It’s a big deal when you’ve just graduated from a small town high school in Western Nebraska to make a trip to Washington, D.C. It’s especially a big deal when you get to sit in the office of the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency while in D.C. and share your thoughts.
Spencer Hartman made the trip recently. He sat with FSA Administrator Juan M. Garcia and Deputy Administrator for Farm Loan Programs Chris Beyerhelm. He was joined by colleague Bryce Doeschot, also a Nebraska native but from the opposite side of the state. They talked about farming.
Hartman and Doeschot, both 19, are the president and secretary of Nebraska’s FFA Association, respectively. Each is a businessman. Each is headed to the University of Nebraska this fall, Hartman to study agriculture economics and public policy, Doeschot to study agriculture journalism.
Hartman and Doeschot have unusual farm businesses compared to Nebraska corn and wheat farming. Hartman grows hydroponic tomatoes, which he’s been doing for three years, and Doeschot grows award-winning grapes for a local winery. When they talked with Administrator Garcia and Deputy Administrator Beyerhelm, they talked from experience. They’re young, but not rookies.
Listening to them converse with 30-year veterans of FSA was enlightening. The young men were poised, humble and articulate. They spoke as farm-industry experts. Their leadership skills were evident. No wonder their FFA contemporaries elected them to represent Nebraska as organizational officers.
Hartman said of his visit with the Administrator, “the discussion was very productive. I was honored.” He said, too, that he plans to follow up with Deputy Administrator Beyerhelm, who passed his business card to Hartman and asked for suggestions. Hartman said he expects to do that as soon as his public relations chores for FFA slow down. He’s currently touring Nebraska, “telling our story; inspiring passion.”
Spencer Hartman’s passion is agriculture. It seems to be a family trait. His father, Rob Hartman, is making sure the tomato crop is cared for while Spencer is on the road.
His mother, Carma, a program technician at the Chase County FSA Office, spoke with a parent’s pride about her son’s achievements. He did all the small-town activities growing up – football, basketball, golf, music, 4-H, church youth group, but then concentrated on FFA. And, of course, he became valedictorian of his Chase County High School senior class.
To help expand his hydroponic operation, Spencer borrowed and repaid two $5,000 youth loans issued by FSA. He also expanded his venture to include a calf/cow operation. Seeing his success may have inspired his two younger sisters to follow in his FFA footsteps. Blair, 17, hopes to be an agriculture teacher, and Jessica, 16, wants a medical career. But first, like Spencer, they have an FFA project to master and market.
Does Spencer provide his sisters advice? He said, yes, but it’s “combated by their personal opinions.” Imagine that.
What does an FSA working mom think about the hustle-bustle lifestyle Spencer Hartman has created for the family?
“I want him to be happy,” Carma said. “I’m just the cheerleader.”
She said she hopes, too, that he can be happy with his career choice, which currently points him in the direction of government service — maybe politics.
Spencer Hartman, Bryce Doeschot, and dozens of other FFA state officers heard USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack speak when they visited Washington, D.C. Hartman said he was impressed with the way the Secretary candidly spoke to the FFA leaders. “He was genuine,” Hartman said.
The Secretary could say the same about Spencer Hartman and maybe dozens more young FFA leaders who made a visit to the nation’s capital a really big deal.