Ag-Focused Youth Gain Real World Business Experience

By Jeni Pastier

Without question, financial acumen is the one subject about which you will never hear a high school student ask “When am I ever going to use this stuff?”

In living rooms from coast to coast, parents tell children: Just wait until you are out in the “real world” and see how much things really cost. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of apps or games trying to create a financial day-in-the-life simulation for teens to get a similar experience to that of an adult. However, in rural America youth are going into business for themselves and getting firsthand experience of running business financials.

Under the guidance of advisers from youth organizations, 10- to 21-year-olds are running various agricultural income-producing projects. Ventures can range from raising and breeding livestock; growing fruits, vegetables, flowers or plants for resale; or producing field crops. Accompanying each project are the extensive expenses, for purchase of animals, equipment and supplies; rent or repair needed tools; or operating expenses related to the project. Keeping in mind that the end goal is to turn a profit, all these financial records and transactions could easy be overwhelming for an adult, let alone someone who is still in high school.

Enter the banks located in ag communities.

Bank of the Rockies, based in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, serves communities that are largely agriculturally based. Current bank employees and consumers, as well as the up-and-coming generation, have roots that run deep through family farms and ranches that instill a stewardship of the land, while recognizing operations are critical to economic success.

“Understanding the importance of agriculture to the community, we strive to provide real world learning experiences to youth early on, to set the path for lifelong sound financial practices” says Heather Malcolm, VP for ag lending at Bank of the Rockies. Ag Lenders at the bank give their time to volunteer as advisers with local chapters of Future Farmers of America or 4-H, providing lessons around borrowing when individuals are applying for Youth Ag Loans.

These young borrowers are instructed by real world experts how to apply for a loan, repayment terms and conditions, and how to determine a budget. “Preparing future farmers and ranchers how to handle their own finances at an early age and effectively budget for future agriculture operations through hands on experiences, helps to ensure the future success of the community,” Malcolm says.

Understanding that an adviser role may not fit every bank or every banker’s schedule, both FFA and 4-H offer volunteer opportunities to best meet the need of local communities. With more than 8,700 local chapters, National FFA serves as a bridge between youth agriculturists and corporations, working together to create sustainable practices in communities and in production farming to feed a growing population in innovative ways. Keeping connection with the community, the organization has launched the Forever Blue Network, where all professionals (not just alumni) are invited to volunteer to be a mentor, post job and internship opportunities, network through the busines directory and offer to lead education presentations that utilizing expertise.

For more than 100 years, 4-H has worked to give kids access to positive youth development so they can harness their talents, skills and potential to thrive in life. With an extension office in every county in the country, reaching out to your local office directly ensures that all volunteer opportunities align directly with the needs of the community. Smart Cents is an example of the programming found in Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri and Utah. This curriculum is a blended approach to financial literacy and social-emotional development, giving kids and families the knowledge and confidence to lead financially healthy lives.

No matter how your bank brings financial knowledge into the community to teens and those in their early 20s, the ABA Foundation invites you join banks across the country in the annual Get Smart About Credit program. Signing up for GSAC is free, and grants access to a full suite of turnkey resources and lesson plans that can be used in collaboration with FFA or 4-H. Plus, banker volunteers can opt in to be paired for volunteer opportunities in classrooms and in the communities that utilize our FinEdLink volunteer request portal.

Whether outreach efforts are in urban or rural communities, working with partner organizations or flying solo, participation in this initiative is an opportunity to showcase all the banking industry does to ensure a successful financial future.

Jeni Pastier is director of youth financial education programs at the ABA Foundation.

Photo above: Future Farmers of America participant Hannah Orndorff explains the aeroponic tower system she used to grow lettuce.