We’ve recently added a very tall, shiny, new grain bin to our farm skyline. It’s the second tallest structure on our farm and it has a pretty safe ladder – important to have good gear when you’re climbing! The climb up leaves me slightly breathless, a little nervous, exhilarated. The view from the top is amazing – a totally different perspective of our home and farm from the top down. Unfamiliar. Dizzying. Beautiful.
Back on the ground feels familiar, safe, stable. A much more comfortable feeling, but now I’ve seen that other view. It stays in my mind’s eye reminding me of the bigger, broader picture. And the bin itself is there – changing the skyline of the barnyard – making it slightly different and new.
When I decided to apply for the 2014-2016 VALOR II class, I was searching at ground level. Facts: the premier ag leadership program in Virginia; directed by my alma mater, Virginia Tech; a 2 year committment of time, energy, and money; leadership training involving Virginia, U.S., and International Agriculture.
At ground level, I was intrigued, but I hesitated. Shelley Butler Barlow – full-time farmer at Cotton Plains Farm, wife, step-mom, grandmother, not to mention involvement in so many community and professional organizations. Too busy, already over-committed, a little tired, and maybe… too old?
Then I considered the view from the top. The bigger picture. Who is representing agriculture in Virginia? How are farmer’s voices being heard right now, if at all? Where is agriculture’s place in education? Who will speak up to support and defend my business and my home? Why shouldn’t it be me? Why shouldn’t a middle-aged woman farmer be the one to step up?
So I begin the climb along with my 13 fellows and our directors in this new adventure, slightly breathless, a little nervous, exhilarated. We are promised excellent gear for our climb by way of training and new experiences. We have the strengths of our directors, our forerunners in VALOR I, and each other as we begin our journey. And starting from the safe, stable, sure foundation of home and family, I know this trek will be at times, unfamiliar, dizzying, but surely beautiful. And hopefully, I will finish this journey slightly different and with a new perspective. And just as surely it will change my views, both from the ground, and from that amazing top.