Before greeting the 350 dignitaries, agriculture industry leaders, farmers and ranchers gathered for a "town hall" meeting in Kansas City, Mo., USDA Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue met kids.
4-H and FFA members brought their livestock to Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex in Kansas City to give the newly confirmed secretary a farm-filled welcome.
In the hours leading up to his opening remarks, Perdue strolled down a row of horses, goats, sheep and cattle. In each pen, he stopped to talk with the kids about their livestock.
Young at heart
"He asked me what breed she was," says Dakota Allen, 9, from Oswatomie, Kan. "He wanted to know her name — which is Pinky, by the way."
At 8-year-old Cheyenne Brunker's pen, the secretary wanted to know just how much feed she fed her animal a day. "He was really nice," the Ottawa, Kan., native says.
KIDS ANSWER: Kansas 4-H members Dakota Allen, left, Dalton Pattimore and Cheyenne Brunker, right, had the opportunity to share information about their beef projects with Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue.
It is Dalton Pattimore's first year in 4-H. The Paola, Kan., first grader told the secretary about his desire to be a veterinarian. "He is one, too," he says. The secretary took time to listen to Pattimore explain the names of his animals and about his 4-H experience. "I loved meeting him," he says. "He was super-nice."
For two Missouri brothers, the secretary shared a common passion — cutting horses. Lone Jack FFA members Zach and Justin Pinnell compete in the American Royal Cutting Horse Competition. "He knew about the sport and the horses," Justin says.
HORSE NOTES: Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue shared his interest in cutting horses with Missouri brothers Zach and Justin Pinnell. The two shared their interest in wanting to become veterinarians, a career the secretary once held before becoming governor of Georgia.
Both boys grew up raising cattle at their home farm in Pleasant Hill. Between the pair, they have a Hereford and Angus cow-calf operation. "We talked about wanting to become veterinarians," Zach says. "He was a lot more personal than I thought he would be."
Investing in ag's future
"I was impressed with the amount of one-on-one time he gave us," says Grady Allen, from Spring Hill, Kan. "He took the time to interact with us and get to know our future plans. He seemed genuinely interested in us."
Allen and his brothers, Tate and Logan, showed off their market lambs to the town hall. The trio are 4-H members in the Johnson County Livestock Club, where they raise sheep, goats, cattle, chickens and rabbits.
BIG DEAL: The Allen brothers from Kansas spent time with Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue at the American Royal Complex. It is a family place for Tate, left, Logan and Grady, right, as they show livestock in the Hale Arena. The secretary's down-to-earth demeanor and style impressed them.
Youngest brother Tate admits he thought the day would be filled with just standing around. "What we didn't expect was the time he gave us," he says, "And the clothes." The ag secretary was not in a suit and tie for this town hall. "He dressed normal," Grady adds, "just like us. He was in a nice button-up shirt and pants."
Unlike some of the younger exhibitors, the oldest of the brothers, Logan, says they knew the event was a "pretty big deal." The 18-year-old admits he had never heard of the new ag secretary. "Honestly, I liked my first impression," he says. "He was very easy to talk to. I will be following more of what is happening in government because I met him."
It was the secretary's first trip after his confirmation outside of Washington, D.C. During his comments, he noted, "The VIPs are standing in those pens." He went on to say, "The future of agriculture is right there. All those bright young people give me optimism."