I was raised in a Farm Bureau family, so I have been a Farm Bureau member all my life. (However, I officially paid my own membership 15 years ago.) My great grandfather was a charter member of Waukesha County Farm Bureau. My grandfather was a board member for more years then I could count at the time. My dad was the state young farmer chair and an active member of the Waukesha County Farm Bureau board until he moved to Taylor County and joined that board.
To say Farm Bureau is a family tradition is an understatement. When I married and moved to Medford, we were asked by the president of Taylor County Farm Bureau to be the Young Farmer and Agriculturist program chairs.
Those that know me well understand that I am very quiet, hate large crowds and would prefer an under the radar lifestyle. Luckily, my wife took up the challenge and continued our Farm Bureau tradition. For nine years I have watched as she went from the YFA chair to the county president. She competed in the Discussion Meet and filled out the application for the Achievement Award. In 2011, Cheri and I were awarded the YFA Achievement Award. It was standing on that stage that my Farm Bureau involvement truly began. A few short weeks later, we were in Hawaii competing in the American Farm Bureau contest.
Fast forward a few years to our YFA leadership trip to Washington, D.C. I used to think speaking up was pointless. I assumed everyone felt the same way I felt about the issues at hand, someone else was bound to speak on the topic and I wouldn’t have to, RIGHT? As a group we discussed who would bring up what hot button topic with the legislators. After Jim Holte introduced the group to each legislator, awkward silence followed. I figured I was here, the time is now, so I stood up and started the conversation, in every office. During this experience I became more interested and it was that spark that started the fire.
When we got home from that trip I joined our county fair’s market animal show and sale committee. My oldest son was about to show and sell his first swine project. So I thought what the heck, when you don’t agree with the rules you join the committee and change the rules. The meetings were long and so off-topic that I hated them. There was no parliamentary procedure used, and we lacked a leader who wasn’t a dictator. I went from the pain-in-the-butt on the committee (who would require a motion to move forward) to the vice chair in one year. Our meetings went from a drag-down, screaming across the table, embarrassing mess; to an organized, still controversial but worthwhile meeting. I realized that if I could influence that committee, I could do Farm Bureau’s Discussion Meet.
The following year I was all excited to compete. Until the schedule came out and it was at 4:30 p.m., not a good time for this dairy farmer. So instead, at our county’s annual meeting I ran for county delegate. I was elected as a delegate, and for the first time in years I didn’t leave on Sunday afternoon from the state Annual Meeting. From there I was recommended for the District 8 Policy Development Committee, for a two-year service. Last August, at the District 8 Discussion Meet, I advanced along with my wife and another contestant to the state competition. I studied and researched before the Annual Meeting, but mostly my goal was to feel more comfortable with talking in public. When I advanced to the round of 8, I was shocked. I competed again thinking there is no chance I will go on, I hate talking in public.
I was standing in the silent area auction when a young lady came up to me and congratulated me for moving on to the final 4. I dismissed the thought and told her they were not announcing that until that night’s meal. Cheri suggested that I check the event’s mobile app and low and behold there was my name!
My initial reaction was I want to go home. You could have knocked me over with a feather I was so shocked. I went to work talking to our fellow Farm Bureau members who had the knowledge and experiences with high capacity wells that you can’t find on the Internet or any book on the shelf. They had the real life experiences and involvement that I lacked. They were living the topic of balancing water needs. I didn’t get much sleep that night, my wife can attest to that, and at 4:30 a.m. I took a long walk because my brain would not shut off.
During my walk I came across the banner with the Farm Bureau motto: ‘A Voice for Famers. A Vision for Agriculture.’ I had used that motto during my closing statement at every Discussion Meet I had competed in, but it wasn’t until that moment, in my sleepless state, that I realized I got my voice from Farm Bureau.
I challenge all of you to find your voice, to take a stand on the platform Farm Bureau gives to make a difference and let your voice be heard. It’s like I said in every opening statement, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.”
Ryan Klussendorf owns and operates a 100-grass based dairy with his wife Cheri. He attended UW-Madison’s Farm & Industry Short Course. Ryan and Cheri have three sons: Kale, Owen and Max. Cheri and Ryan are former Achievement Award winners.