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Wisconsin Ag Youth Council offers insights, connections

High school seniors learn about ag careers and gain networking opportunities by participating in this Wisconsin DATCP program.

Jim Massey

June 4, 2024

6 Min Read
High schooler Abel Kooima stands in front of a red truck cab
LEARNING LEADERSHIP: Abel Kooima, Waupun, Wis., was a member of the 2023-24 Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council. “I think the DATCP Ag Youth Council is a very impactful program,” Kooima says. “It allowed me to connect with kids my age who are also very passionate about the agricultural industry and take on new leadership opportunities.”

Members of the 2023-24 Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council didn’t really know what to expect when they applied for the council last year, but with the nine-month experience now under their belts, three members of the group say their participation was time well spent.

“We learned about everything from consumer protection and agricultural marketing to things like our state’s top commodities,” says Abel Kooima, a council member from Waupun. “The experience was very interesting because it allowed members to not only connect with people that influence the agriculture industry, but also to look into possible future job opportunities.”

The Wisconsin Agriculture Youth Council was formed in 2020 to encourage young people to engage with state government and increase their awareness of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s interactions with the state’s ag industry.

The council is comprised of Wisconsin high school seniors from across the state, who serve one-year terms and receive a certificate at the completion of their year. Fourteen students recently finished their one-year term, and a new class of 15 members was announced in May. The students participate in monthly 90-minute virtual meetings, starting in September and concluding in May. The meetings are held virtually to allow students from across the state to participate.

The goals of the program are:

  • highlight the agriculture-related career opportunities in Wisconsin

  • share state tools available to Wisconsin farmers

  • provide insight on how to effectively engage in state ag policy development

  • increase networking opportunities for participants across the ag industry

Ashley Andre, a DATCP policy initiatives adviser who oversees the program, says DATCP officials are continually impressed with each class of council members.

“The students are actively engaged in the sessions, participating in discussions and interacting with our speakers,” Andre says. “We are always impressed at how involved the council members are in their FFA chapters, 4-H clubs and other agricultural organizations. We are proud of their accomplishments.”

Kooima says Waupun FFA Advisers Tari Costello and Kris Beaver encouraged him to apply for a spot on the council, as they knew of his love of agriculture and leadership roles. He recently served as president of the Waupun FFA.

Kooima hopes to someday become a paramedic and firefighter while working in production agriculture.

“I think the DATCP Ag Youth Council is a very impactful program,” Kooima says. “It allowed me to connect with kids my age who are also very passionate about the agricultural industry and take on new leadership opportunities.”

Tyson Gehrke, a past council member and recent graduate of Fennimore High School, says he applied to be a member of the council “to make connections and open doors” for the future.

High schooler Tyson Gehrke

Gehrke lives on the edge of the unincorporated community of Stitzer, just south of Fennimore, and while he doesn’t live on a farm, his father and grandparents own and operate a cash-grain and beef farm.

“Growing up, I always told myself I never wanted to become a farmer,” he says. “It wasn’t until I joined FFA that my interest in agriculture sparked, as I was introduced to a broader range of agriculture. While I do not live on a farm, growing up in a farming environment has shown me the value of agriculture and that it is something I want to be part of.”

Gehrke says he learned about the different career opportunities in agriculture while serving on the council and was especially interested in a session that offered information on grain imports and exports. He has worked part time at a grain elevator for three years.

Participating on the council offers a “great opportunity for seniors in high school wanting a career in agriculture,” Gehrke says.

Josie Bailey, who grew up on her family’s fifth-generation dairy farm near Tomah, says she applied to be a member of the council to expand her knowledge of the agricultural industry. She hopes to someday be an ag teacher.

“I grew up surrounded by agriculture and found a love for the industries I had an opportunity to be involved in,” she says. Besides being immersed in the dairy industry, she also raises pigs and sheep for showing at the local county fair, and has learned quite a bit about the cranberry industry that is so important to her part of the state.

But that wasn’t enough. Bailey wanted to learn about ginseng, potatoes, mink, honey and other Wisconsin commodities that she wasn’t as familiar with.

“I’m looking to attend University of Wisconsin-River Falls next year for agricultural education, and this means I need to understand all aspects of agriculture to teach my students to the best of my ability,” she says. “[The council] gives kids the opportunity to learn about Wisconsin agriculture as a whole, along with building those connections with industry reps, and it allows us to learn about the different job opportunities and internships out there.”

High schooler Josie Bailey sits on a fallen tree in a pasture where Holstein cows are grazing

Other students who recently completed their nine-month terms on the council are Chance Austin, Milton; Elizabeth Colburn, Viroqua; Lilah Feyen, East Troy; Logan Guilette, Casco; Emi McCarville, Mineral Point; Samuel Mell, Waunakee; Sonya Merrit, Arpin; Layten Sobieski, Berlin; Emily Sydow, Columbus; Allis Teska, Auburndale; and Samuel Tuttle, Drummond.

Logan Harbaugh, who recently completed his junior year at Clintonville High School, is a member of the 2024-25 council that will get together for the first time in September. Harbaugh lives on a small dairy farm between Marion and Clintonville.

Harbaugh’s brother, Jacob, was a member of the council two years ago, and had good things to say about it, which prompted Harbaugh to apply.

“It sounded like a really cool opportunity to look at a lot of careers within agriculture,” he says. “Right now, I’m interested in agriculture, but I’m not quite sure which route I want to take. I think this [experience] is going to provide some good insight on careers within the industry that will be really helpful to me moving forward while I’m looking at different decisions regarding my future.”

High schooler Logan Harbaugh holds a plaque

Like many members of each council, Harbaugh has been involved in agriculture organizations while in high school, such as FFA, 4-H and the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association. He will be president of the Clintonville FFA during the upcoming school year.

“I think it will be cool to meet some of the other members of the council who have a lot of the same interests as me,” he says. “I think some of those connections can definitely be helpful.”

Other members of the incoming 2024-25 youth council are Jordan Berg, Neillsville; Rylee Brattlie, Cambridge; Ashton Brusveen, Cambria; Jamie Damm, Columbus; Gracy Fox, Burlington; Alexa Heitkamp, Mindoro; Max Luedtke, Beaver Dam; Lydia Marquardt, Eau Claire; Elsja Meijer, Glenwood City; Ella Raatz, Colby; Kayziah Smith, Milwaukee; Makayla Staudinger, De Pere; Madison Wiese, Greenleaf; and Matthew Winch, Fennimore.

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Agriculture Leadership

About the Author(s)

Jim Massey

Jim Massey writes from Barneveld, Wis., where he grew up on a family dairy and hog farm. He is the third generation to live on the farm with his wife, Anne.

Before returning to the farm in 2003, Massey earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in ag journalism. In 1983 he was hired by The Country Today, a weekly farm newspaper headquartered in Eau Claire, Wis. By 1995, he became general manager and editor. He retired in 2017. He has been freelance writing for Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2019.

Massey was recognized in 2018 at the Wisconsin FFA Convention as the Wisconsin FFA VIP.

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