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Master Farmers give back to their communities

Master Farmers give back to their communities
You can recognize Master Farmers by what they do for their communities.

It’s relatively easy to pull out your checkbook and donate to a worthy cause.  You've reached a whole new level when you take time out of your farm operation for a good cause.

Maybe you’re serving on a committee, deciding how Purdue University Extension can reach more people. Perhaps you’re a school board trustee making decisions about what's in the best interest of current and future generations in education.

Tom and Karen McKinney, Tipton, write the checks when a well-deserving organization needs financial support. But they also go above and beyond, reaching out and helping people in causes special to each of them. Somehow they find the 25th hour in a 24-hour day to meet their obligations on the farm, yet still give of themselves to others.

The McKinneys are part of the new group recognized as Master Farmers this year. The award is co-sponsored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue University College of Agriculture.

Mark of a Master Farmer

Occasionally someone asks what it takes to become a Master Farmer. What traits does the judging committee look for? Jay Akridge, dean of Purdue University's College of Agriculture and head of the judging committee, says the farmer, or in many cases, husband-and-wife team, must know how to manage and run a first-class farm operation. They need to know how to find the management information to make the right decisions for their business.

He says this year’s Master Farmers understand that nothing remains constant, especially in agriculture. They have the ability to look to the next horizon, and the courage to make the decisions that will lead their business there.

MAKE TIME TO GIVE BACK: Tom and Karen McKinney are representative of hundreds of Hoosier farm families who find time to make their communities better places to live.

They also care for natural resources, notes William Pickart, Camden, also on the judging committee. These Master Farmers are blessed with an innate ability to understand that by protecting soil and improving water quality, they both set up their operations to be more profitable, as well as leave the land in better condition for the generations that come after them.

Carl Eiche, former Indiana Prairie Farmer senior editor and the third member of the judging committee, says Master Farmers recognize that their opportunities to help agriculture don’t end at their driveways. They seek ways to help beyond the farm gate, starting in their local communities.  

Shining example

Tom McKinney stepped up with a friend and served as FFA advisor for the Tipton FFA for a year when the program was in transition. Did he have lots of extra time to spare? No. Did he think it was a worthwhile cause? You bet!

“We had a blast with the kids and helped bridge the gap,” he says. “I enjoyed the experience.”

When asked why they find time to help in their community in so many ways when there doesn’t seem to be even a spare minute to give, perhaps Karen McKinney says it best. “Both of our families taught us to give back,” she says. “Giving back to the community was just something our families did, and we were expected to do, as well. It’s an important lesson, and we’ve tried to pass it on to the next generation.”

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