A Boilermaker in Kansas City: Reflecting on My First AFA Experience


First of all, what the heck is AFA? I imagine that's what you're asking. AFA stands for Agriculture Future of America, and for two years I have had friends tell me, "Sheradan, you need to go to an AFA conference." It took me awhile, but I finally listened and last weekend I loaded a charter bus with 83 other Purdue University students and headed for Kansas City, MO.

For four days, I would experience invigorating speakers, interact with industry professionals and meet incredible peers from all across the U.S. I've been to a few conferences in the past and my expectations were high because of what everyone had told me, and I can confidently say that my AFA experience takes the cake-topper of conferences so far. But why is that? Just let me just tell you a few of my biggest AFA Leaders Conference takeaways.

Building a Network of Positive Influencers

I imagine you've been told you become like the people you surround yourself with. Believe it or not, I think it's true. We are influenced every day by the conversations we have and the friends we hang out with. That being said, during my time at AFA I was surrounded by outstanding people every moment of the day. I was being positively influenced and lifted up by the energy around me.

Alanna attends Cornell University,  650 miles away from Purdue. 
That made me think. If we strive to surround ourselves with positive people in our everyday lives, shouldn't we aim to create a positive atmosphere when we are online, too? This idea made so much sense to me that I logged onto my Twitter account and unfollowed anyone who I felt didn't positively benefit me when I saw their content in my feed. I did the same for Instagram and could do the same for Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. Now, let me be clear here. I am not saying to go on an unfriending rampage and cause chaos with your family or friends. I am saying that we should be aware of the content we consume online and how it influences us. No, we shouldn't be all wishy-washy and unfollow anyone who has a differing opinion or stance, but we do have a right to take care of our mental well-being and control the way we digest content.

At this conference, I was able to create a real, genuine network of people, and now it will help steer my online network toward a more positive one. Plus, how cool is it that I could connect with other students from hundreds of miles away?

Learning to Overcome Change

As a track three participant, I experienced the theme of adapting to changes in our lives. Being a junior or senior in college is strange. Graduation is on the horizon, along with many huge life decisions and milestones. It's kind of a lot to handle.

AFA did a great job of choosing topics and speakers that were able to assist us in dealing with these changes. I learned how to manage money, build trust with others, accept (or decline) job offers and acknowledge that your reaction to change is managed by your mindset.

I can't say that I will become 100% accepting of all the changes I will face in my life, but I can say that the lessons I'm walking away with will help me understand the process of change. (Guys, there is literally a model explaining the process of change, it made a ton of sense. If you're a visual person or you're crazy enough to like statistics, Google it.)

Sarah Bohnenkamp shares her energy with the audience during AFA. 
Sometimes, change is a really good thing. Like, when you want to improve yourself. And think about it this way...when we make a choice to make a change, it's because we want to be better! Maybe if we chose to evaluate the situation instead of panicking, we would realize how beneficial scary changes can be. One speaker in particular, Sarah, had me feeling really freakin' empowered to accomplish my goals and acknowledge how valuable I am. She made me want to implement the changes I've been hesitant to commit to. It was awesome.

Building a Better Me to Build a Stronger Industry

This conference was mainly about networking, professional development and enhancing leadership skills. But why are people in the agriculture industry putting so much emphasis on improving individuals who don't have their college diplomas yet? Because it takes everyone to make the agriculture industry flourish.

Agriculture is already a strong force to be reckoned with, but the industry will always have obstacles to overcome. Consumer demands, environmental care and food security are only a few examples of the big issues we face. The fact is, if I am able to access great resources, such as AFA, I am able to improve myself so I can contribute to the development of a better, stronger, more efficient industry.

I was surrounded by incredible people who have an abundance of passion for food, technology, production, education and communication. They brought me a sense of focus and encouragement, and I can't explain in words how full my heart is for these people, these passions and this industry. I believe in the future of agriculture. I believe in the future of our global community. And most importantly, I believe in myself. That's where it all starts.







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