Us Millennials Need to Know the “Why”

The first livestock that my family raised when I was growing up was three pigmy goats: Smokey, Charcoal and Frostbite. Purchased from a friend that my sisters and I happened to be in 4-H with, these three goats road home with us to our barn built in the 1800s in the back of a Pontiac Minivan. I believe I was five or so at the time, so my recollection of the exact events is a little shady, but I do remember chasing goats that got loose almost immediately and then my parents working within the week to patch holes in the fence that the three escape artists had found, and then more patching a few weeks later when the goats then created more holes in our fencing that felt like it was also constructed in the 1800s when the barn was built.

With there being three children in my family, of course, we each had to have a goat to call our own, and no childhood farm-et is complete without cute names for each of the livestock. Frosty was owned by my oldest sister, Becky, and got her name because she lost the tips of her ears to frostbite as a kid (the goat, not my sister). Laura, the middle child, picked out the other female – Charcoal, who got her name because she was predominantly black in color. Last, but not least, I had the pleasure of picking out and naming our male pigmy goat – Smokey. We probably had these three goats, and/or their offspring for around 10 years while we all grew up, interspersed in the barnyard with market lambs and market steers as we all got to show age for 4-H & FFA.

My name is Adam Ford. I was born and raised in Mount Crawford, Virginia. I am the youngest of 3 siblings. My father was a state forester for much of my adolescence (which led to me being able to identify more native Virginia trees than the average human) and my mother was an elementary school teacher (at the same school I attended so unfortunately I got away with nothing as a child). I bring up what is probably one of my earliest sets of memories up as a child as I think through “What in the world will everyone want to hear from me as I introduce myself as a VALOR fellow for Class VI?” This opportunity to participate in VALOR is one that is very humbling and I believe it has helped to refocus my mind and attention to the role and importance that agriculture plays in the lives of Virginians each day. I consider my origins and role in agriculture to begin during some of those most formative moments as a kid starting when my family brought home those pigmy goats.

Now I have heard of a thing called “chicken math” where you just want to get 3 chickens to be able to have fresh eggs cheaply, but then you find out that there are these different breeds of chickens that you need, and then there is another new rare breed that the farm supply store has in so you have to get some of those and before you know it you have about 45 chickens and have spent thousands of dollars to get “eggs cheaply”. My family wasn’t that bad at calculating our “goat math” but three goats did translate to roughly 10-15 kids over 10 years (almost all sold off the farm) and multiple sets of market lambs and market steers for my sisters and me to raise for our 4-H & FFA projects. All-in-all we’re still talking about a very small impact on agriculture.

What did end up happening was these experiences had a very large impact on my life and how I view and interact with the world. In my head the progression goes like this: pigmy goats -> 4-H & FFA -> an Ag degree from Virginia Tech -> eventual career in Ag industry with Rockingham Cooperative. Now that is a VERY condensed version of my origin storyline but I have two years to share the fine details with you all at home. What’s interesting is that this is the first time in a long time that I have thought of Smokey, Charcoal & Frosty. My traditional elevator introduction starts with my 4-H & FFA career which culminated as a FFA State Officer, followed by the last 5 years at Rockingham Cooperative. It just goes to show and our influences are all around and seemingly small moments can impact us greatly.

Now to answer the “What do you hope to get out of this program?” question.

Being a millennial I’ve come to realize that I’m hardwired, just like the rest of this generation, to want to know the “why” behind everything and have the opportunity to make an impact. Since November 2017, I firmly believe that I have found the impact that I’m supposed to make and am in a spot where I’m confident in my role and have a vision for my career within the agricultural industry.

On November 8, 2017, I went to work for Rockingham Cooperative as their Marketing/Social Media Specialist. In the past five years, that position has transitioned and expanded into much more than I anticipated, but am grateful that I’ve been empowered to make it my own to better serve our member-owners and the agriculture community in too many ways to mention. The cooperative mindset has been perfect for my millennial brain to wrap its head around and see the overall “why” behind its decisions and goals.

During the years 2020 and 2021, I was tasked with leading the cooperative’s efforts as they commemorated their 100th anniversary in business. I had several goals to help us achieve this major milestone, one of which was to commission someone to write a book on our cooperative’s history and the role it played in the agricultural community during its history. I’m ever so slightly thankful that the pandemic happened when it did because I was the one that ended up writing that book (shameless plug if you’re interested in reading it for yourself) and conducting the research, interviews, and detective work to identify those major moments in its history and better understand the why behind the cooperative’s formation.

This amazing piece of history that I had the pleasure of researching and writing about put me in the shoes of the men that were in multiple defining moments in, and around, agriculture over its first 30 years in existence. I found a newfound interest in this type of history and it helped form my previously mentioned opinion that I’m in the right place for this point in my life and career. That’s also how I see my participation as a fellow in the sixth VALOR class. I’m excited to be in the shoes of others to further develop my opinions, strategies and philosophies during what I believe is another pivotal time within Virginia agriculture on multiple fronts.

I hope to bring some of that cooperative business mindset to our discussions as a VALOR cohort and gain a deeper understanding, through that same spirit, of everyone’s perspectives that we come in contact with. Questioning that “why” will forever remain important to me, especially through the next two years as part of this VALOR cohort. I want to find that why to help me better understand the decisions made that led individuals and businesses to this point in their success and the why behind barriers they’re facing currently or in the future.

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