Members in Focus: Williamson Family, Kandiyohi County
Among the hundreds of kids who attend Farmers Union Leadership Camp each year, you’ll consistently find at least one named Williamson. It’s been that way for decades now.
Daniel and Darrin Williamson, the sons of Kandiyohi County members Donnel and Christa Williamson, have been attending camp since they were five. Donnel did the same while growing up on his family’s 160-acre century farm, which he operates today. He later became a counselor.
Enter Christa, who grew up on a small hobby farm not too far away. She majored in agricultural education and married Donnel in 1999, then found herself learning more about MFU than she’d ever imagined she would.
“I knew about MFU from dating Donnel but not as much about the camp system,” she said.
When the Education Director at that time went on maternity leave, Christa was asked to step in as Acting Director for camp the first summer of her marriage to Donnel. They ran camp together, with him as Head Counselor. So it’s no surprise that their children have embraced it, too.
“The continuum is so cool with the Farmers Union youth program,” Christa said. “It promotes the lifelong membership benefits, especially now that we have the Young Farmers Advocacy Council.”
Dedicated to ag in their own ways
The family farm is in Irving Township, near Spicer. It’s a diversified crop and livestock operation, certified organic, with corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, barley, alfalfa, sheep and beef cattle, and up until 1981, dairy cattle. That’s not to mention the boys’ projects: goats, chickens and a llama.
“Daniel buys and sells goats as he wants to,” Donnel said.
Both boys are strong members of 4-H and FFA, attending school at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City. Daniel is a rising senior and Darrin a sophomore.
Donnel’s parents, Donald and Ann, live on the other house on the farm and help as they can. They’ve been longtime members of MFU as well, getting Donnel involved in camp and their local meetings. That inspired him later in life to run for Kandiyohi County President, a title he holds today.
Meanwhile, Christa is involved with an FFA chapter of her own – as the advisor. She’s an agriculture teacher for the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg schools, a job she’s had for 14 years.
“What drove me into ag education was being able to work with students who are hands-on,” she said. “I liked being able to take English and social studies and science and applying it to agriculture.”
With FFA, Christa sees the model of it similarly to MFU’s triangle model, with education as the base.
“FFA has a three-circle model – classroom ag education, Supervised Agricultural Experience and the FFA chapter. They are all equal,” she said. “The key to being an ag educator is having that balance between all three and making sure that the students are benefiting from both experiential learning and the classroom. I think that if we as an agricultural community can support our teachers more as far as the instructional component, I think that would be very helpful.
“As a teacher, I reach more students than in my FFA chapter. I have every seventh grader in my classroom and we do science labs with different commodities.”
The work arrangements for the Williamsons have been highly successful, with Christa’s teaching supplementing their income and Donnel being at home farming, plus relatives close by.
“I wouldn’t choose any other way to raise the boys,” Christa said. “They’ve only been watched once by someone who wasn’t related to us.”
‘That’s 15 conventions!’
Part of raising the boys was making sure they got involved with MFU, too, just as Donnel’s parents did for him. Donnel and Christa have brought Daniel and Darrin to MFU’s state conventions every year since they were born.
“That’s 15 conventions!” Darrin exclaimed at the mention of that.
And 17 for Daniel, who became a delegate for the first time at the 76th annual MFU convention last fall.
When Donnel and Christa got engaged in fall 1998, she quickly recognized the importance of Farmers Union involvement for him, even though she hadn’t grown up in the organization.
“It wasn’t a big deal for me to meet his family, it was a bigger deal for him to take me to convention and introduce me to all the MFU people,” she said.
Both of the readers at their wedding were MFU staff, and a large number of those in attendance were MFU members. Donnel, who had been planning to run for county president after the wedding, kept a membership slip in his tuxedo during the ceremony, according to Christa.
“When a field representative went through the reception line, Donnel stopped her and held out the membership paper,” Christa said. “He told her, ‘Make Christa a member.’”
But he was quickly informed that she already was – thanks to having married him. He’d wanted to make sure she could vote for him at the county convention.
“He did not need my vote,” Christa said. “He got plenty of others.”
It’s not just in MFU that Donnel is a leader – he’s also a township clerk and serves on the county and state boards of townships. He also started an email listserv for other township clerks so they can easily contact him and ask questions.
“He’s very much in a leadership role in our county as far as local government, and he was exposed to that through MFU,” Christa said.
Policy-wise, Christa says environmental issues and ag education are most important to her, including bringing MFU and FFA closer together. Meanwhile, Donnel says farm transitioning is an important to topic to him. The family makes a point of staying non-partisan, but does vote every year and talk with each other about policy.
“That comes from reading the MFU paper and going to convention,” Christa said. “That’s vital because if we don’t figure out farm policy, there won’t be any farms.”