Making the Connection Conference

Farmers, ranchers, educators, and professionals are encouraged to attend this one-day conference to gain tools and knowledge to help students and consumers understand how agriculture impacts their everyday life.

Monday, June 9, 2025 | 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Younes Conference Center North – 707 Talmadge St., Kearney, NE

No Cost to
Attend
Inspiring Keynote Speaker
Pioneering Breakout Workshops
Taste of Nebraska: Commodity Leader Lunch & Panel

Schedule

Monday, June 5

8:00 – 9:00 a.m.Registration & Breakfast
9:00 – 10:00 a.m.Welcome & Keynote Speaker
10:10 – 11:00 a.m.Breakout Sessions – Round 1
11:10 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.Breakout Sessions – Round 2
12:15 – 1:15 p.m.Lunch: Taste of Nebraska Lunch & Panel
1:30 – 2:20 p.m.Breakout Sessions – Round 3
2:30 – 3:20 p.m.Breakout Sessions – Round 4
3:30 p.m.Closing Remarks

Hotel Room Reservations

The Younes Conference Center North is surrounded by over 800 comfortable hotel rooms! There is no special room block for this conference. Visit the Younes website to book a hotel room directly.

Keynote Speaker

Dr. David Mouser

Dr. Mouser models innovative leadership with a focus on improving teaching and learning. He provides perspective on the lasting IMPACT that we all can make on students and each other. His message incorporates personal experience, good and bad, to encourage others to grow. David’s message will focus on leadership, motivation, and the importance of finding purpose through impacting others in a positive way.

Taste of Nebraska Lunch & Panel

This fun-filled lunch will showcase Nebraska’s agricultural commodities and businesses via lunch table hosts representing different commodities in Nebraska. A table host will highlight knowledge on their commodity and share prizes with their table guests!

Then, commodity leaders will participate in a full audience, panel discussion sharing common consumer misconceptions and how to address them.

Breakout Sessions – Round 1

10:10 – 11:00 a.m.

Picture Book Writing 101

Speaker
Julia Recko, Senior Director of Publishing and Education Outreach, American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture

Love accurate agriculture books and want to write one? In this workshop, you will learn the basics of writing picture books. You will never look at a picture book the same way!

Julia Recko started working with the Foundation in 2008. Julia earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the Catholic University of America. She also earned her Master of Education from George Mason University. In her current role with the Foundation Julia manages the publishing program Feeding Minds Press, educational resource development, and the Book of the Year program. Julia currently lives in Fairfax, Virginia with her husband Nick and their two daughters.

Making it Easy to Make a Connection

Speaker
Debra Spielmaker, Team Leader, National Center for Agricultural Literacy

Time, knowledge, and standards are barriers frequently cited by educators for not including agricultural concepts into the curricula. This workshop will share free resources that “make it easy” to use agriculture as a context for learning. Participants will explore lesson plans, companion resources, kits, and other student-centered resources for use in classrooms or on field trips.

Debra Spielmaker has been an educator for more than 30 years. She began her career as a high school and middle school agricultural science teacher. She then then spent 18 years directing the Utah Agriculture in the Classroom program. She co-authored the National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes in 2014, worked on the assessments for these outcomes, and developed the National Center for Agricultural Literacy at USU in 2015. She is the Team Leader of the Center responsible for the design and development of the National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix an online, searchable, and standards-based curriculum map for K-12 teachers.

Hosting Community Agricultural Literacy Events

Speakers
Julie Wilke, Farmer & Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee Member
Joy Lauritsen, Farmer & Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee Member

Are you looking for a new idea to connect youth to agriculture in your community? Do your educational programs make a meaningful difference? How do you incorporate genuine agricultural learning in your activities? Join us for an active session with local Farm Bureau volunteers to learn more about how to create new ideas, plan ahead, and always be the favorite stop at the event!

Julie farms with her husband and children near Columbus, NE where they raise cattle in the Wilke Cattle Feedlot and grow row crops including corn and beans. She serves as the Central Region representative on the P&E Committee. Julie believes it is important as a producer to connect students to where the food on their plate comes from.

