July 23, 2024

Rally launches Ag Legislative Day

FFA members pick up their boxed lunches and commodity baskets in the Stratton Building to deliver to  the representatives and senators in their respective districts during Illinois Agricultural Legislative Day on March 13. The baskets, delivered by about 1,000 FFA members, were filled with Illinois-produced products to remind lawmakers of agriculture’s diversity.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A celebration of agriculture that crossed generations kicked off the 54th annual Illinois Agricultural Legislative Day on March 13.

The event drew nearly 50 diverse agricultural organizations and about 1,000 FFA members together to meet with lawmakers.

FFA members were tasked with delivering boxed lunches and commodity baskets to each legislator and meeting with lawmakers representing their districts.

The baskets were filled with Illinois-produced products to remind lawmakers of agriculture’s diversity.

“Ag Legislative Day brings us together, a very diverse group of stakeholders, to speak to lawmakers about the importance of Illinois agriculture and all of the issues that we face,” said Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II at the opening rally.

“Ag Legislative Day is an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve come from and prepare for the future. Land is meaningful and caring for it is deeply personal work. Agriculture is the lifeblood of Illinois and essential to every single person whether they realize it or not,” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.

She reviewed the various resources available to boost the state’s ag industry, including $28 million for a local food bank purchasing agreement, $6 million in resilient food infrastructure grants and $2 million for the Farm to Food Bank Program.

Stratton previously launched the Ag Connects Us All Initiative and “through that effort we are investing in Illinois’ young people and the ag education and workforce development that will help them reach their potential.”

“Part of that education is about helping people realize the inner-consecutiveness of agriculture and, as we do so here, creating and encouraging agricultural opportunities for every Illinoisan, from southern Illinois to the South Side of Chicago,” she said.

Jerry Costello II

Future Leaders

The next generation of leaders was a major part of the rally.

“I’m joined today by nearly 1,000 FFA members in the capitol here to celebrate the remarkable growth of Illinois FFA and agricultural education in the past year,” said Illinois FFA President Thaddeus Bergschneider, of Franklin.

“We now have over 41,000 members, over 380 chapters, are adding 12 new chapters this year and have seen a 15% increase in program participation.”

He credited Costello and Stratton for their strong support for FFA and said that Stratton’s “ag connects us all” message has served as a rallying point for ag education, taking it to the next level, and a source of inspiration for the FFA leadership team in its theme development.

“In ag, we are united.”

—  Thaddeus Bergschneider, president, Illinois FFA

“We needed to decide what our theme was going to be for Illinois FFA, and we thought to ourselves, what do we want every single FFA member across this state to know,” Bergschneider said.

“We want them to know that every single student has a place and an opportunity within the blue jacket and within the agriculture industry. We want them to know that the backgrounds of farm and urban, the skills of livestock and technology, the passions of people in produce, are all united as one. We are united as one Illinois FFA and we are united for one industry of agriculture.

“There is a powerful difference in saying that we come together because of our differences, not in spite of them. Instead of allowing our differences to separate us, we instead take the opportunity of different viewpoints to create a greater result in Illinois FFA, in agriculture, collaboration uniting those difference across walks of life.

“For example, in ag the consumer and the crop are cared for together. Farmers in the field feed families near and far away, and nature and nourishment are both national priorities. In ag, we are united.”

Guest speaker Ross Vancil, of Henderson County, 4-H Youth Leadership Team chairman, said that 4-H is more than just a youth program.

“It ignites personal growth. It is a force for positive change in our community. 4-H fosters a sense of community among its members and instills a lifelong dedication to giving back,” Vancil said.

He thanked the administration and legislators for supporting 4-H.

“4-H empowers generations of leaders and change-makers who will continue to make a positive difference in our community and beyond,” he said.

“The privilege of working in this industry is not just a job, rather it is a lifestyle. It is the noblest of lifestyles, full of hard work, dedication and, most importantly, passion,” said Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Natalie Evans, of Jacksonville.

“The passion that we all possess is going to be what allows our industry to thrive with the purpose of improving lives for generations to come.”

Antonio Contreras, a senior at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Science, and Junior Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Science board president, and an FFA member, outlined the program. He is enrolled in the food science and technology career pathway.

MANRRS promotes academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture, national resources and related sciences.

Junior MANRRS is for students in seventh through 12th grade to help them explore agricultural careers. There is also collegiate and professional MANRRS programs.

Other guest speakers were state lawmakers Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, Senate Agriculture Committee chairperson; Sen. Win Stoller, R-Germantown Hills, minority spokesperson; Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, House Agricultural and Conservation Committee chairperson; and Rep. Charles Meier, R-Okawville, Republican spokesperson.

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor