There is much to be gained by simple fencing. One might think that fencing is menial and without complexity but I believe that it is much more. Having spent a portion of the last two years or so in this thing called VALOR and having experienced many new and wonderful things an opportunity arose for some reflection recently as I was fencing. Here is a collection I recollected as I reflected.
Day one of VALOR Inaugural Class, the Fellows as we were to be known as met for the first time as a group at the Inn at Virginia Tech. Divided into groups we were asked several questions such as, “What do you feel is the most important issue facing Virginia agriculture?” and “What role do you see for VALOR in addressing this issue?” among others. However, there was a cruel twist, instead of merely answering questions; we were challenged to draw our collective responses. Yes, that’s right, draw our answers. Armed with markers, some LARGE pieces of paper and our random and collective thoughts we did just that. I felt that it was indication of our commitment. Without exception everyone in the group participated in the exercise that could have been viewed as childish an unimportant. Each one demonstrating a willingness to be a part of and contribute to the answer required. I suppose this was our first attempt at collaborative problem solving. As in fencing, the most basic question is… Why do we need a fence?
“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” – Robert Frost
Challenged to become leaders through VALOR to “build our fence of agricultural advocacy” as it were, each of us begin to have tools added to our toolbox to accomplish that task. Beginning with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator we began to understand our personalities. Adding the EQ-I Emotional Intelligence assessment began to open that window inside ourselves, identifying our tendencies and further enable us to understand others. Along the way we added TKI Conflict Resolution, Strengths Based Leadership and other personal and interpersonal skills. Other skills were added, interviewing, crucial conversations, crisis management among others. As with fencing, many tools are required. Not only many tools, but the right tools, and most importantly the knowledge and understanding of what tool or combination of tools needed for the job at hand. Our tool chest is laden with knowledge and skills. Leadership often means making decisions and affecting decision makers. I am confident that our skills will be used to build a fence of collaborative problem solving, networking and agricultural leadership.
“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.” Jim Rohn
Starting down in the Suffolk area in November of 2012 and seminars all about Virginia that included the valley, southside, southwest, central and the northern neck areas of our great state we experienced the width and breadth of agriculture in Virginia. We were seeing new things, meeting new people, building a network of like minded people who make agriculture their business in many varied ways. These seminars helped us to identify and to understand the myriad of challenges facing us as we move into the future. In addition, there were visits to both Richmond and Washington D.C. that provided some valuable insight into the geopolitical side of agriculture. I can tell you that there are some friends in government and sadly there are some that are not so friendly. Throw in a two day visit to Port Isobel where we were guests of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I can say that I learned much about Virginia agriculture. More importantly I learned about how little I knew and understood before. An enlightenment of sorts I think. Add a trip through Indiana, Illinois and Michigan learning about their unique challenges and learning that many of their issues are the same as ours was another piece of our understanding. Capping of our experiences was a trip to Argentina. I won’t attempt to convey to you what this trip was for me, there is not enough space and I am not nearly as skilled at typing as I would need to be to get it done anytime soon. So I give you some random thoughts about my experience there. The country is beautiful. The culture is rich. Agriculture is HUGE. The food is awesome; it’s all about red meat and red wine. (A boon for me) I am privileged to name Henry as my friend. Glaciers and waterfalls are enormous, old and spectacular. It takes more than two to Tango. However, what I think is most important, agriculture in Argentina, the industry, the infrastructure and the people are resilient. They face many challenges and like us and they meet those challenges because they must. This was the body of work that has provided us materials to build our fence, the knowledge, the understanding, the network and examples of fortitude and determination that will carry us forward.
“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
So now I am sitting here contemplating VALOR, my experiences, my friends and my purpose. Beginning on day one to our impending graduation this coming Saturday it has been something very special. I can only speak for myself but I think that we, as a loose band of Fellows had a limited perspective on our purpose, a scarcity of tools to work with and an inadequate base of knowledge about agriculture. We now have honed our focus on our purpose, to be advocates for agriculture, to build networks, to solve problems and to lead when necessary and follow when appropriate. We have the tools of self-awareness, effective communication and leadership skills to build on our purpose. Lastly we have the materials, the knowledge and understanding of the issues to effectively utilize the tools to accomplish our goal of promoting agriculture and being a change agent.
Let us be the fence builders of agricultural advocacy and all of the facets of what that means, ever mindful that a fence is never really completed, it requires care and maintenance. Let us always be open to rethink our purpose, to add leadership tools to our toolbox and add the materials of knowledge as we move into the future. Now begins Class II of this Fellowship, onward and upward I say.
Check this blog often to meet the newest Fellows and learn about their experiences and perspectives. I am confident they will add to the fence nicely.