WINONA LAKE — Grace College President Bill Katip announced that almost 400 community members were in attendance at the fifth annual Barn and Business Breakfast held this morning, March 5. Over the last five years, the event has doubled in size.
Bob Bishop, president of the Kosciusko County Farm Bureau, talked about some of the hardships the local agricultural industry is facing today.
“Farmers carry high debt loads. They cannot control many of the factors that affect production,” said Bishop. “Farmers work long hours and suffer sleep deprivation. They feel a sense of responsibility to not only feed the world but also to preserve the legacy of the generations that have farmed before them. No farmer wants to be the one who loses the family farm. The suicide rate among farmers is higher than any other occupation in the United States and is double the rate of veteran suicide.”
“We are here because we want to talk about challenges and brainstorm solutions,” continued Bishop. “We are here because we want to help educate business and community leaders about the value of agriculture.”
The keynote speaker during the event was Chuck Surack, founder and CEO of Sweetwater Sound.
Surack founded Sweetwater Sound in 1979 as a recording studio in the back of his VW bus. Now, Sweetwater is the number one online retailer of music instruments and pro-audio equipment in the United States. Sweetwater employs over 1,500 team members and services over one million customers every year.
Suzie Light, executive director of the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, led the discussion in an interview format.
Surack discussed some of the principles used at Sweetwater to attract and retain employees. Currently, Kosciusko County has an unemployment rate at 2.7 percent but the labor participation rate is at 65 percent.
“What was really important to me growing up and what I think really set the foundation for me was Boy Scouts,” said Surack. “Boy Scouts learn it’s trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Those are amazing principles to live by personally and I would say those are amazing principles to live by professionally. That’s how I run my company and that’s how I run my personal life. Treating others the way you want to be treated — that’s what we do at Sweetwater.”
During the event, Tobias Forshtay, instructor of agribusiness at Grace College, and Dr. Nate Bosch, director of the Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams introduced the Lilly Center’s first-ever certification program.
“The program is designed to promote high-quality agriculture, provide cutting-edge education and, ultimately, protect the 100-plus lakes in Kosciusko County,” said Bosch. “Farmers play a crucial role in keeping our lakes, and therefore our economy healthy. This certification helps us publicly recognize the work they do.”
Crop producers would receive the certification for having a positive impact on local lakes and streams, such as nutrient management, reduced tillage, crop rotation and continuing education. The hope is that the certification will acknowledge all the good work already being done and encourage more crop producers to participate.