Joy and her husband Luke raise corn and soybeans near Arlington, NE. They also run a seed treatment and application business. Joy serves as the Southeast Regional Representative of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee. Joy believes everyone needs agriculture everyday and uses this as the passion to share her story in agriculture.

Breakout Sessions – Round 2

11:10 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Connecting Agriculture & History: Walk to Unlock Nebraska

Speakers
Jessie Coffey, Whole Child Project Manager, Nebraska Department of Education
Erika Wibbels, Healthy Schools Program Specialist, Nebraska Department of Education

Unlock the places, spaces, and facts about our great state! Join this session to learn how Nebraska agriculture, history, and nature work together through the Walk to Unlock program to increase students’ knowledge about Nebraska.  You will view the virtual trails, participate in a hands-on activity, and get active as we work to collectively make our way from one check point to the next. This program is targeted at students in grades K-8 for classroom and out-of-school time efforts.

Jessie has 20 years of experience in the public education sector working to support health and wellbeing efforts in Nebraska schools. She is a registered dietitian by training and has a master’s degree in Family Services Administration and is currently perusing her PhD in Health Communication studies. Jessie has worked to co-create wellbeing opportunities with educators, youth, and families that support the equitable promotion of health for ALL Nebraskans.

Erika works with schools to enhance learning and achievement through supporting social, emotional, behavioral, mental, physical health & safety of students. Through 7 years of public health work, Erika has worked with evidence-based programs at the national level to create local change. She has taken on the role of serving as a board member for non-profits who impact students: Teammates & UNL Extension Adams County. Erika’s love for youth gives her the drive to continue to engage, connect and make change to provide the best for students!

Farm Bureau & FFA: A Winning Combination

Panelists
Andra Smith, Blaine County Farm Bureau Member
Michelle Valdez, Sandhills FFA Advisor
Melissa Haack, Kearney/Franklin County Farm Bureau Member
Kate Grimes, Axtell FFA Advisor

Moderator
Dawn Kucera, Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee

One of the most important actions that an organization can take requires zero financial commitment and minimal time. It isn’t anything flashy or new. It is mentoring. Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation developed a platform for County Farm Bureaus to connect with FFA chapters in a mentorship program that aims to develop young community leaders and find ways to partner on community projects. Join this workshop to learn from leaders across the state about the success they found in partnership.

Andra serves as Chair of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Committee. She ranches with her husband Chester in southeast Cherry County. They raise a black angus cow/calf her on a ranch that has been in the family since 1884.

Michelle serves as instructor of the Sandhills High School Ag Education program and the advisor to the Sandhills FFA chapter.

Melissa and her husband Nick raise corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa near Upland, NE. They also raise beef cattle in their commercial cow/calf operation. Melissa serves as the South-Central Regional Representative of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee.

Kate completed her undergraduate in Agriculture Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is currently working on her master’s in agriculture education through South Dakota State University. In addition to teaching and advising, Kate serves on the Kearney/Franklin County BRAG Board among other community projects. Kate and her husband Matt have a son and they run Grimes Farms located in Minden, NE. Their farm consists of row crop production, custom hay, custom grazing and raising sheep.

Make and Takes with Nebraska Ag in the Classroom

Speakers
Emily Kammerer, Education Specialist, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation
Katy Corah, Education Specialist, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation
Volunteers from the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee

Join us for a positive training experience in a fun environment to explore new resources offered by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation. This workshop will share creative ideas from the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom program with crafts, experiments, and easy DIY ideas to make and take! You’ll leave this workshop with new ideas and new energy for you and your community!  

Emily is based in North Platte and specializes in developing efforts related to agricultural literacy activities at events including classroom visits, camps, clubs, after-school programs, festivals, and fairs. She works in collaboration with the Director of Outreach to create agricultural literacy activities and lessons. She has a passion for youth and helping young minds understand the importance of Nebraska agriculture.

Katy is based in the Omaha-area and specializes in developing efforts related to agricultural literacy activities at events including classroom visits, camps, clubs, after-school programs, festivals, and fairs. She works in collaboration with the Director of Outreach to create agricultural literacy activities and lessons. Katy is passionate about education and equipping teachers with Nebraska agriculture resources for the classroom.

