It took a trip Down Under to give Lauren Hennig a new perspective on agriculture.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see the passion for agriculture and rural communities from across the globe,” the 26-year-old junior high teacher said after returning from a Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth conference in Brisbane, Australia.
Learning about the different countries and their relationship to agriculture was a highlight.
“That was by far the most exciting because it made you part of a global experience, rather than just a community or a province. Now I feel like a global citizen promoting rural life and agriculture. I felt kind of like the way I felt when I was in 4-H, but what 4-H never gave me was the international perspective.”
The Edmontonian participated in the program as a Next Gen delegate, designed for participants between the ages of 18 and 40. About 200 participants from agricultural societies all across the Commonwealth took part in the October conference. Hennig, the only Canadian Next Gen delegate, delivered a speech about Canada’s approach to combat rural depopulation.
The other Canadian delegates were Next Gen facilitator Leona Dargis, and Stacy Felkar and Heather Shewchuk of Northlands, which gave Henning a scholarship to attend.
In her youth, Hennig was active in 4-H and showed shorthorn cattle in Ardrossan, and is now a director for the Josephburg Agricultural Society.
One of Hennig’s other eye-opening moments at the conference came from a presentation on millennials and baby boomers. These generations do think differently, and this has a huge impact for agricultural organizations, said Hennig.
“When I think of organizations that are in a transitional phase, some of them will go under because they’re not going to bridge the gap of understanding,” she said. “That gap between boomers and millennials is bigger than any generational gap that we have ever seen due to the exponential increase in information, thanks to the Internet.”
And this topic fit into the overall theme of the conference: Sustainability for agricultural shows and agricultural organizations.
“This succession issue exists not just in terms of farm ownership, but in the changing of organizations,” she said. “I see a lot of organizations going under because they’re not appealing to the current audience, and they’re just keeping things status quo or doing things business as usual.”
If young people aren’t invited to participate, they will likely create their own organizations, she said. If the older generation wants younger producers to participate, they need to figure out how to be relevant to them.
“That’s why I thought it was so amazing that my community sponsored me to go,” she said. “It created relevance for me, and because it believed in me, I worked really hard to bring back information of quality. I hope to engage other young people in my community, province, and in Canada to attend more of these opportunities and to get really excited about agriculture.”
The conference, held every second year, will take place in Singapore in 2016 and in Edmonton at Northlands in 2018.
“I already know that I’m going to help out in 2018,” said Hennig. “The friendships and the connections that were made were amazing. They do a wonderful job of creating an inclusive community.”