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The Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster has left a lasting legacy on generations of local young people

This year the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster is celebrating its 90th anniversary. It is a remarkable achievement for an organisation that has witnessed so much over the last nine decades, not least the total transformation of local farming practices.

With a network of around 60 autonomous clubs operating across Northern Ireland, and a membership the envy of many even more high profile organisations, it is the undoubted voice of our rural young people.  

I remember fondly how I first got involved. I was 12 years old when I was taken along to the Kells and Connor Club by my uncle David. That connection remains as my niece Georgia is a member and I've a nine year old daughter who can't wait to join.

It’s an organisation that any parent should be pleased to have a child a member of. If my daughter has even half the experiences that I had she will enjoy every moment of it.

The opportunities and friendships that being a member offer are remarkable and should not be underestimated - I enjoyed the fact that there was always something to do and something new or something different to try.

What I have found is that many of friendships forged during my time remain as strong now as they were then. As many other former Young Farmers can confirm - you can pick up a conversation with someone you may not have seen in years as if you were talking to them yesterday.

The Clubs are so much more than just a group for young people to join. Providing an outlet for young people often living in rural areas with few other services or amenities, it has an immensely positive impact on the personal, social and professional development of its members.

Whilst of course farming will always remain one of it keys priorities, the strength of YFCU is that it provides a skill set that formal education or some other youth organisations don't offer.

From Committee work, where the organisation is run by young people for young people; to offering first aid training and public speaking, the organisation provides generations with key skills such as not just the ability to deliver a speech but to think on your feet and provide reasoned argument on any topic.

Whilst undoubtedly a useful skill to have been taught for those of us that went on to become politicians, those are the sort of valuable life-skills that can be used by everyone no matter what occupation the go on to pursue.  

I became the County Antrim Chair in 1997 and then had the honour of becoming the YFCU President in 2005. I look back fondly to what were in hindsight a totally hectic, but absolutely brilliant, two years.

Of course the Young Farmers also probably hold the title of one of the most effective match-making organisations in the country. Like so many other previous members I met my wife Jenny through the YFCU. And that still happens - countless marriages across Northern Ireland each year trace their routes back to shared memberships in clubs or chance encounters during activities.  

It's an organisation that has provided me with many friends and stories to tell, enough to fill a book. But one thing I have found and that is once a young farmer always a young farmer no matter what age you are.


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