallied, Iverson was one of the six campers selected.
“It was a pretty big confidence booster,” he said.
Learning her son had been selected to the NYAC came as little surprise to Carissa. She explained that Marcus has always been a very outgoing child and going to the camps has helped focus his abilities with leadership skills and cooperative skills.
“He comes back exhausted, to be honest, from camps and usually sleeps which never happens as he usually has endless amounts of energy and enthusiasm,” Carissa shared.
This endless energy helped Iverson earn the award trip to the National Farmers Union All-States Leadership Camp in the first place. In order to earn this award, he had to have completed at least four years of youth work in his county and attended at least two Farmers Union Senior Camps. Marcus has been attending county youth education classes and camp for the past 8 years. All-States is a yearly camp put on by National Farmers Union, and the kids can only attend once as a camper. All of the states that have an education program are involved in All-States, which include: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Rocky Mountain.
“Being elected to NYAC is a tremendous accomplishment,” Sorensen said. ”I have been lucky enough to see Marcus grow within our youth program. He is a kind friend, eager learner, and an outstanding role model to his peers. He follows in the footsteps of his family as a great leader and shows much passion for Farmers Union.”
Each state is limited to 2 on the council per year, and North Dakota typically has at least one camper on the NYAC each year- not surprising when North Dakota has the largest youth program within National Farmers Union. Iverson won’t be lonely as fellow North Dakotan Emily Ketelsen from Ray is also on this year’s NYAC.
The NFU explains that the youth advisory council represents thousands of Farmers Union youth across the country. As part of his duties on the NFU Youth Advisory Council, Iverson will hone his leadership skills at a session in Washington, D.C. during the National Farmers Union Fly-In in September. At the Fly-In each state will send representatives to the event, and the participants lobby on Capital Hill for various legislative issues concerning farming and rural America.
“The participants also have meetings at USDA and sometimes the White House. The NYAC members are included with the meetings of the event and get to experience being on a lobbying team,” Sorensen explained.
NYAC also will attend the National Farmers Union National Convention held in March of 2020 in Savannah, Georgia. Sorensen explained that much like their duties in Washington, D.C., the six youth help with the policy debate and other duties. NYAC, again, meets as a group and finishes up any planning for All-States Camp. Finally, NYAC gets to attend the next All-States Leadership Camp. Instead of a camper, Iverson and the other NYAC have the privilege of being the leaders and helping state staff run the camp. They get to help setup the new elections and run the ceremony of passing down the duty to the next NYAC.
“This year’s youth advisory council have already demonstrated initiative, strong management skills, and determination. Over the course of the next year, those qualities will only grow,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “These exceptional young people have the unique opportunity to serve as representatives of their peers, learn about the legislative process and lobbying, and present in front of hundreds of NFU members and press at the NFU convention. I’m confident they will be strong advocates for both the organization and all young people in agriculture.”
“We are very proud to have Marcus on NYAC this year. It is a huge honor for not only him and his family but for North Dakota Farmers Union. He will do a great job representing the North Dakota Farmers Union youth this next year at National Farmers Union events and All-States,” Sorensen said.