De Smet & Gregory Farm Couples Reflect on Participation in Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Program
HURON, S.D. – Throughout her career as a nurse, Darcie Lee has participated in professional development trainings which included personality tests and discussions on how to effectively work with colleagues. Even though she gained a lot from the experience, she says it’s completely different when you take the training with your spouse and the focus is your family’s farm.
“When we took the training together, we were able to learn from each other,” explains Darcie of the seminar she and her husband, Rob, participated in as part of a recent Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Program seminar in Montana. Rob and Darcie farm with Rob’s parents and siblings, raising crops, cattle and recently a small herd of alpaca. The couple have two young children, Everett, 4, and Rosene, 1.
Rob, who also works off the farm as a crop insurance adjuster, agrees. “If Darcie were to come home from a training and try and explain to me what she learned, it would mean nothing.”
He explains that because they took the training together, they not only learned about themselves and their own communication style, but they were also able to understand how their spouse’s style may be different and how they can communicate more effectively.
Effective communication is valuable on a family farming operation where family members not only live together but work together. “With family, there can be emotional baggage. By understanding communication styles, it helps take the emotion out of things because you can take a step back and understand why someone is acting the way that they are,” Darcie says.
Providing couples with leadership training is among the many focuses of Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Program which was developed to substantiate and empower future leaders for rural America and Farmers Union through leadership, citizenship and policy development training. Rob and Darcie represent South Dakota in the one-year program that hosts a farm or ranch couple from each of the following five states: North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana.
Gregory cattle producers, George and Shelly Kenzy can relate to the Lees’ experiences. The couple participated in the program in 2018. As they reflect on the experience, they say what they’ve learned about the organization and themselves has made the time invested priceless.
“We are grateful for the exposure to the people and leadership of Farmers Union, in South Dakota, across the region and at the national level,” explains George, who together with his brother, Brett, operate a 3,100-head capacity feedyard and run a 300-head cow/calf herd. The brothers background their own calves, purchase local cattle to feed and custom background for other producers. The fourth-generation ranchers also raise most of their forage needs.
“FUE has given us a lot of different learning experiences,” Shelly adds, explaining that throughout the one-year experience the couple had the opportunity to attend another state Farmers Union convention, National Farmers Union Convention, tour a variety of agriculture enterprises including a robotic dairy, cranberry bog and community-supported agriculture vegetable operation as well as a coal mine, electricity generating plant, brewery and winery. “Along with learning policies and politics of agribusiness, Farmers Union invested greatly in us giving the opportunity to network with people and to have some experiences away from our little circle that we’re usually wrapped up in.”
They also had the opportunity to strengthen their personal and professional leadership skills. “We were encouraged to build upon our strengths and address our weaknesses,” George says. “The experience expanded the way we think. So often we assume others think the same as we do. We learned how to speak up for ourselves and bring understanding of agriculture to the rest of the world.”
And to get more involved in their community. “Many of the classes encouraged us to be productive citizens in our small communities to help keep them alive,” Shelly says.
George says the FUE experience motivated him to accept the invitation to join a board of directors he had previously turned down. “FUE motivated me and prepared me by giving me confidence in understanding how meetings are run, and how to speak up for my thoughts and the things I believe in – not to be afraid to say what I’m thinking because sometimes that gets results.”
The couple had an opportunity to put their advocacy training to work when they participated in the 2019 National Farmers Union D.C. Fly-In this September. “I could tell a difference between this Fly-In and the Fly-In we participated in a few years ago. We were both more confident,” Shelly says.
The couple say they also gained a lot from the close network of friends they developed with the other family farmers and ranchers who participated in the leadership seminar from Montana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
To learn more about Farmers Union Enterprise Couples Leadership Seminar, contact Karla Hofhenke at 605-352-6761 ext. 114 or [email protected]