Agricultural Greeks emphasize home and hard work

While most sororities and fraternities bring images of exchanges and philanthropies to mind, there is an entirely different realm of Greek life separate from the average house. Enter the world of agricultural fraternities and sororities.

One of the main distinctions of an agricultural fraternity or sorority is a strong background or interest in — you guessed it — agriculture. But these similar experiences provide far more than what is just seen superficially.

“I could really relate to everyone in the house,” said Jeff Carls, a sophomore in ACES who is in charge of alumni relations for Alpha Gamma Rho. “You have just an instant connection with everybody.”

Michael Youmans, president of Alpha Gamma Rho and junior in ACES, added that many of the men who join the house are the same major and most come from small towns.

“It seems a lot more personable because we end up knowing everyone in the house really well,” he said. “It really sets us apart from other houses.”

The organizations also try to help new members adapt to college life in Champaign-Urbana.

“Being a small fraternity also allows new students to adjust when they come from high school classes under 30 students and very small towns,” said Andrew Fulton, the president of Nabor House and senior in ACES. “The University of Illinois and the Champaign-Urbana area is a huge place. Coming into a house of around 30 people, freshman and transfer students instantly have a friend base with many things in common.”

There are some things that are similar between these groups and the rest of the Greek system: each has a philanthropy, most have social exchanges with other houses in the Greek community and most things the groups do aren’t necessarily centered around agriculture-based activities or events.

But these fraternities and sororities definitely do stand out among the crowd. For example, 4-H House, an agricultural sorority on campus, does not participate in formal recruitment with the rest of the University’s Panhellenic Council, and Nabor House is not even part of the Interfraternity Council.

The houses do try to maintain strong alumni connections, though, much like many other Greek houses on campus.

“A lot of us are legacies, and our dads were in the house at the same time,” Carls said. “Now the next generation is coming through.”

Hard work is also a definite theme among the houses, some of which are cooperative, meaning members share the responsibilities of cleaning, cooking and other various house tasks.

“I think we at Nabor House have to work harder than the average Greek fraternity or sorority,” Fulton said. “It takes work to do all our own cooking, dishes, cleaning, meal planning and financial planning. We expect our members to bring that work ethic most ag-background students have, so we can keep our costs low and still live just as good as other houses. But that’s not a challenge to the type of people who live here.”

4-H House, which is also cooperative, has specific officer positions to help organize and manage the tasks that need to be completed, like planning meals, grocery shopping or dividing up chores.

“The house does an excellent job of preparing you for the rest of your life,” said Michelle Moss, president of 4-H House and senior in ACES. “You grow up really fast. Instead of having your parents do everything for you and then coming to school and having someone do it for you, you learn to do it yourself, which really adds to the girls’ maturity also.”

Benefits of being in a cooperative house also include a great decrease in costs.

“When you get to the college the last thing you need to be worrying about is paying hundreds of dollars just for a place to come home and sleep at night,” Moss said.

Despite all the similarities between an average house and an agricultural one, some members do sense the need to overcome a stereotype.

“People might have an initial negative outlook on agriculture fraternities or agriculture sororities because they see us and think ‘Oh, they can’t even afford to have someone clean their house,’” Moss said. “It’s not that at all. It’s that we take pride in our house, and we work hard and work together and we’re closer because of it.”

But for the most part, stereotypes don’t become a large issue for members.

“It doesn’t seem to bother any of us,” Fulton said. “I don’t think it’s a challenge.”

Other fraternities don’t even believe stereotypes exist.

“I don’t see that we’re big hicks at all,” Youmans said. “I don’t think other people really think of us that way either.”

So no matter how much the individual agricultural fraternities or sororities blend into the rest of the Greek system or stand out on their own, each creates its own distinct form of family for its members and becomes a part of a bigger community.

“You have 55 best friends as soon as you move in,” Moss said. “It really just makes it a home away from home.”