Hello! My name is Stefanie Kitchen, and in addition to being passionate about agriculture, I can’t get enough of music and puns. Therefore, I am committing to titling all of my blog posts with a song. And possibly a pun. This post’s title features a classic from the band Train.
My love for both agriculture and music started on a row crop (cotton, peanuts, soybeans, wheat, corn) and beef cattle farm in Southampton County, which my dad and brother still farm today. In addition to cattle, we had a small herd of goats and a Thoroughbred who was all mine. I started horseback riding at the age of 8, and my first jobs were at horse barns and equine vets.
Like most young girls, I wanted to be a vet and majored in Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech, with the intention of going on to vet school. And, like most young girls, that’s not exactly where I ended up. After completing my undergraduate degree, I interned in the Governmental Relations Department at Virginia Farm Bureau, and as it turned out, I was very interested in the public policy side of the industry. I went on to be a legislative aide for a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly, ran a farm transition program called the Certified Farm Seekers Program, and returned to Virginia Tech to pick up a Master of Public Administration. Believe it or not, I wore all three of these hats at the same time.
After completing grad school, I decided I needed to experience a change from Virginia for a little and moved to South Carolina to work as the Commissioner’s Office Director at the SC Department of Agriculture. After 3.5 extremely rewarding, fun years in South Carolina, I returned to Richmond to work as a full-time member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Governmental Relations team, as a Legislative Specialist. It is wonderful to be back home and closer to family and friends, but I will say that South Carolina wins when it comes to pimento cheese and winters.
“Listening to what someone else is saying without hearing what you already think is one of the hardest challenges to the human mind. When you listen, listen as if your life depends on it. Otherwise, you’ll just hear your own words coming out of someone else’s mouth.”
This is one of my favorite pieces of advice from an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Less Phone, More Nature: 34 Resolutions For a Better 2018.” As cliche as these endless lists can be, this one resonated with me back in January, and I’ve periodically reread it throughout the year. I was reminded of this particular line during the first session of VALOR Class IV. For me, one of the biggest draws of VALOR is the emphasis on meeting people with an open mind and taking the time to genuinely get to know them and their ideas without preconceived notions. Already after only one session, it struck me how Class IV is already living by that and how different the world would be if we all made a little more effort to do that in our everyday lives.
I believe the best way for me to give back to the agricultural industry is by making positive, lasting change in the policy arena. While I am technically a lobbyist, I always say I didn’t go to school for lobbying–I went to school for agriculture, and this turned out to be the best way for me to contribute. I’m excited to continue learning, developing, and getting to know my cohort as this VALOR journey unfolds!