Friday, February 24, 2012

True to Their Roots

This entire week I've spent time reflecting on my FFA experience. In doing so, I've realized there has been one resounding person that comes to mind as I remember how grateful I am to have been part of a program much bigger than myself. Being just a year older than I, she was an incredible role model of mine as I navigated through high school. And even today she is a true mentor and friend. And, as life turns out, a neighbor.

That being said, when the idea of this entry came to me, one that could potentially till up emotion, I knew we had a good enough relationship that I could ask to come spend an evening with the family. 

Actually, I just Facebook messaged her Mom.

My mentor's name is Kristen, and Kristen's FFA story is a unique one, with a rich history and deep roots. 

It would be fair to say Kristen's passion for agriculture was instilled in her from both parents and both sides of the family. But one parent was able to see her receive her American Degree, and one wasn't. 

Kristen was eleven, and her sister Kaitlyn was five, when their father, Barry, was killed in a farming accident. Though he was never able to assist his two daughters with their SAE projects, Barry still had a fundamental role in the foundation of their agricultural interests and pursuits. 

"The girls were so young when we lost Barry, it is almost ironic how they've grown up to have the very same passions that he had. They didn't have a lifetime to learn from him, to do the things that he loved to do. Still, they're doing it themselves, every single day," says LuAnn, while sitting at the dinning room table with her two daughters, who are both very involved in the agriculture industry. 

Kristen & Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn, a senior at Purdue majoring in agriculture education, is ready to give back to an organization that gave so much to her. In fact, our discussion in their old farm house was delayed a bit because Kaitlyn was wrapping up FFA Week activities with the kids she is currently student teaching. 

"I know I got my passion for cows from Dad, and I relive the things he enjoyed through my own experiences today. But each of us," Kaitlyn said while looking up at her mom and sister, "are in production agriculture today and I know it's because of his memory."

Kristen values her FFA experience because of the real-life applications it provided her.
Today she works in the agribusiness field and also has a cattle operation with her husband Jason. "Whether I knew it then or not, the things I learned in FFA are applicable for the rest of my life," says Kristen. 

But Barry wasn't the only one in their rural Indiana family that was, or is, passionately involved in FFA and agriculture. 

Their grandpa Marvin was State Reporter in 1955-1956. 
Barry served as District Reporter in 1976-1977.
Kristen served as District Vice President in 2001-2002. 
And Kaitlyn brought the three generations together by serving as District Treasurer in 2007-2008.

And the best part, all four also held offices in the Hagerstown FFA Chapter. 

A collection of jackets, and stories 

Many who read this blog know Kristen and Kaitlyn, though some haven't had the pleasure. I  say with confidence that I don't know two ladies who are so well-adjusted and driven, as these two are. The influence they've had on others' lives is incredible , whether they realize that or not.  Our small east central Indiana community has watched these two grow up. 

Though the sisters claim to be very different, I couldn't help but notice how they finished each others sentences during one part of our discussion: talking about the fight we're fighting to be AGvocates in our industry. Both shifted in their seats as they described the unfortunate stereotype that agriculture still faces today and painful misconceptions about where our food comes from. Lucky for these two, the farm legacy runs deep in their blood. 

"Everyone talks today about family farms and staying true to your roots. Well, we've done that. Even with Dad not around we've pulled together, gotten stuff done and stayed engaged in the industry. We address things in world wide agriculture, but we're still a family-based operation," Kristen says as she looks to Kaitlyn, who gently nods in agreement. 

"It is humbling to see how much of Barry is in each of them," LuAnn continues. "His legacy of compassion for other other people is visible in both of them. These girls, they'd both give five minutes to anyone who needed it...well, except for each other!"

All four of us laugh, but none of us believed that. 

She continued, "I look at my girls and all that they're doing. They may not realize it, but that all comes from him. Both are exactly where Barry would have wanted them to be."

After our conversation around the dining room table, I drove to Kristen's house to pick up her beloved jackets. On the drive over I couldn't help but smile, feeling quite thankful for knowing the crew I just spent an evening with; what classic ladies, who understand the importance of hard work and persistence, even in the darkest of hours. 

I reached Kristen's house. She blew the dust off of her jackets and handed them to me as I stepped out under the porch light, into the cold February air.

She stopped me. 

"Listen, I know we said "legacy" a lot tonight, but I don't know if that is the right word to use when you write this. We're down to earth people. I like to think of my Dad as my guardian angel, in everything I do."

I looked at her and smiled. 
A word wasn't needed;
After the conversation the four of us just had, I strangely understood exactly what she meant. 


  1. Awesome post! Love all these FFA week posts! I haven't seen the Culy girls in forever...

  2. Love it and oh how it touches my life in so many ways and I don't even knwo this family!!! Thanks for a great write up!!

  3. What a cool story of family, generations, FFA and agriculture. You can also share this story at