There is a cliché about Young Farmers' Clubs that you have to have a farming background or work in agriculture to become a member. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Being a Young Farmer is not just about tractors, herding cows and flat caps... it's so much more that that!
Just ask Jess Roche of Dunmow YFC in Essex:
"If someone was to make an assumption about a Young Farmer stereotype, I guess I would be pretty far removed from it. I grew up in London and as far as I'm aware I have no farming connections whatsoever.
"I got involved by accident really. One of my friends wanted to go along and convinced me to join her for a meeting. I was pretty sceptical as what did I know about farming? However, I've never met a bunch of people who are so welcoming and made me feel so included. It didn't take long for me to get heavily involved.
"Since I joined Young Farmers, I've been club secretary twice, been on the county executive team every year, organised our pre show rally and party, as well as spending a lot of last year singing on, and promoting, Essex Young Farmers' charity single, 'Put That Hoedown'. Not once have I felt less of a member of Young Farmers just because I didn't come from a farming background."
So what does Jess love about Young Farmers so much. Here are her four favourite things:
1. Social Life
YFCs are notorious for helping young people make friends and enjoy a dynamic social life - and Jess has certainly enjoyed a dynamic social life as a Young Farmer:
"Well I love a good party, black tie event, pub night, really any social gathering! Something disastrous must have happened for me to miss a Friday night Young Farmers party! Essex hosts quite a few balls throughout the year, some of which I've organised.
"We have a big competition called 'Personality of the Year'. My first year in Young Farmers, when I was just sixteen, I got nominated by my club to enter the competition. It basically consists of a written questionnaire about your involvement with Young Farmers, an interview in front of a panel of judges and then an interview and "party trick" on stage in front of everyone who is attending the ball. I got through to the final stage, although I wasn't quite prepared for one of the questions which was to choose a member out of a selection of "eligible Young Farmer bachelors" to marry. I don't think I've wanted to go back to my seat anymore than during that time.
"The year I organised 'Personality of the Year', I was a lot nicer with the questions asked to contestants!! It's not just Essex events that I go to. I've been as far afield as Shropshire for their annual ball with a group of Essex Young Farmers. We've also visited a few other counties who are hosting events, and we even got a table at the NFYFC 80th birthday celebration!"
Competitions are a brilliant motivator for club members to have a go at something new and broaden their experience. They are also a fantastic tool for counties and clubs to meet their charitable objectives of promoting education and learning - something that Jess has certainly learnt during her time with Essex YFC:
"Essex YFC run a lot of competitions throughout the year, and I think I have tried my hand at nearly every single one. I'm quite an enthusiastic person and I'll give anything a go, whether it be ladies rugby or public speaking.
"Essex has a big competitions weekend called "Prelims". This is the equivalent of what many counties do for their rally, but because Essex organises such a big show we separate the two events. Prelims has lots of different competitions including: fun ones such as lawnmower racing; ones that require more skill such as ATV handling and the highly competitive tug of war competition. I have organised this event three times over the years which I've very much enjoyed even if it meant that I went from the Friday night to the Sunday evening without any sleep whatsoever!
"Public speaking is the competition I enjoy the most. It isn't something I'd tried before Young Farmers, however I got roped in a few years ago when my club needed more members to create a team. That year our team made it to Nationals where we came third! It was one of my proudest moments in Young Farmers, as not only did I have a great team, but I learned so many skills doing after dinner speaking. After that I've competed every year including another Nationals final in debating and a Northern area round. I've learnt a lot about public speaking from the competition, which really helped my confidence in talking to people and in job interviews.
"Every year that Essex has organised a pantomime (since I became a member) I have got heavily involved. The first panto I was in I played Aladdin, the year after I had to perfect my French accent to play "Puss in Boots" and the last panto we organised I finally got to marry a Young Farmer, albeit Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk", but I did get to wear a rather nice wedding dress! I had done some acting when I was younger, but I had never performed in a pantomime until I joined Young Farmers. Panto is definitely one of my favourite Young Farmer events as it brings together not only members from across the county, but the subscribers and parents get heavily involved too, including making costumes, feeding us (we've had some amazing cakes made) and making some rather impressive scenery."
3. Support Network
It's fair to say Jess has had some very happy times as a Young Farmer, but her fellow members have also been there for her when times were hard, particularly when her father was diagnosed with cancer.
"My first year organising Prelims was quite a busy one. I had been elected onto the Essex Executive team for the first time as "activities chairman" alongside my good friend, Jordan Shynn. We had organised a successful Personality of the Year ball with over 300 Essex members attending, as well as a packed New Years Eve fundraising party. We also decided to take on the task of organising Prelims, which was probably the biggest task of them all.
"My dad hadn't been very well for a short time before prelims day and unfortunately the day between prelims party and prelims day he was diagnosed with cancer, for the second time. We still had lots to do to set up for Prelims day and my dad wanted me to continue with everything I had organised with Jordan. One of my friends, Andrew Sell, who was county chairman at the time insisted on picking me up so I didn't have to drive and he and some of the show committee helped Jordan and I set up everything for the day. I was very much in shock, but Young Farmers did what they do best, rally around a friend in need.
"On Prelims Day everyone helped as much as they could for the day to run smoothly and Jordan was amazing in helping me through a very tough day. Over the next year, as my dad underwent intensive chemo and radiotherapy, my friends from Young Farmers were always there for me. Whether that was to visit my dad at home or just cheer me up when I was feeling down. I am very glad to say my dad went into remission, which obviously delighted not only my family, but everyone I knew in Young Farmers. Whenever someone is going through a tough time the members are there for each other. Young Farmers is a great support network and one I feel no one should be without!"
It is thanks to being a Young Farmer that Jess is now studying law at Durham University. It also helped her to set up her own business, Oswald & Kane, a clothing company aimed at promoting British manufacturing.
"I think one of the most important aspects of Young Farmers is the training and development side. Whether this be travelling or doing a first aid course, there are many training courses available that can help members in a wide variety of careers, not just agriculture. There are also many skills you learn, not from courses, but from participating actively in the federation. When I was younger I wasn't particularly organised, but being a club secretary for two years as well as organising many events taught me many valuable skills including budgeting, negotiating and encouraging others to join in.
"I'm very passionate about trying to encourage non farmers to join the
federation as I've got an unbelievable amount out of being a member. It's
helped me get into a top university as well as getting a job due to the
valuable experiences and lessons I've learnt through participating in YFC
"Young Farmers inspired me to start Oswald & Kane as it gave me the confidence I needed to believe that I could achieve something. Without that support network I honestly don't believe I would have turned my idea into a business. My models are also all friends I have met through Young Farmers."
Remember, you don't have to be in farming or agriculture to be a Young Farmer. Anyone with an appreciation for the countryside and an interest in rural life can join their local club. Many Young Farmers, like Jess, do not come from a farming background and have joined up to make new friends, enjoy a dynamic social life, develop their skills, take part in competitions and make the most of the other benefits that come with being a YFC member.
If, like Jess, you are already a Young Farmer with no background in farming, we want to hear from you. Simply Tweet using the hashtag #MoreThanTractors about your experiences as a YFC member and we will share it with the wider world!
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Designed by Kevyn Williams