The past couple of weeks I had the privilege of attending several Farm Bureau events in person — Big Tent Reunions, Summer Summit and Young Farmers and Ranchers Leaders Conference — without masks, and it was awesome. This isn’t a statement about restrictions, masks or vaccinations, it is a statement of how much we all need social interaction and how valuable relationships are. The whole time we were staying at home, I knew I was missing people. I just didn’t realize how much.

I don’t know how many times in the last two weeks I commented on the fact I couldn’t remember the last time I saw whomever I was talking to. In many cases it was prior to March 2020. That is a long time to not see friends, and I truly believe that took as much of a toll as the virus itself.

Except for a very few of us, we humans are social beings and to not be able to do so really hurts our mental wellbeing. I saw it in conversations I participated in and those I overheard. Often, they would start with the usual topics like “How much rain are you getting?” or “How do the crops look?” and then evolve from there. Many times, what started out as a fairly routine conversation would lead to much deeper topics.

It makes sense, for almost a year and a half we have really only talked to our spouses, kids and close family, and they didn’t need to be told because they were there living it like we were. Here we are with 16, 17 months of pent-up joys, disasters, concerns and observations and no one to share them with. Let’s face it, it is one thing to vent to your wife and kids, but it is far more therapeutic to find sympathy and empathy from a peer.

I guess that is why it was so good to attend the Big Tent Reunions I did. It was cathartic to see old friends, to share the life happenings and to find out what was going on in their lives, too. I guess I have come to realize that one of the best benefits to Farm Bureau is the friends you develop because of your involvement.

I hope everyone else got as much out of the meetings and events we have recently hosted. Don’t get me wrong, the education, advocacy and service are all things our organization is built on and represent the good and important work we do. However, at the end of the day it is the relationships and friendships we gain with fellow farmers and ranchers that make it all worthwhile. I tell young farmers and ranchers on their way to their first YF&R Conference that the most important thing you learn is you are not alone, and there are people going through the same things you are. I believe that to be true and something that does not change with age.

The last 18 months may have limited our interactions, but I am grateful for these recent gatherings and looking forward to catching up with everyone again soon. Let’s all do our part to stay safe and ensure we can see each other in person at Kansas Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in December.