This past spring when Devin Herricks, 11, of Cashton set about to write an essay about soybeans in his fourth-grade class, he thought it was an average homework assignment. Little did he know, his essay would ultimately land on the desk of President Joe Biden.
As a student in Mrs. Beth Lee’s class at Cashton Elementary, Devin assumed the essay assignment was simply an opportunity to brush up on his budding writing skills.
“We had been learning about writing essays, so I thought it was a practice assignment,” Devin said.
As a part of the 2021 Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom essay contest, Devin and his classmates read Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s 2020-2021 Book of the Year, “Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car” by Peggy Thomas, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Students then wrote 100- to 300-word essays surrounding the essay contest’s theme, ‘How have Wisconsin soybean farmers fueled Wisconsin’s economy?’
Being raised on his family’s dairy farm, Devin was fascinated with the essay topic.
“We have dairy cows, corn, alfalfa, rye and oats,” Devin explained. “I knew you could feed beef with soybeans, but it was unbelievable to learn what soybeans could be made into. I learned that soybeans are more than just to eat.”
Devin was named the Monroe County Farm Bureau and District 4 winner in the 2021 Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom essay contest and served as one of nine finalists in the state competition. He was surprised to learn he had won.
“I didn’t know it had been submitted for a contest until I was presented with the county award in class,” Devin said. “One day, we were called outside for a special presentation regarding the soybean essay, which is when I learned I was the District 4 winner, as well.”
Farming is a family affair for Devin’s family including his parents, Dan and Michelle, and younger brother, Dylan, 6. Each has responsibilities on their 600-cow dairy farm that is owned in a partnership with Devin’s grandparents, Jack and Pat Herricks.
This past June, the Herricks family was informed that President Biden would be visiting in nearby La Crosse. Michelle jumped at the opportunity to contact him.
“Prior to President Biden’s visit, I wrote a letter inviting him to the farm,” Michelle said. “I was shocked when the White House called informing us that they had received our letter and that, while coming to the farm was not feasible, they invited us to meet the president in La Crosse.”
The family graciously accepted the invitation and attended the president’s address focused on infrastructure at La Crosse’s Multiple Transit Utility headquarters on June 29. Before the address, the Herricks family met and were introduced to the president.
The president said something that sparked an idea in Devin’s mind.
“The president mentioned farming and even soybeans. I mentioned my essay to him and he said he would really like to read it,” Devin said.
“We were given his aide’s email to send him Devin’s essay,” Michelle said. “To be honest, none of us expected him to actually read it.”
Two weeks later, on July 14, the family opened the mailbox surprised to see an envelope with a return address for the White House.
“We thought it was a picture of us with the president from the White House photographer, but we opened it to find a letter from the president thanking Devin and praising him for a job well done,” Michelle said.
In his letter, the president thanked the family for joining him in La Crosse and shared what he had learned from Devin’s essay. Devin said the experience taught him a valuable lesson.
“It’s amazing how one assignment could end up in all these different places,” Devin said.
Michelle credits Devin’s teacher for the role she played in his education.
“All of this is thanks to his teacher; Cashton is blessed with an amazing staff of teachers,” Michelle said. “He really learned a lot from Beth Lee and she’s the one to thank that he even had this opportunity.”
Devin plans to participate in the 2022 essay contest, which is open to fourth- and fifth-grade students. In the meantime, he’s working with his grandpa to implement some changes on the farm.
Devin said, “I’m trying to convince Grandpa Jack that it’s time to grow some soybeans on our farm.”
Story by Cassie Sonnentag. Originally appeared in the October|November 2021 Rural Route.