LOWVILLE — Winner of Farm Bureau scholarships on the county, regional and state levels, and the newly elected state secretary for the Future Farmers of America, Anna Western wasn’t born into farming. But she’s actively choosing it as her field with plans to go international with it.
Ms. Western’s essay on the confluence of solar and farming earned her the local 2021 Lewis County Farm Bureau scholarship and the District 6 award after competing against students in Jefferson, Madison, Oneida and Oswego counties. Completing the trifecta, her essay also put her on top for the statewide scholarship, garnering a total of $1,250.
“I wrote about solar panels and how solar energy is up-and-coming,” Ms. Western said. “I wrote about how a lot of farmers in Lewis County are nearing retirement or some of their land isn’t as great as they would like it to be so the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency has put forth a plan to basically support farmers in their decision to sell or lease their land to solar developers, but they’re offering a greater monetary advantage if the farmers use their land that is less desirable for their crops so that they can still use the prime farmland to produce their products.”
The 17-year-old — 18 in June — daughter of Brian and Marie Western, has been active in the Lowville Aggies FFA chapter for five years and served as District 6 president from 2019 to 2020. A required course opened her eyes to agriculture in a whole new way, as did the FFA.
“Probably like a typical student, I thought that the FFA was only for people who want to talk about cows or own a farm when they were older. I never thought that was something I would want to do,” Ms. Western said.
Students at Lowville Academy and Central School are required to take 10 weeks of an introductory to agriculture course in eighth grade, according to Ms. Western, and during that course a spot opened up on a weekend trip to an FFA leadership conference in Syracuse that her adviser encouraged her to fill.
“After the event, I fell in love with (the FFA). I just thought it was the coolest thing because there were more people who didn’t grow up as a stereotypical agriculture kid, but people who were more like me and didn’t have a farm. I felt like even though I might have been an outsider, I could still connect with people,” she said. “That’s really the great thing about FFA because it’s such a diverse group that no matter what you’re doing you’ll always find people to connect to.”
Although FFA is predominantly a high school club, Ms. Western said there are some collegiate clubs and that state officers can be either seniors in high school or in their first two years of college. She is both.
While Ms. Western is a senior at Lowville Academy and Central School, she is also a freshman in college.
“It’s called The Clarkson School,” she said. “Basically, it’s for talented and motivated seniors to get their senior year of high school and freshman year of college done in a year. So I lived at Clarkson, took university courses for the whole year.”
Next year she will go to SUNY Cobleskill — a choice that was specifically about filling the gap in her farming experience and the next step in her quest to impact worldwide food insecurity.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm so I don’t have much hands-on experience and Cobleskill will give me a great introduction to the hands-on that I missed growing up,” she said. “So, I’ll get my associate’s from Cobleskill in one year. After that I’m planning to transfer to Cornell University to study international agriculture and hopefully travel to places in Africa to teach them about agriculture.”
In 2019, a “service trip” through her church took Ms. Western to Benin, a small coastal country in west Africa, where she met an international agriculturalist who opened her eyes to the places farming could take her by combining “two of (her) favorite things,” agriculture and travel.
“I reached out to him and asked if I could job-shadow him on my own, so the second time I went was in February of 2020. I went back by myself ... and that’s where I fell in love with it, basically,” Ms. Western said.
In the big picture, she hopes to travel to “at least 100” countries in her lifetime and believes her devotion to agriculture is the best and most productive vehicle with which to do it.
“I’ve learned you don’t have to have grown up on a farm to be passionate about agriculture ... and I am very passionate about it because without agriculture, there’s no food,” she said.