Odessa Oldham, the 24-year-old agricultural entrepreneur and citizen of the Navajo Nation was recently named a Farm Credit 100 Fresh Perspective honoree and invited to speak in Washington, D.C., about the importance of agriculture and the small farmer and rancher.
Oldham, the camp director for the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit, has deep family ties to agriculture. She said that agriculture has always been a part of her family’s lifestyle.
“On my Navajo family’s side, my grandmother had sheep and cows. And on my dad’s side, he came from horses and his grandparents had cattle and horses here in Lander.”
She said her father instilled valuable agricultural experience in her and her siblings by getting them involved with a 4H booster club at a very young age.
“My dad got us all showing (sheep) at the age of three, and we started our own sheep herd without even really knowing it,” she said, laughing.
To teach practical money management skills and an understanding of costs, Oldham’s father required her and her siblings to pay the costs associated with competing in 4H and maintaining their herd upfront with the money they earned from winning.
After moving to Wyoming at age 13, Oldham said she joined FFA, and soon after she and her brother began a small cattle operation with seven heifers. Since those beginnings, she and her siblings have transformed their small herd into more than 400 head of cattle on their Wyoming ranch
“We were running someone else’s cattle at the time, and my older brother figured it would be so much more beneficial if they were our own.”
It’s not hard to see why Oldham was asked by Farm Credit to speak on agricultural leadership and the importance of the small farmer. She’s the former FFA vice president of Wyoming and the first Native American to run for a national FFA office. She has also worked with Dr. Larry Case, former National FFA advisor, to help charter FFA chapters on reservations and was also involved with the start of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative.
Currently, Oldham is in school finishing up her agricultural communications degree at the University of Wyoming, and working on a wild horse sanctuary that her father began working on more than two years ago. The sanctuary is one of only three eco-sanctuaries in the United States. She hopes to study agriculture business in graduate school and continue applying her education toward her work.
“My biggest hope right now is to make a difference in Indian Country – a positive difference in agriculture, in education and our economy,” she said. “(The Intertribal Agriculture Council) has already done an amazing job on stimulating Native American owned operations, and I want to continue that.”
When Oldham was asked to speak as a Farm Credit honoree, she said she felt extremely honored and excited. She said her speech focused on the importance of engaging youth and educating the public on the full extent of agriculture and why it’s vital to society.
Oldham’s advice to any beginning farmer, rancher or individual interested in beginning an agriculture operation is to not be afraid to ask questions.
“They need to go out and do their homework, that’s the biggest thing,” Oldham said. “There’s a lot of risk involved and there’s different things you’ve got to learn to mitigate.”
It’s not only Farm Credit who’s noticed Oldham’s agricultural acumen either. She spoke on This Week In Agribusiness, June 23, to to speak about her ranch operations and advocate for youth involvement in agriculture as well.
Despite her success, the young rancher remains humble, and acknowledges how lucky she’s been to have family members who can act in a mentor capacity, providing advice when needed.