Volunteers from the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee

Committee members are appointed by the President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation and serve the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation’s volunteer promotion and education efforts as an active, statewide voice promoting a positive public perception of agriculture to consumers of all ages.

Committee Members by Nebraska Farm Bureau Region:
Chair – Andra Smith; Southwest – Tessa Stinson; At-Large Federation Board – Dawn Kucera; Central – Julie Wilke; Northwest – Natasha Schumacher; South Central – Melissa Haack; Northeast – Karen Grant
; Southeast – Joy Lauritsen

Breakout Sessions – Round 3

1:30 – 2:20 p.m.

AgBadging for Personalized Learning

Speaker
Debra Spielmaker, Team Leader, National Center for Agricultural Literacy

Badging is a way for students to personalize their learning and validate their understanding. The National Center for Agricultural Literacy’s AgBadging program has been designed for students ages 8-11 (grades 3-5). Students select activities to earn badges within the themes of Agriculture & the Environment, Plants & Animals, Food &Health, Technology & Engineering, and Geography & Culture. The AgBadging Field Guide is appropriate for nonformal (e.g., farm field days) and formal classroom use. Badges provide recognition for learning and serve to positively motivate learning about agriculture. Session participants will discover where to access AgBadging resources and explore badging activities.

Debra Spielmaker has been an educator for more than 30 years. She began her career as a high school and middle school agricultural science teacher. She then then spent 18 years directing the Utah Agriculture in the Classroom program. She co-authored the National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes in 2014, worked on the assessments for these outcomes, and developed the National Center for Agricultural Literacy at USU in 2015. She is the Team Leader of the Center responsible for the design and development of the National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix an online, searchable, and standards-based curriculum map for K-12 teachers.

Agriculture Safety Days in the 21st Century

Speaker
Cathryn Carney, Education Program Manager, Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture safety includes education about all the various risks that appear on a farm or agribusiness site. These risks vary from chemical exposure to flighty livestock, and everything in between. Though only 2 percent of the nation’s population is currently involved in production agriculture, many students find themselves in agricultural situations visiting families, on field trips, driving down a road, or even at fairs and festivals. Educating students can help keep them safe and increase their agricultural literacy! In this session, participants will engage in activities and discussion that will help them plan for their own agriculture safety day.

Cathryn Carney is the education program manager with the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF). Prior to IALF she was a 9-12 science and K-12 TAG educator. Carney obtained her masters at the University of Iowa where her work focused on place-based phenomena in the K-12 classroom and integration of agriculture-environmental issues.

Become an Ag Pen Pal

Speakers
Karen Grant, Pig and Diversified Crop Farmer in Madison, NE (Madison County) & Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee Member
Andra Smith, Cattle Rancher in Elsmere, NE (Cherry County) & Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee Member

We need you! Join this workshop to learn how to participate in the 2023-2024 Nebraska Agriculture in the Classrooms Ag Pen Pal Program. This workshop will explain the difference the program makes, equip you with tools to make the program an easy commitment, and share the fun ways you can connect with Nebraska youth.   

Karen and her husband Bruce spend their time focusing on their farrow to finish pig farm. Alongside raising pigs, they also work with their son to grow corn and soybeans. Karen serves as the Northeast Regional Representative for the P&E Committee. She has been involved in Farm Bureau for more than 30 years. Karen believes all students deserve an opportunity to hear truthful and accurate information about agriculture.

Andra serves as Chair of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Committee. She ranches with her husband Chester in southeast Cherry County. They raise a black angus cow/calf her on a ranch that has been in the family since 1884.

Breakout Sessions – Round 4

2:30 – 3:20 p.m.

Let’s Get Growing: High School & Elementary Grow Tower Partnerships

Speakers
Brooke Tempel, Education Specialist, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation
Megan Crawford, Super Kids Club After-School Program Director, Broken Bow
Student to be Announced, Super Kids Club After-School Program Educator, Broken Bow H.S. Student

Have a grow tower? Have a green house? Have a garden? Use the Let’s Get Growing curriculum! This curriculum is an out-of-school curriculum designed to explore food, science, engineering, technology, and innovation in plant production. The goals of the curriculum are to take students on a journey to understand food scalability and for students to begin growing enough food to supplement a school lunch, sell at a farmer’s market, or provide to students and their families. Join this workshop to learn how to access the curriculum and hear from an after-school program who recruited high school agricultural education students to teach the curriculum in an out-of-school setting.

