WHEELER – Growing up in Rural America is something not everyone will experience in their lifetime.
For Rachel Probst, growing up on the farm is a way of life she now holds dear to her heart as she takes on the role as this year's statewide Pork Ambassador for the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
“I've always lived on our farm,” Probst said.
Her father came from a family of 11 siblings who grew up on a dairy farm close to where she grew up in rural Wheeler.
“They had a big family and knew what teamwork was and how to get things done,” Probst said. “All of my dad's siblings are involved with agriculture. Dad started a hog farm and we have 2,000 pigs and we also have a grain farm with 600 acres. So, I grew up knowing who the pork producers were.”
She grew up working on the farm with her three sisters and one of her first responsibilities was sorting pigs.
“You basically want to get the big ones out into a separate pen because, obviously, you want to send out the bigger ones first,” She said. “Since I didn't have any brothers, maybe I was more active than the average daughter on the farm. My two older sisters are quite a bit older and when they left the nest I became more active and helped out a lot more. That is how I got more involved in the industry.”
When she was growing up, Probst and her sisters were active in 4-H entering her pigs in competition at the county fair. When she got into high school, she became a member of the Future Farmers of America chapter at Newton Community High School.
“I was hesitant about joining FFA because not a lot of girls were in it then one of my old cousins wanted me to join,” she recalled.
After joining FFA, Probst became active in the organization. She was chapter sentinel her junior year and president of the Newton FFA chapter her senior year.
“At that point, I knew I wanted to stay in agriculture,” she said. “We had over 100 FFA members and that was a big responsibility for me and that is how I got exposed to leadership, communication and teamwork.”
Probst graduated from Newton Community High School in 2018 and continued her education at Lake Land College. She was enrolled in the Lake Land College Ag transfer program, then transferred to Illinois State University, where she is currently majoring in Agricultural Education.
“I will be able to be a high school ag teacher,” Probst said. “I chose that because you can do about anything with that degree. Being an ag teacher is a pretty reliable career these days, because there is a pretty high need for ag teachers.”
Probst said she decided to apply for an internship with the Illinois Pork Producers Association and was shocked when she found out she was chosen.
“I thought I'm not going to get this because people from the U of I (University of Illinois) are going to apply ... then I got it,” She said. “It's an education- and communication-focused internship. So, it was really a good fit for me.”
She will be working her internship most of the summer at the IPPA office in Springfield up until the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. Probst said her main focus at the beginning of her internship was summer ag institutes in Jasper, Cumberland, Clay and Champaign counties.
“Teachers can sign up for those through their local Farm Bureau,” she said. “I give a 30-minute presentation about the pork industry and then I let teachers ask me questions.”
“I'm learning to work from an office because I never really worked in that kind of setting. So, that's been interesting,” Probst said. “I'm learning a new set of skills with that.”
She recently returned from a four-day trip from Illinois to Iowa for the Illinois Livestock Leadership Institute. The Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Beef Association and Midwest Dairy Association team up together to bring 23 kids ranging from ages 16 to 20 to Iowa.
“We visited different businesses associated with the pork, beef and daily industry. It was focused on leadership skills and teaching the younger adults about the career opportunities available in the industry and to be able to network with professionals,” she said. “Also, I learned how to take care of 23 adults that were also kind of about my age.”
The group visited the agricultural farms at Iowa State University, one of the biggest Jersey dairy farms in the state, Swine Genetics International and Fairview Sale Barn in Illinois.
This summer at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield Probst will be in charge of planning and recruiting volunteers at the IPPA Piglets on Parade Birthing Center.
“We will have three sows giving live birth during the fair,” she said. “I think this will be a good experience for me.”
Probst will student teach next spring in Rochelle, south of Rockford, before her graduation from ISU in May.
“And that's where I will really learn how to be a teacher and find out if I like it,” she said.
She said if she decides not to be a teacher there are several ag-related jobs she could go into with her degree.
“My plan is to move back home and, hopefully, I can find a teaching position somewhere close,” Probst said.