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The Wabash Valley Service Company agronomy team recently met with a new chemical company representative,

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and as introductions moved around the table, Mike Wilson identified himself as “company cook.”

While this didn’t faze his co-workers, it did make the visitor stop and question this unexpected job title. While he is officially the cooperative’s specialty products marketing coordinator, he is also the unofficial manager of Wabash Valley’s community service program – coordinating pork chop fundraiser meals for local organizations.

“We were looking for a way to give back to our communities, and had the opportunity to purchase a restaurant quality smoker from a business in town that was selling out,” he said.“ If a local group, like FFA or the senior citizens center, wants to do a fundraiser, we provide the concession trailer and smoked pork chops, and they can keep the profits.”

Since January 1, he’s cooked more than 3,500 pork chops and the cooperative has helped nonprofit organizations in their 10-county territory raise more than $12,000. 

“We also provide the meals for our all- employee meetings, and last fall we did a ‘Feed the Crew’ program where we delivered hot meals to farmers in all of our counties during harvest,” he said. 

“It’s a great way to stay connected to our members and help our communities. And I get the red carpet treatment at our local grocery store where I purchase all the pork chops!” 

Taking on the “other duties as assigned” company cook role was a good fit for Wilson, because building relationships and community service are two things he’s passionate about. In various roles with Wabash Valley since 1994, Wilson has served in his current capacity since 2011. He is part of a team that looks at variables in seed, technology, and collects data to make recommendations that crop specialists can take to their farmers to help them improve their return on investment. “

The thought of ‘I can make a difference on someone’s farm’ is what really keeps me going,” Wilson said. “I don’t know of another agriculture company that’s as progressive and open to new ideas as Wabash Valley Service Company. I’ve never been told ‘we’ve never done it that way before.’ Usually it’s more like ‘that’s kind of nuts, but it just might work!’ Then we have support to try it.” With teammates Blake Behnke, Travis Correll, Galen Michels, and Jay Tharp, Wilson works with groups including the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA), soil and water conservation districts, and Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) to set up real-world research on local farms.

“I never thought when I was 20 years old that today I’d be considered an environmentalist. But I’ve been recognized along with Wabash Valley by the DuPont Environmental Respect program, as International CCA of the Year, and as a 4R Advocate with the Scates Farm in 2013,” he said. “I like the way Dr. Howard Brown says it – I’m an environmentalist, not an environmental activist.” 

Wilson grew up on a family farm in southwestern Indiana, and said that 2018 marks his 43rd year with some kind of financial interest in farming. “I’m just as passionate about it today as I was in 1975,” he said. “I love farming. I love talking to farmers and being involved with agriculture.” 

Most of his career has been with Wabash Valley Service Company, with the long hours and unpredictable schedule that comes with a business dictated by the weather. “My wife and I had an agreement when we got married,” Wilson said. “I’d make the money and she would take care of the children, and that worked great for us.” 

However, at age 43, “someone decided to teach me a lesson,” he said. While trying to pry an auger free at the cooperative’s Browns facility, the power unexpectedly restarted and sent the two-foot wrench he was using into the left side of his head. “When I woke up in the hospital after a five-hour surgery to repair my eye, my first thought was to get on the phone and call the plant to give orders for the day. So I did, and the secretary hung up on me. I called back, and she did it again. I called back a third time and said ‘why do you keep hanging up?’ and she said ‘we’ve got this, you just focus on getting better.’ That was an “aha” moment for me,” he said.

He cited many examples of kindnesses provided for him and his family after the accident, from completing a bathroom remodel he had begun just days before being injured, to building a ramp for his wife when she broke her leg several months into his recovery, to a farmer sharing that he had asked for a Lakota Sioux sun ceremony to be performed in Wilson’s honor.

“I learned that business is important, but being a human being is even more important,” he said. Wilson is active in the Allendale, Illinois, community where he and his family live. He serves as road commissioner and on the school board, along with holding the vice chairman position for the Wabash and Ohio Valley Special Education District. He is part of a weekly radio broadcast called “Valley Update” and regularly speaks to local FFA, 4-H, and Junior CEO groups. 

He was recognized several years ago for his work with Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom. And on top of that, he occasionally helps a neighbor farm. He and his wife Christine spend as much time as possible with their three daughters and seven grandchildren.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with and for a lot of great people over the years,” he said. “I would hope that someday I’ll be remembered for the relationships I’ve built in the ag community in our ten counties and beyond.”

FS serving community: Mike of all trades