Growing up, Fred Yoder always wanted to be a school teacher, but when his father fell ill during Yoder’s early twenties, Yoder set aside his dream of lesson plans and chalkboards to take up the family business - a 1,500-acre farm that grows corn, wheat and soybeans. A fourth-generation farmer, Yoder knew his way around a tractor but still asked his dad for advice when he first took over the daily crop duties.
“He told me, ‘The only thing I ask for from you, son, is that you leave the land in better shape than you found it,'” Yoder said.
Now, after nearly 40 years tilling the earth near Plain City, Ohio, 58-year-old Yoder has made good on his promise – so much so that he was honored this week by the White House as one of its Champions for Change, a weekly honor given out to 12 citizens for their contributions to the community.
According to the White House press release, this week’s honorees were brought to Washington D.C. because of their work in preparing their respective communities for the consequences of climate change.
"As we take action to reduce carbon pollution and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy, we must also take action to prepare for the impacts of climate change we are already seeing, including more frequent and severe extreme weather," said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
“Farmers are the original environmentalists,” he said. “It’s our factory, it’s our office, it’s our way of making a living. So, it’s in our best interest to continually improve the land and make it more productive and a bigger producing engine if we could.”
Yoder said he’s extremely flattered he was chosen for the Champions for Change honor, but admits he doesn’t know who nominated him.
That’s where Ernie Shea comes in.
Shea has spent the past five years working with Yoder at The 25x'25 Alliance, a renewable energy advocacy group, and nominated the Ohio-based farmer because of his exceptional leadership and knack for framing a non-political conversation about climate change.
“Fred has the unique ability to have people come together, dissect a problem, develop a plan of action to overcome it and then build consensus to get behind it,” Shea said.
According to Shea, Yoder skips the political debate about what is causing climate change and, instead, focuses on what he can actually do about it.
“How do we feed a hungry world in 2050 on the same amount of land the we have now, and more so, how do we do it in an environmentally-friendly way?” Yoder said.
Shea said what's perhaps most impressive about Fred is that he’s made the decision to battle climate change on his own dime – the government hasn’t sent him any kickbacks to promote sustainability, and he has no plans to apply for grants.
“I did it for economic reasons to start with, but as you do those things for economic reasons, you also see the benefits,” Yoder said.
“Looking back, I can’t see myself ever going back to the way I used to farm because I’ve seen the benefits of conservation.”