When Grant and Kristen Strom heard their names called Jan. 9 as winners of the Achievement Award at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention, they knew their path was both longer and better than what they expected when they started farming.
Grant originally applied for the award through Illinois Farm Bureau as an individual three years ago. Named runner-up in the state contest, IFB staff suggested he and Kristen apply as a couple the next year.
“I was worried,” recalls Kristen, a teacher by trade who’s pursing a doctorate and hopes to become an English professor. “My job is off the farm. I wasn’t sure how I would strengthen the application.”
It’s a common sentiment among young farm wives who work off the farm, but it wasn’t long before the couple realized their strength was as a pair. “After we reflected and thought about it, [we realized] there are a lot of things I am involved in in the community and in our Farm Bureau.
“My part was being his partner in our farm operation and being the support system that we need to have a strong family and strong farm operation. I’m just really proud of us and what we’ve accomplished on our farm and in our family and in our community,” she adds.
The Achievement Award recognizes young farmers and ranchers who have excelled in their farming or ranching operations and exhibited superior leadership abilities. Participants are evaluated on a combination of their agricultural operation’s growth and financial progress, agricultural leadership and community service.
ALL SMILES: Grant and Kristen Strom (left) are given the AFBF Achievement Award during the annual convention in Phoenix. With them are AFBF President Zippy Duvall and Young Farmer & Rancher Chairman Cole Coxbill, along with a representative from Chevy, who handed them keys to a 2017 Chevy truck.
The Stroms farm near Dahinda in Knox County with his parents, Doug and Marsha, and with help from his sister, Joanie Stiers. They raise corn, soybeans cattle and hay, running about 20 Angus-cross beef cows on pasture, and employ four full-time people from the community.
“We’re trying to grow and expand,” Grant says. “We’ve had a pretty successful run so far.”
They’re also parents to three children; Gavin, 6; Layla, 5, and Georgia, 4 months.
The Stroms were named winners of the Illinois contest during the Illinois State Fair, giving them several months to revise their application and prepare for the national contest, including mock interviews with IFB staff.
“That really put us over the top and helped break the ice for us, to be more prepared,” Grant says.
After arriving at the AFBF convention in Phoenix, the couple learned they’d placed in the top 10, earning themselves an interview and a chance at the big prize: a 2017 Chevy pickup truck. They went through the interview process and were named winners on the morning of Jan. 9 during the convention. Runners-up in the Achievement Award contest were Stewart and Kasey McGill of Alabama, Chris and Patricia Haskins of Virginia, and Jay and Alice Ann Yeargin of Tennessee.
The Stroms are the first national Achievement Award winners since 1995, when Mike DeSutter won the big prize. Both the Stroms and DeSutter are from Knox County. Before that, Philip Nelson, LaSalle County, won the national award in 1983; Gary and Vicki Luth, Douglas County, won in 1979; Pam and Steve Wentworth, Macon County, won in 1978; Jim and LouAnn Sheaffer, Lee County, won in 1976; and Richard and Donna Walters, McHenry County, won in 1972.
In addition to their choice of either a 2017 Chevrolet Silverado or 2017 GMC Sierra, the Stroms will also receive paid registration to the AFBF FUSION Conference in Pittsburgh Feb.10-13.
Grant and Kristen also met contestants from around the country. “It’s so interesting to see the diversity from state to state,” Grant says.
“You’ve got the I-states that are pretty much corn and soybeans, and maybe some cattle or pigs. We met a couple from Virginia, and their main source was from tobacco. You’ve got feedlot guys, people with orchards and fruits and vegetables, some with small-seeded grains out on the West Coast. It’s really interesting to have that perspective and see how much diversification there is out there.”