Editor’s note: Elements for this story were reported and photographed earlier this year, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck North Texas.
By NICHOLAS SAKELARIS | CoServ
The sun is barely up when Future Farmers of America students arrive at the agriculture barns to feed their animals. They return after school to wash, groom and exercise the animal. The hours-long daily ritual is repeated with FFA students from Wylie to Valley View whether it’s bitter cold or scorching hot outside.
Brady Baker, a junior at Frisco Memorial High School, raises a pig while also being involved in band and doing normal homework.
“I wake up 30 minutes earlier than normal and I come up here and feed her, brush her and clean her pen out,” Brady said. . “It takes up a lot of time at night, too, because you have to walk them as well. It’s taught me a lot of discipline because it’s not something you can just push off. I have to come up here every day or she doesn’t get fed.”
Students like Brady pour their heart and soul into caring for their animals in hopes of winning big at the livestock shows, where their animals are judged and bid on..
After months of dedication, their biggest fear would be to stand up in front of that crowd with their beloved animal and get no bids.
CoServ’s FFA team makes sure that doesn’t happen.
CoServ is a rapidly growing electric and gas utility that has grown into one of the largest cooperatives in the country as our service territory becomes increasingly urban and suburban. But we haven’t forgotten our heritage as a small-town rural cooperative going back to our founding as Denton County Electric Cooperative in 1937.
Some of our Employees grew up showing livestock, and they know what goes into raising a prize-winning animal.
On the CoServ Electric team, the Employees are KD Weaver, engineering project manager, and Mark Harpool, senior Engineering Project Manager. The CoServ Gas team is Michael Hartin, fleet coordinator.
They volunteer their time to go to these livestock shows and represent CoServ. They arrive before the auction to meet the FFA students and the agriculture teachers. They identify the ones who don’t have a lot of support or need help. They form relationships with them and, during the auction, will bid on an animal to buy it outright or raise the price. They’ll also add on a few hundred dollars to other animals that sell at the auction to provide additional assistance to the students.
“I think this is the best thing CoServ does,” KD said. “If everybody could see when you buy a kid’s animal that didn’t have a buyer – it’s incredible. We’re passionate about FFA and agricultural science.”
Every time CoServ buys an animal or contributes to a winning bid, CoServ’s name is called for everyone to hear. It can also get competitive when CoServ outbids a neighboring electric cooperative.
“As far as the publicity that CoServ gets for two guys going out there, we reach so many people at those stock shows,” KD said.
Our FFA team is deeply embedded in the FFA community. Just walking in wearing the CoServ hats and shirts garners attention because of their reputation. The Employees are invited to scholarship dinners and get asked to take photos with students and their animals after a successful bid.
“This is about as personal it can get. It goes a long way and we get a lot of people who thank us and thank CoServ for being at these sales,” Mark said. “A lot of these sales wouldn’t be what they are without CoServ and the budget they give us. We’re there raising our hands trying to run the bid up and if nobody’s bidding, we’ve bid against ourselves to get that kid a fair, honest price.”
Ellie Liebert reached out to CoServ when she was in fourth grade to ask if anyone would help support the livestock show in Wylie. Because CoServ Electric already had its hands full with Collin, Denton and Cooke county shows, CoServ Gas stepped up to do the Wylie show. Now an eighth-grader at McMillan Junior High School, Ellie is an old pro at raising sheep thanks in part to the support from CoServ Gas.
“I get to put him on the treadmill three times a week. I get to feed him,” Ellie said. “I’m involved in every feed plan that we do. He’s also just very sweet. Right now, I wouldn’t be here if you all didn’t give us money. I love it so much.”
Her mother, Wende Liebert, said she can tell that the CoServ Employees who come to the Wylie show truly care and have a passion for it.
“CoServ has done wonders for our Wylie show,” Wende said. “They’re so good. I think they have a good time coming here. When people do it as kids they really give back when they become adults.”
Brady said CoServ bought one of her blue ribbons and they’ve helped several of her Frisco Memorial classmates at the various stock shows.
“It’s really good knowing that people out there care about what we’re doing and are there to support us,” Brady said. “And it’s nice knowing that there are people coming to my shows who are willing to buy my ribbon or buy my animal. It just gives us so many opportunities. I can use the funds for an animal for next year or I’m putting them toward scholarships for college so it’s helping me build my future.”