Born to Farm
Kent Youngdahl may have been born on a farm — literally in the farmhouse — but his experience in agriculture was limited growing up.
It wasn’t until he took a horticulture class in high school, followed by an internship at the University of Idaho’s Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center (SOAC), that farming came back into his life and set the course for his future.
Youngdahl was born on a small farm in Sandpoint where his father grew St. John’s wort and hay, but the family moved into town when he was young.
“I never got to experience the hard part of living on the farm, I just got to experience the fun parts,” he said.
As a senior in high school, Youngdahl knew he wanted to go to U of I but wasn’t decided on a major. He enjoyed the outdoors and was considering something in conservation or forestry. A horticulture class with Sandpoint High School teacher John Hastings sparked his interest in agriculture.
“That was the first class where I realized that I could go into farming without having grown up on one,” Youngdahl said. “He definitely inspired me to look for different careers in the ag sector.”
Hastings also alerted Youngdahl to an internship opportunity with SOAC, formerly the Sandpoint Orchard.
The experience turned out to be the perfect fit for Youngdahl. He learned how a farm ran, everything from planting and pruning the apple trees to irrigation, tearing down and putting up fences and learning how to operate tractors and mowers.
“Once I started working out there I just fell in love with it so I thought sustainable food systems would be the perfect major,” Youngdahl said. “I was still on the fence as far as what I wanted to do but thought this job would be a good indicator of whether or not I wanted to pursue it.”
He decided to major in sustainable food systems in U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and has worked at SOAC for the past three summers to continue gaining experience. He will return to SOAC in summer 2019 as a supervisor before his final year at U of I.
“I think sustainable food systems is resilient,” Youngdahl said. “It’s about being able to keep up with an exponential population growth, where food production is a linear growth, so it’s working on ways to keep up with human population.
“I think the great thing about this major is that it focuses on systems thinking so there’s not just one entity that I’m focused on, it’s every aspect of a complex system and how it all works, so it gives me a lot of options and flexibility.”
When he arrived at U of I, Youngdahl decided to join Phi Kappa Alpha. In 2019, he became the new member educator for the fraternity where he teaches younger members about the history and values of the organization. For Youngdahl, the experience allows him to take on a leadership role — something he was eager to explore after growing up as the youngest of three siblings.
“I was really fascinated with this position because growing up I was always the baby,” he said. “I never had a little brother to be a role model to so that’s part of why I really wanted to do it.”
Youngdahl has also taken advantage of the opportunity to become a member of the U of I Soil Stewards. Members of the student club manage the Soil Stewards farm north of campus, including creating a farm plan each year and planting, irrigation, weeding and harvesting.
“It’s high-intensive vegetable production as opposed to being on an orchard, but it’s the same game,” Youngdahl said. “The Soil Stewards club gave me an opportunity to do a little more hands-on as well as being in the classroom learning.”
Between his leadership experiences in his fraternity and the hands-on opportunities within CALS, Youngdahl is making the most of his time at U of I.
“There is a lot of opportunity here but I don’t think anything is going to fall in your lap,” he said. “I think you have to actively go out and look for it. Take every advantage that comes to you in college.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Published in April 2019