Monday, July 16, 2012

What a Baby Bird Taught Me About Mentoring

I have been thinking a great deal of late on mentoring.  This has been a prominent discussion item during my time as a member of the board of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.  How can young farmers be aided in their development as farm community leaders?  How can young people be encouraged to consider agriculture as a career?  What can we as farmers do to illustrate that agriculture is fun and engaging?  To me, the most important question addresses how we shape young people into the future men and women who will lead our communities and our nation.  

My perspective on mentorship is probably different than most, since I have had the opportunity to work with a bounty of young people.  I thoroughly enjoyed my years as a teacher, I adored teaching my brothers how to do things on the farm, and the time I spent working with my student assistants has allowed me the privilege of interacting with young farmers as they grow in their abilities.  I have had many FFA students work with me to complete their Supervised Agricultural Experience projects, I have had the pleasure of hosting OSU students for internships, and this summer will bring two different visiting students to stay & work on the farm.  Over the years, these young people have become extended members of my family.  I fondly think of them as my kids -- human variety -- and I love keeping up with their adventures!

This year, I have also been blessed with two new "junior farmers"!  My neighbors who live west of the farm are a wonderful family.  Their two youngest are Joseph and Eliza.  Joseph is a very intelligent & industrious young man of 13, and Eliza is adorable 7 year old with beautiful doe eyes & a gap-toothed grin.  If they see me working in the barn, one or both will often pop over to see if they can help out.  I thoroughly enjoy their company, and have been impressed with how much they have learned over the last few months.  Joseph was an indispensable aide to me while I was in Wyoming, by helping out with the morning chores.  I have been especially pleased to observe the manner in which Joseph will master a skill or learn something new, and then share it with his younger sister.

Last Friday was a busy day for me as I prepared for the weekend.  I had a planned three hour drive to Van Wert that afternoon, in order to attend the annual educational event "Sheep Day" on Saturday.  On Saturday evening, I was excited to attend a wedding in Lancaster, then I had a catering job scheduled for 6:30am on Sunday.  With all these fun items on my agenda, I was mindful of a short time period for preparation on Friday morning.  Joseph & Eliza arrived at 10:00am to help me with some basic tasks on the farm, which I anticipated would allow me time to pack and organize myself.

Shortly after starting the morning chores, my junior farmers came back to the house.  I was in the midst of a telephone call, but could tell from Joseph's serious expression as he stood at the door that he needed me.  After finishing the conversation, I stepped out to meet him . . . and discovered he was holding in his hands a baby bird.  Joseph explained that he had found it on the ground in the box stall.  The barn swallow's nest (that we had first observed just the afternoon before) had fallen to the ground and was in shambles.  This one baby bird lay all alone.  As I looked at the poor little thing with only tiny feathers, I knew the reality that it would probably starve or be eaten by a cat.  I knew it was simply the way of the world.  I also knew I had to focus on the tasks at hand if I was going to be on time to my meeting later that day.  Then I looked at Eliza's big brown eyes -- so worried for the bird, so full of hope that I would know what to do -- and I realized that there would always be another meeting.  There would never be another chance to capitalize on this opportunity to teach two precious young people.

As luck would have it, I had recently come across some information on handling baby birds -- although at the time I had no idea I would need it so soon!  We searched through the recycling for a suitable plastic container, drilled holes in it so we could use baling twine to hang it, and then carried it to the barn.  We placed some hay in the new "nest".  As Eliza held the bird, I explained to her that we would try to put the replacement nest as close to the previous nest as possible.  Even though we could not feed & teach the baby bird ourselves, we could at least try to put in a position where its mama bird could find it.  We discussed that all animals are different, and since this was a wild animal, it was best that we help it stay wild.  Joseph manfully helped prepare the nest for hanging, and then steadied the ladder as I tied it up and placed the bird in it.  Just as we vacated the box stall, a swallow flew through.  Eliza was delighted that this could be mama returning!

I was -- of course! -- late for everything that day, but the baby bird was only the first item that delayed my schedule.  I love being a farmer, and I believe that it is my responsibility to contribute to our farm community by supporting organizations that look after the best interests of farmers . . . and part of that responsibility is going to meetings.  But more important than that is my responsibility to help teach boys and girls who are interested in farming.  While I am proud to raise livestock, I am much more proud to help raise the young men & women who will be the future of our country.  Those of us who farm are so incredibly blessed to be involved in a truly noble endeavor.  We were fortunate enough to have someone teach us how to farm, how to be a contributing citizen, how to be a good human -- and now it is our responsibility and our great opportunity to help those who follow us learn these same things!

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