Attending class has never ended for Barron County Farm Bureau member Julie Wadzinski. These days, however, she finds herself in front of the room rather than behind a desk.
Julie assists farmers in lifelong learning and financial management as an agriculture instructor in the Farm Business and Production Management program at Indianhead Technical College in Rice Lake.
Lifelong learning in agriculture is important.
“Technology and research change so rapidly in this industry, it is hard to keep up,” said Julie. “Often times the classroom setting allows farmers to share what has worked or not worked for them as to not recreate the wheel.”
This fall, the Farm Business and Production Management program will go through a rebranding process to become the Farm Operation program. This newly-recreated program will continue to offer lifelong learning opportunities for farmers but also will offer classes tailored toward young adults who may be new or beginning farmers.
“There’s a shift happening in agriculture,” Julie explained. “We have more people working in the industry who are not from a farming background, which is why it is important to offer agriculture classes in middle school, high school and colleges and universities.”
Julie explained that her educational journey led her to earn a bachelor’s degree from the UW-River Falls and she is in the final year of graduate school pursuing a master’s degree from Kansas State University, but that isn’t the right path for every student.
“Some students want to get to work in a short amount of time and the technical college shines in its ability to provide hands-on learning opportunities,” Julie added. “For some students, it just doesn’t make sense to take on the debt associated with a four-year university.”
Julie encourages students to pursue careers in agriculture because it’s a dynamic industry meaning there will always be something new to learn.
Learning and seeing that metaphorical ‘light bulb moment’ is the motivation that drives Wadzinski to provide new, innovative opportunities for her students.
“Personal growth is a continuous process, which is wonderful yet frustrating,” Julie shared. “It is so rewarding to see that change in someone’s mindset when a topic or idea really ‘clicks’ with him or her and you can see the wheels turning as they process how this relates to them and their future goals.”
Learning is not something that is limited to students in Julie’s classroom.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert and I’m never going to tell a farmer that there is a right way to do something,” said Julie. “Having this attitude encourages open dialogue in our classroom and I get to learn from what they share.”
Julie grew up on a dairy farm in Marathon County so learning about agriculture is not something new for her. She is able to use her hands-on experience when creating lessons for her students.
“My personal farm experience is invaluable to me in the classroom, but I always have to keep in mind that each farm is different, and a major part of my job is to embrace new ways of thinking.”
Julie isn’t only a leader in the classroom. She was elected to serve on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmer and Agriculturist Committee in 2017 and is serving as the committee’s chair. As chair, she is on the WFBF Board of Directors and helps guide the organization from a young member perspective.
“The YFA program is a call-to-action for young people in agriculture,” Julie said. “There are countless opportunities ranging from meeting lifelong friends to developing your personal leadership skills to finding your voice as an agricultural advocate – there’s really something for everyone.”
Julie explained that her path to becoming involved with Farm Bureau was probably not a typical one.
“I thought that if I participated in the discussion meet I could win a chainsaw and then I wouldn’t have to buy my dad a Christmas present,” Julie said with a laugh. “But on a serious note, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t win because it has driven me to seek out other ways to get involved.”
When it came time to pursue a leadership position as a district representative on the WFBF YFA Committee, Julie said she wanted to showcase the many talents Farm Bureau members possess.
“I think some of us get discouraged because we are not actively farming so we don’t feel worthy of advocating or speaking on topics regarding agriculture and I’d like to change that,” said Julie. “We are seeing more YFA members with jobs off the farm, but at the end of the day they are still part of the agriculture community.”
Whether in the classroom or at a Farm Bureau event, Julie’s passion for education and bringing others together is evident. She is a leader who works to engage others in conversations about the changing landscape of agricultural careers and new opportunities that exist for anyone interested in lifelong learning.
Story and photos by Sarah Hetke. The original version appeared in the June|July 2019 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.