When the teacher of Garrett James Keenan’s gifted-and-talented class asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, Keenan didn’t care if his answer seemed surprising.
“A pig farmer,” said Keenan, a freshman at Limon High School in Limon, Colo. “I’ve always been dead set about that.”
He recounts this incident with a laugh, a sense of maturity and focus that exceeds his 14 years. His resume is already more impressive than most. He has his own small operation, six years showing pigs and a clear career goal of producing high-quality swine.
Not only is Keenan remarkable in his accomplishments, but his interest in agriculture is becoming increasingly rare. Statistics from the latest Census of Agriculture note that there are twice as many farmers over the age of 65 as under the age of 35. With agriculture’s producers aging rapidly, maintaining interest among young people is becoming critical to the industry’s survival.
This year, as a new FFA member, he’s been able to work toward his goal of starting his own swine herd. Along with being a junior officer, he has a Supervised Agricultural Experience project — a hands-on program that allows FFA members to gain real-world agricultural experience through entrepreneurial endeavors.
For his SAE, Keenan breeds show pigs to sell at the fair and was able to get started thanks to a grant from Novartis Animal Health U.S., which he used to purchase pigs and housing facilities for his herd.
In 2009, Novartis Animal Health established eight $1,000 grants for students interested in starting or improving SAE projects in the areas of veterinary medicine, dairy production, swine production and beef production. The company wanted to provide opportunities for FFA members who had a passion for production agriculture but did not have the finances to explore it fully.
It’s important to keep young people interested and involved in production agriculture, says Julie Groce, company communications manager at Novartis. “We hope that by guiding students with their projects, we can help positively shape the future job pool for agriculture.”
The three Novartis grant winners for 2009 were: Cody Blunier, Midland FFA Chapter, Midland High School, Varna, Ill.; Crystal Gruber, Clearfield FFA Chapter, Clearfield High School, Clearfield, Utah; and Garrett James Keenan, Limon FFA Chapter, Limon High School, Limon, Colo.