Brooke is based in the Lincoln-area and specializes in developing efforts related to agricultural literacy activities at events including classroom visits, camps, clubs, after-school programs, festivals, virtual field trips, and fairs. She works in collaboration with the Director of Outreach to create agricultural literacy activities and lessons. She loves working with youth to explore Nebraska agriculture!

Megan Crawford established the 501c3 non-profit, Super Kids Club, Inc., in 2018 and has been the Executive Director of the agency since its inception. Super Kids Club, Inc. provides afterschool and summer programs in central Nebraska and is based in Broken Bow. Megan works with afterschool and summer program staff to develop program curriculum and oversees its facilitation. A leading focus Megan has concentrated on is developing high school students into program leaders.

Beef in Schools

Speakers
Jenna Ziemba, Dawson County Farm Bureau Member

Lisa Lunz, Dixon County Farm Bureau Member

Moderator
Melissa Haack, Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee Member

Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner (and school lunch!). Learn how local agricultural organizations have successfully increased the offerings of beef on school lunch menus and agricultural literacy in classrooms. This workshop will showcase two Nebraska groups who have implemented a Beef in Schools Day in their local communities.

Jena is a member of the Dawson County Farm Bureau Board serving as secretary for many years and is a 2012 graduate of the Dawson County Leadership Academy. She lives north of Gothenburg with her husband Marth, children Molly (10), Zachary (7), and Lucas (2). Jena works full time as a RN at Great Plains Health in North Platte as an ICU charge nurse. As a family they enjoy the ultimate family farm life, camping, church, golfing, and all things kid activity/sports related.

Lisa Lunz currently serves as the president of the Dixon County Farm Bureau. She lives north of Wakefield with her husband, Jim. They are no-till, dryland farmers and grow corn and soybeans. They have raised three children and have four grandchildren. Lisa is currently a Supervisor for Dixon County and serves as Chairman. She has served on the Wakefield School Board, Nebraska Soybean Board, Farm Bureau Promotion and Education Committee and was a member of LEAD 17. Lisa is the current president of Ag Builders and continues to be a Common Ground volunteer. Agriculture has always been a passion of hers.

Make and Takes with Nebraska Ag in the Classroom

Speakers
Emily Kammerer, Education Specialist, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation
Katy Corah, Education Specialist, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation
Volunteers from the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee

Join us for a positive training experience in a fun environment to explore new resources offered by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation. This workshop will share creative ideas from the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom program with crafts, experiments, and easy DIY ideas to make and take! You’ll leave this workshop with new ideas and new energy for you and your community!  

Emily is based in North Platte and specializes in developing efforts related to agricultural literacy activities at events including classroom visits, camps, clubs, after-school programs, festivals, and fairs. She works in collaboration with the Director of Outreach to create agricultural literacy activities and lessons. She has a passion for youth and helping young minds understand the importance of Nebraska agriculture.

Katy is based in the Omaha-area and specializes in developing efforts related to agricultural literacy activities at events including classroom visits, camps, clubs, after-school programs, festivals, and fairs. She works in collaboration with the Director of Outreach to create agricultural literacy activities and lessons. Katy is passionate about education and equipping teachers with Nebraska agriculture resources for the classroom.

Volunteers from the Nebraska Farm Bureau Promotion & Education Committee

Committee members are appointed by the President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation and serve the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation’s volunteer promotion and education efforts as an active, statewide voice promoting a positive public perception of agriculture to consumers of all ages.

Committee Members by Nebraska Farm Bureau Region:
Chair – Andra Smith; Southwest – Tessa Stinson; At-Large Federation Board – Dawn Kucera; Central – Julie Wilke; Northwest – Natasha Schumacher; South Central – Melissa Haack; Northeast – Karen Grant
; Southeast – Joy Lauritsen