A Farmer’s Take on Rural Entrepreneurship

Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Well, I farm so I guess so. I knew this wasn’t the answer that the interviewer was looking for when he videotaped me earlier today. In truth I am an entrepreneur. My wife and I started a direct beef and lamb sale several years ago. We looked at it as a way of adding value to our livestock.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the Georgetown University McDounough School of Business Global Social Enterprise initiative have announced a partnership to help strengthen rural America. To kick this effort off a series of interviews were conducted during annual convention and I was lucky enough to be one of those interviews.

Rural entrepreneurship is something I have spent most of my professional career working on. I started as an Extension agent in Western Kansas and part of my duties included community development. Currently I am the executive director of the Kansas Rural Communities Foundation and part of our focus is helping small, rural communities in Kansas find opportunities for growth. That opportunity many times goes back to developing entrepreneurs. Attracting businesses to our rural communities is a nice thought, but developing those businesses from within is a better long-term solution.

In my own situation, our farm is faced with increasing competition for land and that means the odds of expansion in the traditional sense of expanding our acreage is not a reality. We need to increase our income and that means jumping full-bore into the deep end of entrepreneurship. My interview made me realize that I had an idea but not a solid plan. I, like many entrepreneurs need that help and Farm Bureau and Georgetown University are providing that help.

This post is a to-be-continued type of episode much like the last program of the season for your favorite TV show. The information gleaned from the interviews over the past two days will be formulated to help develop the initial components coming over the next few years. In other words, stay tuned.

gbrunkow2014 is Glenn Brunkow, a fifth-generation farmer/rancher raising cattle, sheep and crops in Kansas. He is also a columnist, blogger and ag advocate. Glenn will represent Kansas Farm Bureau at the delegation session in San Antonio. He previously served on the national AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee and is a graduate of the Partners in Agricultural Leadership (PAL) program. Dust on the Dashboard is his blog, http://dustonthedashboard.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter: @brunkow.

New Rural Entrepreneurship Collaboration Announced

The American Farm Bureau Federation and The Georgetown University McDonough School of Business Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) today announced a partnership to help strengthen rural America. The multi-year collaboration will address solutions to building greater economic opportunity and security for those who live in rural communities, starting with a program involving the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative to advance rural entrepreneurship.

The GSEI, Entrepreneurship Initiative, and AFBF collaboration kicked off today at the AFBF annual convention in San Antonio with remarks by Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and AFBF President Bob Stallman In comments, Vilsack credited the effort as a private, collaborative way to help spur entrepreneurial spirit that will lead to small business creation in rural America.

“It creates a sense of entrepreneurship so that you have investors and entrepreneurs looking for opportunities to start businesses in rural areas,” Vilsack said. “The program dovetails with what we are doing at USDA – trying to educate investment banks and investors about the opportunities to invest in rural opportunities.”

“It’s often said that farmers are this country’s original entrepreneurs,” said Stallman. “Our partnership with Georgetown is dedicated to giving them and other leaders in rural communities nationwide both a forum and the practical means to brainstorm, strategize and bring their inspirations to fruition and, ultimately, strengthen their communities.”

“The Global Social Enterprise Initiative is focused on developing business solutions that deliver both economic and social value,” said Bill Novelli, distinguished professor of the practice at Georgetown McDonough and former CEO of AARP. “Together with AFBF and our Entrepreneurship Initiative, we will reach out to rural communities – a vital part of America particularly hit hard by the recent recession – with tools and initiatives that fuel their innovative spirit and drive.”

Initial components of the rural entrepreneurship program on which AFBF and Georgetown will collaborate include:

  • Rural Innovation Challenge to provide an opportunity for rural entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas and business ventures in a collegial, yet competitive environment, and to receive mentoring and recognition;
  • National summit on rural entrepreneurship that convenes thought leaders in rural economic development, public policy, and entrepreneurship to discuss barriers and solutions to increased business development in rural areas;
  • An online rural innovation hub that highlights stories of rural entrepreneurs’ experiences, learning, and successes, and serves as a virtual meeting place for individuals to share information; and
  • Training workshops and webinars that give business tools and guidance in areas such as market research, concept and product development, pitch development and fundraising techniques, marketing, and more.

About the American Farm Bureau Federation
With family members at the county or parish level in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, the American Farm Bureau Federation is the unified national “Voice of Agriculture,” working to enhance and strengthen the lives of rural Americans and to build strong, prosperous agricultural communities. AFBF is the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots organization of farm and ranch families. Additional information may be found at http://www.fb.org or follow on Twitter @FarmBureau.

