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Board is passionate about direction of Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation

Bobby Moser has been around agriculture his entire life.

The former dean of the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences has seen a lot of change over the years, but it is the advancement of ag technology that has enhanced productivity Moser said has made the biggest impact.

“Biotech, GPS, drones, all of the advancements have been most impressive,” Moser said. Having a sustainable, educated workforce in agriculture to keep up with the technology demand is imperative, he said.

So when Moser was asked to join the board of the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation about three years ago, he welcomed the opportunity to support the industry he loved.

Now several years into his service as a director on the foundation board, the excitement in his voice as he talks about the direction the philanthropic arm of Ohio Farm Bureau is headed is plain to hear.

“Our Youth Pathways and ExploreAg programs are right in line with what we need in agriculture,” he said. “That is what I’m most excited about. We need bright young minds in agriculture to increase and enhance production. The key to ag is to educate, develop and move the industry forward.”

Youth Pathways and ExploreAg are two initiatives born out of The Fisher Fund for Lifelong Learning. Both are entering their second year and aim to introduce as many youth as possible to careers in agriculture, both on and off the farm. (See sidebar).

“The ability to impact the lives of young leaders is so important to the future of our state and country,” said Doug Miller, vice president of Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives. “Important to me is exposing young people to career opportunities in rural Ohio. If we can retain them and their families that would go a long way to reinvigorate the rural economy.”

Moser and Miller aren’t alone in their excitement as directors of the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. Board President Heather Thiltgen, senior vice president of individual sales for Medical Mutual, said that same enthusiasm emanates from all of her board colleagues.

Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation President Heather Thiltgen in her office at Medical Mutual in downtown Cleveland, where she is vice president of individual sales.

“I serve on a few not-for-profit boards and this is the one people are the most engaged in,” Thiltgen said. “There is a passion for making a difference in this space and that commitment bleeds through in every single board meeting.”

At a recent foundation board meeting, Annalies Corbin, president of the PAST Foundation, gave a report about the Youth Pathways “prep” pitch presentations she and Foundation Executive Director Chris Baker had recently held as part of the Youth Pathways request for proposal process.

“I wish more of you could have experienced it,” she told her fellow board members. “We had 13 pitches, which was more than I expected.”

As Corbin described the many different projects presented, it was evident the strategic mission of the foundation was clearly in focus. Helping develop a robust ag workforce is something that has become the foundation’s priority over the last few years, Thiltgen said.

“There has been a huge evolution,” said Thiltgen, who has been on the foundation board for four years. “We have a strategic focus on how we build ag leaders and support and nurture them. It’s the purpose of the foundation and that purpose has resonated with donors.”

It’s resonated clearly with board members as well, some of whom didn’t have a full grasp of many of the challenges agriculture is facing in the future, despite knowing a fair amount about farming.

“With a background in a county-level Farm Bureau Board, and having the benefit of Young Ag Professionals (programming) and (OSU) Extension classes, I believed myself fairly well-informed/read/experienced in this arena,” said Rose Vargo-McFarland, an attorney at  Steely Law Office in Circleville. “However, service on this board has opened my eyes to the stark need for human capital in agricultural industries, in our state and federally. The numbers of projected unfilled jobs provide this board with the opportunity to assist in addressing a major and pressing need for our community.”

It is also one of many aspects of agriculture that the public doesn’t see when they drive by a cornfield in July or visit a farm to pick up a pumpkin in October.

“I was not aware of how vast the farming enterprises in Ohio are (before joining the board),” Corbin said. “There is a public misconception about what farming is and we do not fully understand the breadth and depth of farming in the 21st century.”

Foundation Director Jane Scott, president and CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Club, grew up on a small family farm and also worked in the industry. She took CMC members out to tour Farm Science Review last September so they could experience first-hand the latest in agriculture.

“It’s very true that you can take the boy (girl) out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl,” Scott said. “Being on the foundation board feels like home to me.”

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