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Fresh perspective: a salute to rural leaders who are making a difference for ag and communities.

Farm Credit is observing its 100th anniversary not just by looking back, but also looking forward to the next 100 years by honoring 100 individuals (and some institutions) selected for its "Fresh Perspectives 100" honor.

The honorees were selected because they are "leaders who are creating a brighter, more vibrant future for rural America." The following seven profiles present clear evidence that leadership, innovation and commitment to the future of agriculture are "alive and well" in rural America. To see all 100 profiles, visit:

Justin Zahradka

* Farmer and Student, North Dakota State University

Category: Beginning Farmer or Rancher Achievement

Location: Lawton, N.D.

Farm Credit Affiliation: AgCountry Farm Credit Services

Due to its northern latitude, North Dakota faces a shorter growing season than most U.S. states, and its farmers typically produce only one crop per season. That is, until Justin Zahradka started working with the Northeast North Dakota Cover Crops Project, through which he has helped demonstrate that, with the right processes, North Dakota land can sustain more crops than previously expected.

Running his own crop and livestock operation for the past four years, Zahradka, a college senior, was the first in his local area to use cover crops behind a cash crop. He's also proven the efficacy of raising a cash crop and then livestock on the same land planted with cover crops, and of raising two crops in a single year.

"Knowing that we must produce more food with less arable land is a challenge that I've embraced through leadership and production," Zahradka says. "Growers have doubled the amount of cover crops planted each year due in part to my demonstration and education."

Zahradka's success has encouraged many other producers to use cover crops in their operations and he has earned a national FFA award for this work. Zahradka also collected data on the rate of gain for beef cows and calves on cover crops in Northeastern North Dakota that is used to this day.

"My vision is to better agriculture by refining a farming system that has plants growing in the soil all year and adds diversity with livestock--a system that builds up our soil, environment, and well-being that will produce food with less water and inputs, and with resilience to climate change," he says.

Zahradka's efforts have proven that sustainable practices can be profitable for producers of all sizes, and he's bolstered his sustainability efforts by converting Conservation Reserve Program land to crops in his county. Active in both FFA and 4-H, Zahradka's success has also made him a sought after speaker throughout North Dakota.

As a young farmer, it's natural for Zahradka to look forward. "I may have only 50 growing seasons in my lifetime to directly impact production agriculture. By sharing my talents and knowledge, my results will be carried on," he says. "I'm committed to do my part to exert a positive influence in my community, nation and the world."

Adam Montri



* Farmer and managing member of Ten Hens Farm; Outreach Specialist for Michigan State University

Category: Rural and Urban Connection Location: Bath, Mich.

Farm Credit Affiliation: GreenStone Farm Credit Services

Adam Montri has devoted himself to building his own farm near Bath, Mich., as well as to helping farmers across the state and country and advocating for programs that support agriculture and rural communities.

Montri and his wife purchased two acres and a fixer-upper farm house in 2007. After undertaking significant land renovation, they planted cover crops to supplement their soil and built seven hoophouses and a walk-in cooler. Ten Hens Farm now encompasses the original two acres as well as rented land. It produces vegetables year-round that are sold on-farm, as well as to local farms, at the farmers' market, to local grocers and area restaurants, and to a regional food distributor.

Montri has shared his knowledge and expertise about farming in a state with long, cold winters and actively helped many fellow farmers build their own hoophouses. He has helped build a hoophouse at the school and another in Lansing, Mich., in cooperation with GreenStone Farm Credit Services.

Montri has worked as a hoophouse outreach specialist in the Michigan State University Department of Horticulture, developed an online class, makes how-to videos and responds to text messages from other farmers at all hours. He's committed to helping farmers be innovative and to supporting them as they make changes to survive and be successful.

"I hope that as farmers we achieve strong, economically viable farming communities that support business development and job opportunities at local, regional, national and international levels," Montri says. "When we are successful in creating these communities, we also strengthen the social connections between our rural, suburban and urban areas. I believe that it is entirely possible that farming and agriculture can be a foundation and means to achieving overall healthy communities where all citizens are able to be contributing members of society."

Montri is actively involved in the community and works to develop food and ag programs that are changing Bath for the better. He works with teachers on Annie's Big Nature Lessons, and served on the visionary committee for the Bath Farmers Market.

"Our industry is tasked with feeding an ever-growing world population through increased yields while simultaneously producing safe products that are also environmentally responsible," Montri says. "Farmers, together with science from industry and universities, will create new production and distribution systems while strengthening and optimizing current ones. The opportunity to increase global food security while increasing financial viability for farmers ensures the future of agriculture is bright and promising."

