Teaching the Next Generation a Love for Agriculture

Guest Post: Natalie Holbrook, Agricultural Education Teacher

In 1877, the Hornung Family (now Horning) immigrated from Germany to America and established a small farm on a lake in Southeast Michigan. 115 years later, the first of the sixth generation of Hornings was born. Three years later, I came along after my sister and three years after that, the sixth farming generation was rounded-out with my younger brother in 1998. 

My siblings and I loved growing up on the farm, and I struggle to imagine what it must be like for those that didn’t have the opportunity, as less than 2% of the American population lives on farms. 

When I was 5 years old, I was able to join 4-H as an Explorer (now Cloverbud). I was so excited to sew my first skirt for the fair! Of course, I was also jealous that my sister was already old enough to raise and show animals for the fair. For 13 years, 4-H was my entire world each summer. In late spring, all of us kids would pack into the backseat of the truck with my dad and grandpa and head to the auctions. Oftentimes, our uncles would meet us there to help us pick out the best show animals! We followed in their footsteps, learning from their time in 4-H and their experience with agriculture.

We would spend months feeding, exercising, training, and caring for our animals. When that last week of July rolled around, that was the epitome of my summer. 

The Washtenaw County 4-H Youth Show taught me so many invaluable lessons. I learned that hard work can really pay off, but sometimes you still don’t win despite your best effort, and that’s ok. I learned responsibility and dedication, and to smile and shake the winner’s hand even though I really thought I had it this time. I built lifelong friendships and have memories that will never fade. But most importantly, I found my love for agriculture. 

That is the experience I would want to share with the 98% of people that were not as fortunate as me to have grown up on a farm. Agriculture is not just an industry, and farming is not just a job, it’s its own community and way of life. I went on to study Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Education at Michigan State, and am now a certified Agriscience Teacher. This is my way to tell others about how much agriculture has to offer and to share my passion. I may not be running day to day operations on the farm like my brother and sister, but I think teaching the next generation about the industry we love is just as important.

I ensure my students know that agriculture is more than just farming: it’s the geneticist who designs the next pest-resistant crop, it’s the veterinarian who provides care for sick livestock, it’s the mechanic who fixes the equipment when it breaks down in the middle of planting and we need it up and running ASAP. The agriculture community is diverse, challenging, and rewarding. I want my students, and anyone else interested in the agriculture industry, to know that it takes hard work, responsibility, and dedication, but perhaps you will build lifelong friendships and find your passion just as I did.