This blog post is contributed by Ashlie Hardy, 18, whose parents are Horizon Organic family farmers Henry and Teresa Hardy. Ashlie was recently chosen as one of this year’s four recipients of the HOPE (Horizon Organic Producer Education) Scholarship, which was established by Horizon to encourage young people to enter the field of organic agriculture. As a recipient, she received $2,500 to use toward her college education. The Hardy family also received the HOPE Award last year, which is given out annually to farmers who advocate for organic agriculture.
As the daughter of a Horizon Organic dairy producer, I’ve helped my family on the farm since I was very little and couldn’t imagine growing up any other way. Now that I’ve graduated from Mount Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, I’m looking forward to utilizing my HOPE Scholarship to further my education. In the fall, I’ll attend MacDonald College’s Agricultural and Environmental Sciences program at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. I plan to major in Farm Management and Technology with a dairy focus so that I can hopefully continue to do what I do best – working hands-on to raise and show organic cows and calves. As a result of my education, I also want to be able to teach people about the benefits of organic farming, especially since the public is increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from and how it’s grown or produced.
In fact, earlier this year I got to share my organic farming experiences and perspectives during the Organic Trade Association’s “Policy Hill Days” in Washington, DC, which I attended in April with my dad and other representatives from Horizon. I spoke in front of industry leaders and elected officials who work to positively influence organic legislation. It was an amazing experience, and I was privileged to represent my family farm and the next generation of organic farmers.
My interest in farming stems from my family roots. My dad Henry was born and raised on our farm, and he’s actively managed it since he was just a teenager himself. He met my mother Teresa while showing cows at 4-H fairs in Maine and after graduation, they married and started running the farm together. My sister-in-law Ashley also helps out part-time on the farm. We started shipping to Horizon in 2003 and have been proud organic producers ever since.
When I’m at college this fall, I’ll miss the farm, as well as my involvement with my high school’s FFA chapter and 4-H. FFAis an organization dedicated to helping prepare the next generation of leaders in agriculture. Focused on middle and high school students, it enables today’s youth to get to learn about the various facets of agriculture – not just how to raise and take care of cows, but also how to economically run a farm, repair equipment and tell which crops are best given your geography and weather, as well as helping out with the business aspects, by teaching communication and presentation skills.
My family and I helped start the local FFA chapter in Farmington so that we could give students and others not involved in agriculture a chance to understand and learn about what we do. This has included teaching people about the benefits of organic agriculture, helping them understand why we chose to transition our farm to organic, and why people should choose organic food.
In addition, I regularly compete at the local, state and national level of FFA, and have won a variety of awards over the years, including a gold in the dairy cattle evaluation and a gold in extemporaneous speaking, which I won last May at the state competition. And last October, I received a bronze in extemporaneous speaking at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind. I also won the supreme showman at the New England level for 4-H at the Eastern States Exposition, last September, recognizing how well I trained and presented my show calf. This was a prestigious honor and one that I’m particularly proud of. And lastly, I served on the National 4-H Conference’s Operations Team, helping plan and execute a conference for over 500+ 4-Hers.
For anyone else interested in organic agriculture, my advice is simple: Pursue it. Ask questions. Start small as soon as you get curious, and as your interest grows, let your involvement grow. The organic community is made up of really nice people that want to help others, their animals and the environment.