By ANDY ANDREWS
HERSHEY, Pa. — She has only three head of cows, a very small herd of Icelandic sheep, beef cattle, egg layers and an abiding love of farming. But this Crawford County farmer set out to teach the public the realities of modern agriculture. And she did so in five minutes.
A 5-minute video of Billie Bookamer’s family farm in Meadville helped garner state recognition for the 24-year-old farmer. Bookamer was the winner of the first-ever 2010 Young Farmer and Rancher Video Contest at the 60th anniversary meeting of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Bookamer was honored during the awards banquet Nov. 16 at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pa. Bookamer is the daughter of Tom and Linda Bookamer, who operate a bed and breakfast on the farm.
The video was a “dream of mine,” Bookamer said, to educate the public about the “true story of agriculture.” Bookamer said, “I wanted to educate people on true farming practices.”
The video has not been uploaded to the farm website at www.bookamerfamilyfarm.com yet. Bookamer said she simply wanted to present the video to the Farm Bureau to use at their discretion, “hopefully to educate the public as well.”
Bookamer, the oldest of six children on the farm, operates a raw milk dairy in Meadville. She began taking care of cows 10 years ago with a grade Ayrshire named Maudine, now 12 years old, and has added a registered Jersey, Clarice, 5, and a registered Holstein, Josey, 4. All cows are grass-fed with Clarice being the top producer.
The farm regularly hosts tours of school groups, including more than 1,000 students in May. The farm sees about 300-400 students in September. Youth range from kindergarten through college.
“The goal of our family farm is to educate the public about agriculture and to show them what a farmer does, so people know where their food comes from and what it takes to produce that food,” she said. “Visitors to our farm can experience the joys and struggles of farming.”
Most of Bookamer’s skills are self-taught. While she also raises sheep and Alpaca, Alpaca wool judging takes up a lot of her free time. She judged the Ohio Alpacafest Nov. 7 in Columbus.
As an Alpaca wool judge, Bookamer examines fiber that producer/spinners send to her — the latest contest included 58 samples — and judges the fiber characteristics. Bookamer plans to produce another 5-minute video in the spring, looking at other farm practices to help in educating the public.
Judges for the Farm Bureau award base their decision on how well the video promotes modern agriculture practices in a positive manner to consumer audiences of diverse backgrounds.
Other factors include speaking ability, explanation of farming operation, clarity of ag practices, and proactively addressing known consumer concerns or negative perceptions about agriculture.
“The new video contest is another effort to spark interest among our young farmers to get further engaged in reaching out to enlighten the public about everyday farming practices and how their food is produced,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president Carl T. Shaffer in a statement.
For submitted the winning video, Bookamer receives $500 from Dodge Truck, $240 worth of lodging vouchers from Choice Hotels, free registration and lodging for PFB’s 2011 State Young Farmer and Rancher Leadership Conference, and an expense-paid trip to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga. in February.
The finalist for the award was Joshua Waddell of Crawford County.
During the banquet, Charlie and Elaine Benner of Selinsgrove, Pa. were honored with the Distinguished Service to Ag Award. Charlie and Elaine have farmed for many years, and both have been involved on various Farm Bureau committees.
Elaine was state chair of the women’s leadership committee, Snyder County Women’s Committee chair, and spent more than 40 years as the Snyder County Farm Bureau newsletter editor.
“Charlie and Elaine have been extremely active Farm Bureau members for decades, serving on state committees an in county leadership roles,” said PFB President Carl T. Shaffer in a statement.
“They truly reflect what grassroots members are able to accomplish through dedication, hard work and loyalty to an organization.”