About the Global Social Enterprise Initiative
The Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business aims to prepare current and future leaders to make responsible management decisions that yield both economic and social value. Through practical training for global business leaders, the initiative promotes transformative solutions to and impactful investments in the world’s significant challenges in health and well-being, economic growth, the environment, and international development. Learn more at http://socialenterprise.georgetown.edu or follow on Twitter @GSEI_Georgetown.

About the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative
The Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative inspires Georgetown University students to be entrepreneurial, teaches them the entrepreneurial lessons learned by others before them, connects them to useful resources, and helps them pursue their own unique entrepreneurial interests. The initiative manages an array of courses and extracurricular programs to serve the Georgetown University entrepreneurial community, both within and outside of the McDonough School of Business, and fosters strong connections to the vibrant Washington, D.C., entrepreneurial community and the Georgetown Alumni Association. Signature programs include the Hoya Challenge Business Pitch Competition, the StartupHoyas Incubator, the MSB Entrepreneurial Fellowship, the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Alliance, the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Faculty Exchange, Entrepreneurs in Residence, and events such as Georgetown Entrepreneurship Day, the Venture Capital Investment Competition, and Global Entrepreneurship Week. Learn more at eship.georgetown.edu. Connect @hoyaprenuer #StartupHoyas.

About Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business
Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business provides a transformational education through classroom and experiential learning, preparing students to graduate as principled leaders in service to business and society. Through numerous centers, initiatives, and partnerships, Georgetown McDonough seeks to create a meaningful impact on business practice through both research and teaching. All academic programs provide a global perspective, woven through the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in a way that is unique to Washington, D.C. – the nexus of world business and policy – and to Georgetown University’s connections to global partner organizations and a world-wide alumni network. Founded in 1957, Georgetown McDonough is home to some 1,400 undergraduates, 1,000 MBA students, and 1,200 participants in executive degree and open enrollment programs. Learn more at http://msb.georgetown.edu. Follow us on Twitter @msbgu.

Top 3 Places to Spot an AgNerd at AFBF Convention

An “agnerd” is someone who loves both technology and agriculture. The ranks of agnerds have been growing in recent years and at the AFBF annual convention. And I think this year may be the one where agnerds are the most visible. But for those who aren’t familiar with agnerds, you may wonder where to spot these folks. So this is a list of ways to find an agnerd!

  • agnerd ribbonLook for an agnerd ribbon! You have to know that many agnerds are quite proud of their title and will display it proudly! In fact, some people here pay for ribbons they can wear on their name badge declaring their agnerd status! (Purchasing a ribbon helps support some of the AFBF programs.) I noticed earlier that Michigan fruit farmer Jeff VanderWerff is sporting one!
  • See someone wearing Google Glass?
    Google Glass on the Farm
    Definite AgNerd! A lot of people probably haven’t seen Google Glass, but it is a technology from the folks at Google who are looking for ways to integrate technology into our daily lives. You can take photos without lifting up a camera! While the main sharing at an event like #AFBF14 is Chuck Zimmerman’s photos, there is a lot of potential for field scouting, etc. You can learn more on agwired.com.
  • FieldScriptsAgNerds Loved the Trade Show & some of the sessions! The trade show & educational & exhibitor sessions are already wrapping up but there were lots of opportunities for agnerds to learn more about what various companies were doing. Here’s one example:

Janice AKA JPLovesCotton is Janice Person, a city girl who loves cotton and biotechnology. Her work for Monsanto focuses on social media outreach. A colorful adventure is her personal blog. Follow her on Twitter (@JPLovesCotton) and find her on Facebook.

Testing the Patience of Mother

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said that his mother always told him to be patient at today’s general session. However, even he concedes that she would have to redefine her definition of patience when it comes to the 2013 Congress. Secretary Vilsack said that the impasse involving the farm bill would start to affect more than just producers if a new bill was not passed.Consumers would start to see drastically higher prices and critical shortages of food if the historic farm bill was allowed return. We are fortunate to be in a country where we can raise enough food within our borders and we spend less of our income on that food than just about anywhere else in the world.