M. James Faison


* Founder and President, Milton's Local

Category: Rural and Urban Connection

Location: Hopewell, Virginia

Fourth-generation farmer M. James Faison is the founder and president of Milton's Local, an all-natural meat company that supports sustainable agriculture by creating wholesale channels for local farmers. Milton's Local works with family farmers who raise their animals without hormones, antibiotics or steroids. It then aggregates the meat and sells it to wholesale buyers such as restaurants, universities and grocery stores. The company also processes hog bellies to create all-natural bacon and bacon sausage, both cured without using artificial nitrites.

"I am inspired to create marketing opportunities for farmers so that they can continue to farm and remain pillars of rural communities," Faison says. "I hope to create a large enough marketplace where our producers who want to farm full-time will be able to support their family through their 'on-farm' income, and it is financially viable for potential young and beginning producers to start farming."

Faison also serves on the board of Tricycle Gardens, a community nonprofit organization that is committed to promoting urban agriculture. Tricycle Gardens uses urban agriculture both as a way to beautify urban spaces in disadvantaged neighborhoods and to combat food deserts by providing fresh fruits and vegetables to corner stores. He also mentors agribusiness students at the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University, helping these young agribusiness entrepreneurs with their business and marketing plans.

To continue developing his own leadership skills and agricultural knowledge, Faison is also a participant in the VALOR (Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results) Program through Virginia Tech. VALOR is a two-year leadership program in which participants meet with agricultural industry leaders to become better advocates for the industry. They travel all over the world to learn about the issues affecting the global agriculture industry and discuss ways that the industry can continue to adapt to address concerns of the future.

"I think that we will see alternative forms of agriculture, such as organic, genetically modified organisms (GMO)-free and all-natural, become more popular in the future," says Faison. "As a result, producers who engage in those agricultural practices will start to get larger and achieve scale. With scale, the prices of alternative agricultural products will become more price competitive with conventionally grown agricultural products, and thereby become more mainstream."

Erin Brennjeman


* Farmer and Farrowing Manager, Brenneman Pork

Category: Agriculture Education and Community Impact

Location: Wellman, Iowa

Farm Credit Affiliation: AgStar Financial Services

Raised in the suburbs of Chicago, it was only after Erin Brenneman married and moved to her new family's hog operation that her eyes were opened to what she calls "the beautiful world of farming." She's since become a strong advocate for the industry and for her own family's products.

Brenneman and her husband, Tim, are part owners in

TJAC Pork, and both work at Brenneman Pork in Iowa. Their operation consists of a 24,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation, and they market 650,000 pigs annually. They also have their own 715-acre corn and soybean farm.

Brenneman works full-time as the farrowing manager at the home-farm sow unit. While most of her time is spent caring for sows and new-born piglets, she also hosts groups visiting the farm. She takes the time to explain modern production practices to groups such as Florida FFA officers, retail food companies, students and a group of "mommy bloggers."

"I always hope to reach a non-agriculture-based audience to share the amazing story of modern farming," Brenneman says. "I am constantly seeking out new and effective ways to reach audiences with exciting stories about how food is raised."

Brenneman was recently selected as one of the Faces of Farming by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and has traveled extensively throughout the United States promoting the pork industry and talking to students with little or no knowledge about modern farm production methods and technology. As an active member in the social media community via Twitter, she strives to correct the vast amounts of misinformation about farming that she finds circulating.

"As more and more of the next generation return to the farm, I believe that the future of agriculture is incredibly bright and full of innovation," she says. "I have found that the farming community is extremely progressive and always looking for ways to improve. The future of agriculture will be filled with bright, motivated individuals who value a hard day's work and others' input to feed the world's ever-growing population."

G. Art Barnaby, Jr.

* Farmer and Professor, Kansas State University

Category: Rural Policy Influence

Location: Manhattan, Kan.

Farm Credit Affiliation: Frontier Farm Credit

An agricultural economics professor at Kansas State University, Art Barnaby has had a distinguished career as an agricultural risk management researcher and educator. He is also a farmer who was reared on a diversified family farm in Kansas.

Barnaby's groundbreaking work in risk management has brought him international acclaim. He has authored several research projects on crop insurance issues and their impacts on farmers. His research work with the private sector was the basis for the first revenue insurance contract, considered by Top Producer magazine to be "the single most important change in the history of the program going back to the Dust Bowl." He is a sought-after adviser to policymakers and agricultural finance leaders alike, consistently considering how any proposed policy change would affect farmers.


"I'm inspired to help farmers manage risk in a world market with less support from USDA commodity programs," Barnaby says. "I hope to educate policymakers that cuts in crop insurance coverage will impact farmers' marketing plans."

