Zach Ilbery (Cherokee) was recently honored at the Farm Credit 100 Fresh Perspectives in Agriculture centennial celebration in Washington D.C. The 17-year-old agricultural entrepreneur and Indigenous Youth in Agriculture Leadership Summit fellow was recognized in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher category for his dedication and leadership in agriculture.
The 100 Fresh Perspective honorees are individuals throughout the United States selected for their contribution and work toward shaping the future of agriculture.
“There were over 1,000 people nominated, and I’m honored to be in the top 100,” Ilbery said.
Ilbery was also recognized for his achievement at the Oklahoma State Capitol in May, along with fellow Oklahoman Fresh Perspective honorees State Rep. Scott Biggs and Leland Walker.
“It was a wonderful day,” Ilbery said, who, while at the State Capital, learned that Oklahoma Ag Credit would be paying for he and his family to travel to D.C. and attend the Farm Credit Centennial celebration in June.
The celebration consisted of three days with discussions on rural infrastructure and youth in agriculture, a congressional reception that featured local producers, and an award luncheon where the attending honorees were each recognized with a plaque.
“It was a great experience, and it’s opened up countless windows” Ilbery said. “A while ago I thought to be in agriculture you had to be in the production side of things, but with being honored and being able to travel, I’ve learned that it’s not just in the production aspect, because you have to have people to create policy to help with agricultural aspects. You can’t just be on the production side, you have to have laws, you have to have people there to back you.”
The young agriculturalist was even offered an internship with Oklahoma Farm Credit next summer in D.C.
“D.C. is a great place and I’ll be happy to visit anytime and every time I’m allowed, but I do not want to live in the city that’s for sure,” he said. “I like my ranch and hayfield and everything I get to do back home in wonderful little Checotah, Oklahoma.”
Ilbery, who just graduated high school, said that he plans to attend Seminole State College in the fall to study agricultural education.
“The reason I chose ag ed is because as an agricultural education instructor you don’t only teach students about the importance of agriculture, you actually have the ability as a teacher to mold and transform a student’s life.”
Ilbery speaks from experience: a product of the kindness shown to him by his own instructor a few years earlier when his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“My ag teacher helped me out in a way that no one had ever helped me before,” he said. “During that time my grandpa and all of them were at the hospital but I couldn’t get out of school until evening, so my ag teacher let me live with him.”
“I feel like it’s a way to give back to my community because my community gave so much to me.”