Earlier in the spring, I did my last Relay for Life event as a North Central College student. The Relay for Life is an event that groups can host to raise money for the American Cancer Society. I have seen more loss and heartache because of cancer than I like to admit, and following my own cancer scare I dove into awareness with a new fervor. At my fourth and final Relay for Life event at NCC, I raised over $1,200 for the American Cancer Society.
When one of my best friends, Joe, asked if I’d be interested in volunteering for another Relay for Life event this year, I agreed. Rather than raise money, though, we were donating our time and professional services as DJ’s through his blossoming company Rack Off and Rage.
Joe is good company, and a great friend, and we managed to make it through the majority of the night with good spirits. I teared up a few times, hearing the amazing and inspirational stories of survivors, and the heartbreaking tales of lost loved one. I openly wept after a little girl walked up and requested “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars before returning to the track to hug her mother, who had lost her hair to chemo. Another time, a young woman came up and requested a long string of songs. When she was done rattling off titles, she said, “Sorry to request so many. I just lost my 4-year-old daughter to cancer, and these are the songs she liked to dance to.”
My heart wept for her, but it also sang. Because this woman, maybe only a few years older than me, was smiling as she said it. Her daughter was an inspiration to her, and she was fighting to protect other parents from the loss she had had to endure. And here she was, surrounded by people who understood the situation all too well.
Those two instances, just a few of many similar experiences, were enough to make the entire long, exhausting night worthwhile.
I’ve volunteered with many groups over the years. Some, I got involved in accidentally…like 4-H. But, if you’ve ever helped a young child move to that next level of skill with a 4-H project, something lights up inside of you. I’ll never forget the first time I got beat by a younger kid who I had helped get a start in rabbits. I’d sold him a little white buck that I thought was about level with the chocolate littermate I had kept. Both were good rabbits, but he had paired that male with the right doe and he beat one or two of my rabbits to go on to face me in Best of Breed. It was my last ever 4-H show, and while I ended up winning best of breed, I think seeing a kid beaming with pride over something I helped them get started in…that probably meant more to me than any Best of Breed ribbons did.
Are we noticing a common thread here? Volunteering is often about others, about improving the lives of others, even for a brief moment. It’s about easing the pain of others, or building character and morals in ourselves and those around us. And the volunteering spirit is often alive and well in agriculture. And we need to keep that spirit alive in agriculture. Why?
Volunteering in ag come in many shapes and forms. You can work with the Farm Bureau to bring vital resources and representation to farmers in your locale, region, state, or the whole country. You can work with 4-H and FFA students on agricultural products, helping to build a strong foundation to the next generation of agricultural thought leaders. You can work with breed clubs, livestock groups, commodity associations, and more, to better the standards of specific niches. You can work with advocacy groups to reach out and forge vital relationships with everyday people outside of agriculture, the same everyday people who walk into the voting booth when elections roll around.
Why should busy, overworked people like farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural professionals devote their time to these projects?
The world is counting on you, that’s why. With acreage decreasing and food demand increasing, it’s only natural that agriculture, as an industry, must focus on bettering itself. While major companies can play a role, in most cases this must happen at a grassroots level. That starts by devoting time, as individuals, families, and communities, to bettering agriculture in our own ways. This happens by helping to nurture to passion of young agriculturalists in youth organizations. This happens by speaking up for agriculture through representative organizations and advocacy groups. This happens by building a strong community within your specialties to better those products, whether they’re Hereford cattle, yellow dent corn, almonds, meat rabbits, Landrace hogs, hay, and so on.
It really comes back to helping people. By bettering the agriculture industry, you’re working to better the world. You’re innovating the industry that feeds, clothes, and employees countless citizens of the world. You’re making the world a better place.
A few days ago, if someone had told me I’d learn a lesson in agriculture because of a young woman whose daughter had died of cancer, I probably would not have seen the connection. But, now, I get it. I see it. And while we can’t always devote the time and energy we’d like to the causes we promote, we should all try to give a little of ourself to these efforts now and then. Whether you’re helping one grieving mother ease her pain a bit, or you’re working to help a global community feed a growing population, there’s something to be said for volunteering.