Barnaby also conducts national extension education programs on market risk, government commodity programs, crop insurance and public policy. He is a frequent speaker at professional, farmer-producer, ag lender and insurance industry meetings.

Barnaby was named to the Top Producer Editors' list of "Brave Thinkers: 30 Leaders Who Made a Difference" and its list of "7 Economists, Bankers Who Challenged the Status Quo." He is a past winner of the Excellence in Extension Award presented by the National Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and a three-time winner of the American Agricultural Economics Association Distinguished Extension Program Award. He earned a bachelor's degree from Fort Hays State University, a master's degree from New Mexico State University and a doctorate in Agricultural Economics from Texas A&M University.


Odessa R. Oldham


* Student, Ranch Partner/Manager and Native American Youth Agriculture Summit Camp Director

Category: Agriculture Education and Community Impact

Location: Lander, Wyoming

Farm Credit Affiliation: Farm Credit Services of America

A proud member of the Navajo Nation, Odessa Oldham started her own agriculture operation with a youth loan from USDA's Farm Service Agency, and, in partnership with her brother, has grown it into a 600head sheep and cattle operation. Oldham was the first tribally recognized candidate for a national FFA office and has served as a champion for the organization, helping to establish several FFA chapters throughout "Indian Country."

"In my travels, I've seen a 'disconnect' that youth have from culture and agriculture. I will change that, like my family inspired me to embrace my heritage, education and agriculture," Oldham says. "Youth inspire me. They are the leaders of tomorrow and will [ help us] learn and move forward from what we leave behind."

Oldham witnessed firsthand the need for leadership training for Native American youth interested in agriculture and food production. This inspired her to attend the Native Youth in Food & Agriculture Leadership Summit, a nine-day event hosted at the University of Arkansas School of Law. This comprehensive educational experience incorporates classroom and experiential learning centered around food system sustainability while engaging intertribal youth representatives in culture-sharing activities and leadership development. Oldham has since served as a camp director for Native American Youth Agriculture Summit.

"I strongly believe in being an example, and with that I hope to have a successful cattle, sheep and horse operation in Wyoming. I want to be successful financially, but more so to offer educational insight," she says.

Oldham plans an operation that also offers internships for college students, learning experiences for 4-H and FFA members, and community experiences. "The operation will become a positive example of what agricultural producers offer. I want to show Native youth that it doesn't matter where they came from, they can achieve their goals," she says.

Of the future, Oldham envisions more recognition for the important role agriculture plays in society, saying, "No matter what the consumer has asked for, agriculture has provided. From vegetarians, to vegans, to meat eaters --it does not matter, agriculture provides. With social media and technology, agriculture is able to show how important this industry is."

Caleb Brannon


* Student, Researcher, Farmer and Entrepreneur

Category: Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Location: Puryear, Tenn.

Caleb Brannon is a successful young entrepreneur and dedicated researcher, a leader in FFA--having won 19 regional and 10 FFA state championships--and is an innovator of note in his own agricultural pursuits. With his brother, Brannon owns a 42-acre row crop farm on land previously owned by their great-grandmother. At 15, he founded Brannon AgriEnergy, an agribusiness producing and marketing switch-grass and other bio-energy crops for biomass energy and future cellulosic ethanol research.

His vision for stewardship and energy development inspired him at age 18 to secure funding from River Valley Ag Credit for a 10-kilowatt solar system. Referencing the FFA Creed, he says, "My passion regarding shaping the future of agriculture has inspired and motivated me daily to not only set my goals high through 'words' but also to work diligently through 'deeds' to obtain them."

Since enrolling at Murray State University (MSU), Brannon has expanded his leadership roles, serving in many clubs and as an ambassador for the university and the MSU School of Agriculture. He works with MSU farm operations, including research on crops and testing and burning several bio-energy crops for the Equine Center biomass heating unit.

He has worked with professors, the farm manager and other students in planting and researching the first crops of hemp planted in Kentucky in recent years (after it was legalized).

Brannon's involvement in crop research on the family farm involves working with the Extension Service, Monsanto and Helena Chemical Co. on farm variety trials, some of which involve testing new corn hybrids to help identify varieties that increase production using less water resources. He was invited to present a poster at the U.S. Department of Energy's Biomass 2014 conference in Washington, D.C.

Brannon completed the "triple crown," earning college scholarships sponsored by BASF in successive years through the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association and the National Wheat Growers Foundation.

"Hunger never sleeps, and to feed a growing world that is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, farmers will need new tools, including advancements in biotechnology and information technology," says Brannon. "Most of all, the future will require us to tell our story. This is why I want to be a part of the next generation of agriculture."
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Author:Zahradka, Justin
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Geographic Code:1U4ND
Date:May 1, 2016
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