Abby Vittore (here with husband Ben) is outspoken on the value of Young Farmer discussion meets.

With this year’s district-level Young Farmer discussion meets quickly approaching, Michigan Farm Bureau knows that for some, getting the courage to participate can be hard but it is never impossible. Lenawee County’s Abby Vittore was once in your shoes and is here to share her experience along with advice and information that can be beneficial to this year’s participants.

Abby’s agricultural background began at her family’s fifth-generation farm near Adrian, where they grow row crops, provide agritourism and operate a spring retail greenhouse. Abby is still active on her farm as the majority owner of the greenhouse business, in addition to being a crop insurance agent for River Farms Crop Insurance Agency, Inc.

While attending Michigan State University, Abby joined Collegiate Farm Bureau, which helped prepare her for her current roles as vice president on her county Farm Bureau board and as a representative of District 2 on MFB’s state-level Young Farmer committee.

When her high-school FFA advisor pushed her to compete she was up-front about her nervousness, but jumped into competition anyway and has been hooked ever since. Her continued involvement over the years has seen her meeting members from all over the state.

“I have walked away from every discussion meet having learned something new,” she said, whether at the local, state or national level. “My favorite opportunity was competing at the national-level Collegiate Discussion Meet. I got to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to attend the Young Farmers Leader Conference, which was a great opportunity to meet Young Farmers from across the U.S. who all had such differing backgrounds to learn about.”

Discussion meets can be a powerful asset to help strengthen many different areas in your skill set. For Abby, taking part in these competitions has helped improve her readiness to speak up in conversations where her view may — or may not — agree with others. She’s also become more comfortable sharing her opinion in day-to-day conversations thanks to the environment discussion meets create.

“Everyone has to start from somewhere,” she said. “It’s easy to be intimidated by the people who you think are more experienced or more knowledgeable than you, but at some point they were also in your shoes. Taking the time to listen and learn will help you reach their level of knowledge and experience too.

“The only way to gain more knowledge — to get more experience, to be more confident — is to get involved and take the opportunity to better yourself,” she continued, going on to share some guidance to those who might feel some of her old reluctance to jump in.

“My advice would be to gain as much knowledge as possible on the topics given. Take the chance to prepare by talking to others in the industry or to reach out to local farmers or agribusiness people to get their thoughts on the topic at hand. This isn’t only a great opportunity to brush up on your leadership skills, but also a chance to learn something new about a topic and network with others in the industry.”

Michigan Farm Bureau would love to see and hear what you have to say at this year’s discussion meets. There’s plenty more information online, including the Young Farmer Discussion Meet Guidebook; this year’s topics; a scorecard rubric and rules; district contest information; and instructional videos.

Alyssa Bednarski is interning with Michigan Farm Bureau’s Center for Education and Leadership Development.