Richmond during the General Assembly Session is an interesting place. So much hurry up and wait. So much current events and history as old as our Nation. So much that seems trivial and so much that is vitally important. All of this jammed together in the organized chaos that is government in action. Definitely a fascinating place to be once removed from all that activity as mostly an observer.
But we did get to dip into active participation in the form of a one-on-one session with the First Lady and her assistant, as well as the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, the Assistant and Deputy Secretaries and one of their staff. What an honor to be included in their circle, to be updated on their current priorities, to be able to ask questions and discuss their areas of focus. It’s exciting to see that Agriculture is a priority in this administration.
Dorothy McAuliffe’s role, any first spouse’s role, has to be both an honor and a burden. (” First spouse” – not that we’ve had one of those – it’s been all First Ladies. More on that later.) Surely in a marriage you partner up for better and for worse and if all is working well, both partners give and get support. But to be thrust into public service because your partner wins an election surely adds another dimension to one’s marriage vows. Not that I ever imagine Mrs. McAuliffe wasn’t prepared for this, and her credentials are impressive, but her task now is to support her husband’s administration. So not only is our first lady gracefully taking on her obligations, she’s doing it in an important and significant way. In November of last year, by executive order, the Commonwealth Council to Bridge the Nutritional Divide was created. Read the official order here. The newly organized Council, chaired by Mrs. McAuliffe, is her effort to address both childhood nutrition and food security for families in Virginia. One area of focus for the Council will be to work with localities to pair suppliers of local food with school nutrition planners. The Council’s members include individuals from across the state with diverse experience and expertise. Mrs. McAuliffe points out that it doesn’t matter how great our education system is if the children are too hungry to learn. I wish the First Lady and the Council much success.
Todd Haymore, our Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, was originally appointed by Governor Tim Kaine, so is now working with his third administration. I can’t imagine a better testimony to his achievements as Secretary. Todd’s enthusiasm and vision for Virginia agriculture and forestry are contagious and they work. The expansion of exports and the growth of ag and forestry during his tenure are unmatched. He will tell you he hasn’t had this success without the help of a good team, but seeing his leadership in action is a positive example and inspiration to our VALOR class. What a great opportunity for our class to discuss this administration’s plans for Virginia Ag and Forestry, building on the previous administration’s successes and laying the groundwork for the next one, and to understand the bigger pictures of interstate and international trade.
So getting back to that “First Spouse” thing. Equal and fair treatment and opportunity for all people in all situations is critically important to me. The slowly expanding roles for women in all facets of our society particularly hits a nerve. While walking the historic and stately halls of the Capitol, filled with statues and portraits of great Virginians, it was easy for me to get stuck on the maleness and whiteness of these images. Not to lessen the importance of our forebears in any way, but all those white men didn’t get us where we are on their own. It was very gratifying to me to learn that the Great Seal of Virginia (which is two-sided, who knew?), has not one, but FOUR goddesses represented on its two sides – a tip of the hat by the founding fathers to women? It was also encouraging to see a measure of diversity in our elected officials doing the work of the Commonwealth at the Capitol. But as one of my co-fellows pointed out, they still don’t really “look” like Virginia today. Hopefully there is progress.
And to tie that back to Agriculture, it seems on almost a daily basis I discover a new Ag advocacy group developed by women. From CommonGround and Pink Tractor, to countless bloggers, to USDA’s brand new AgWomenLead, recently announced by USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, to name a few. And not that women haven’t always worked in Agriculture – many times women have approached me to say they’ve done the same farm work that I’m doing, but no one ever called them a ” farmer “. Most of our society, Ag included, does not actively exclude women, but in many areas, where female voices are not the traditional voices, women still struggle to be heard and taken seriously. It’s hopeful to see those old definitions changing and women taking a proactive role promoting our industry. Until we get to that totally level playing field, it’s encouraging to see women taking the lead in Food Security, Childhood Nutrition, Ag Education, and so many other important areas. It’s wonderful for me as a VALOR participant to have not only three other women in the class, but that our director is another woman leader in Virginia Agriculture. And it’s heartening to see at least some women representing Virginians in the halls of our General Assembly. Happy Women’s History month and Happy Agriculture Month – we’re creating a new legacy for both, every day.