He stated that over 50 percent of the land mass of the United States was either involved in farming, ranching or forestry. He also stressed the need for all sectors of agriculture to be united. There is a place for everyone whether they are organic, supply locally raised fresh foods or utilize GMO technology to provide food for the growing world population and their need for nutrition. We are all in this together.

gbrunkow2014 is Glenn Brunkow, a fifth-generation farmer/rancher raising cattle, sheep and crops in Kansas. He is also a columnist, blogger and ag advocate. Glenn will represent Kansas Farm Bureau at the delegation session in San Antonio. He previously served on the national AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee and is a graduate of the Partners in Agricultural Leadership (PAL) program. Dust on the Dashboard is his blog, http://dustonthedashboard.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter: @brunkow.

Seeing Women’s Leadership From the Front Row

Over the years, I have been to quite a few American Farm Bureau Federation annual conventions but yesterday I had a first. Yesterday I had the chance to go to the Women’s Leadership Program Recognition Luncheon. And am I glad I did!

Sitting up front I had a bird’s eye view of some of the women who are actively involved in AFBF programs. And I have to say I was impressed! Of course I recognized a few of the faces on the board, but I listened closely as each of the women were introduced. In this group were women who are involved in farms across the country. They raise cotton, cherries, dairy, beef, wheat and almost everything else you can imagine.

women's leadership

And the program included spotlighting some of the many programs the various state committees had been doing the past years. There were efforts aimed at assisting food banks, there were visits to local schools, helping hands with good meals at hospitals and more.

Debbie Lyons-Blythe on women's leadershipAnd then Kansas rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe got some time to talk about her agvocacy efforts and some of the programs she has been affiliated with. I’ll let Debbie speak for herself but here are a few of the links she mentions.

Janice AKA JPLovesCotton is Janice Person, a city girl who loves cotton and biotechnology. Her work for Monsanto focuses on social media outreach. A colorful adventure is her personal blog. Follow her on Twitter (@JPLovesCotton) and find her on Facebook.

A New Focus

I made a quick switch in plans on Sunday. And sometimes making a change in your schedule can make all the difference in the world.

The change? I went to lunch. Not just any lunch, but the Women’s Leadership luncheon. And the difference that was made in my life was inspired by one of the greatest women that I have had the pleasure to meet, Debbie Lyons-Blythe.

She spoke at the luncheon, talking about her role as America’s Farm Mom for 2012, and other projects and programs, but the message that resonated most came from her talking about her advocacy efforts in agriculture. And it spoke to me directly.

As Debbie so bluntly put it, “It’s no longer just about telling our story, we need to start answering questions.”

I need I hear that and read that daily. I need to start answering more questions. Don’t get me wrong, I will still need to write my familiar family stories, including my own voice, but I cannot be afraid to answer the questions that are asked.

The new year has just begun, and I believe that I may have finally found a resolution worth keeping: I will answer more questions.

And as a mother of four boys, I’m pretty sure I have experience in that.

wagfarms is Val Wagner, a North Dakota farmer and rancher. The Wag’n Tales blog features stories from this mom of four who loves farm life and invites readers to come along for the ride. Follow Val on Twitter (@wagfarms) and find her on Facebook. She is a member of the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Committee.

Detours and Workshops

This blog was going to be about the awesome, great workshops at the convention. I am absolutely sure that they were, but a funny thing happened to me along the way.

I was walking down the hallway with a sense of urgency and purpose, armed with the room number of the workshop I had carefully chosen to attend. Then it happened, I saw a friend I had not seen in a very long time. We started to talk and soon another friend drifted by and quickly the hallway became a log jam of human driftwood. Soon it was past the time for my chosen workshop.

I know I am not the only person who has had this happen. I don’t mean to but occasionally I do overhear conversations. Inevitably they all begin with a discussion of crops, livestock and weather. Soon the topics move on to family and friends. I have seen this happen in the hallways, trade shows, hotel lobby, in general everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, the workshops are very important and the policy discussions we will have tomorrow are absolutely critical, but the social aspect of this event also very important. Often we, as farmers and ranchers, feel somewhat isolated. It is important to come to these meetings to learn and advocate but it is also important to renew the sense of community I see in the hallways.

So as I leave my hotel this morning and make my way to the convention, I am excited about the meetings, speakers and trade show. However, I know it will be the people I see and the conversations I have that will make the biggest impact.

gbrunkow2014 is Glenn Brunkow, a fifth-generation farmer/rancher raising cattle, sheep and crops in Kansas. He is also a columnist, blogger and ag advocate. Glenn will represent Kansas Farm Bureau at the delegation session in San Antonio. He previously served on the national AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee and is a graduate of the Partners in Agricultural Leadership (PAL) program. Dust on the Dashboard is his blog, http://dustonthedashboard.blogspot.com.