“I hope we can keep you all here.”
We had just wrapped up a team presentation to our Board of Directors. The comment came across as a compliment, so I smiled and politely responded that I love my work here.
On the drive home, and numerous times since that day, I found myself thinking about his comment. I’ve never worked anywhere else. Or at least a real “grown-up job” anywhere else.
Since I sat down at my first Farm Credit desk as a 21 year old intern, I’ve never left. The offers have been there. But I could list on a single hand the hours I’ve actually contemplated leaving.
Now I’ve moved around. Office to office, upstairs then downstairs, then back up again. I’ve transitioned roles and job titles, and my responsibilities and daily work today don’t resemble anything close to what they were years ago.
But I’ve never left.
And my story isn’t unique.
I used to think it was something special about my own Farm Credit cooperative. As an intern, I traveled the state, working alongside people who had been with the cooperative for 20, 30, and even 40 years. The man I replaced two years ago, when I moved into my current role, had been with the system for 41 years before retiring. FORTY-ONE YEARS! It was his only grown up job too. I am lucky to have several mentors here, all of whom have been with the system their entire adult lives.
But there’s another kind of employee here too. There’s the “born again” Farm Credit employees. These are the people who had other jobs, maybe for a few years, sometimes for half a career. But the first time they put on that Biostar– a symbol recognized country-wide for a source of reliable ag credit and devoted ag professionals- they never want to take it off.
As I’ve had the opportunity to travel and engage with other Farm Credit cooperatives around the county, I realized that this trend isn’t special to my own cooperative. Just like that biostar, it’s a recognizable Farm Credit “thing” country-wide!
For some reason, people come here. And they stay. For a long, long time. But why?
I think there are two reasons – agriculture and cooperatives.
There is no better story in American history than the story of agriculture. Our farmers, and the industry that supports them, have taken a task that used to involve every man, woman and child, and created a system where less than 2% of the population feeds 100%.
On top of that, they do it more efficiently, more sustainably, more affordably and safer than anywhere else in the world, and any other time in history. Farmers work relentlessly so the rest of us can do other things. Other important, vital things like protecting, teaching, healing, serving, inventing, exploring.
You might think that people running these million dollar businesses we call farms, that often work 80 or more hours every week, skipping vacations and holidays to keep on working, would be difficult to serve – arrogant and demanding.
But mostly, they are the exact opposite. There is nothing in the world like a farmer. The young ones are ambitious and driven, and not by dollars and cents, but by something that runs deep inside them, a desire to turn dirt, care for stock and feed people.
The old ones are calm and humbled by decades of dealing with the bad that inevitably comes along with the good.
These are faithful, driven, hardworking people. And a lot of them come with an odd sense of humor that probably develops after so many hours alone in the cab of a tractor.
Now they all expect hard-work, and follow through. And honesty is a given. They expect it, because it’s how they operate themselves. So it isn’t always easy working in agriculture, but anything worth doing usually isn’t.
Serving agricultural may act as the spark for the passion of Farm Credit team members, but the fuel to that passion is serving agriculture as a cooperative.
As defined by Merriam-Webster, a cooperative is, “an organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services.” In short, our customers are our owners. And when that reality pervades our culture, it takes our job beyond a career, all the way to a purpose.
As a mentor often reminds me, “It’s a wonderful thing to not have to choose between doing what’s best for our stock holders and doing what’s best for our customers. We can always do what’s best for both – because they are the same people.”
That idea isn’t just something that’s written in a brochure, or typed on a website. That idea has been intentionally crafted into the Farm Credit culture so that it permeates through this place from the top down and the bottom up.
It’s a culture of serving – serving our customers and serving our fellow employees. It’s a culture where we cry with our members who are struggling and we celebrate with members who are succeeding. It’s a culture where we talk in teams and leaders instead of coworkers and bosses. It’s a culture where we are invested in each other. In our customers. And in agriculture.
So what I should have told that Director, is that it won’t be hard to keep us here. As long as we continue to do what we do, to serve agriculture in good times and in bad, to remember our purpose as a cooperative, I will proudly put on that biostar. And l'm betting my teammates will as well.
When I say goodbye to Farm Credit, I have a feeling it will be in a similar fashion as my predecessor - after a forty year career of serving one of the greatest industries in this country.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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