Ah, Richmond. The capitol of Virginia; home of the oldest elected legislative body in the New World. Mother of Presidents (the state, that is). Steeped in history and tradition. It reminds me every time I go why I appreciate where I live…for a multitude of reasons.
But I’m not a fan of politics; never have been. Government was not my favorite subject. I preferred English, Science – even Spanish – over learning about executive branches, bills becoming laws…hey, I must have paid attention a little to remember that much! As a youth, as well as an adult, there’s occasions when I ask “why”. Why do I care what goes on in a city where I can’t parallel park easily or drive through in rush hour traffic without my GPS “rerouting” at least once? Why do I care what those suit-wearing lobbyists and law makers do? Why SHOULD I care?! They don’t have clue how the real world works or what I have to do to make a living! They sign papers and argue over things that don’t matter. But…every time I visit Richmond, I am reminded there IS a reason why. And I should care. Let me take you on a tour (a circular, rerouted, “oh look a bird!”, kind of tour) of how I explain my ‘why’.
Eight years ago I was “just a citizen”, doing my day job, working 9 to 5 and had feelings of entitlement to everything I was ‘supposed to’ have. Health care (why should I pay for a filling, I have dental!), insurance (why do I have to pay a co-pay, isn’t that why half my check goes to insurance each month?), vacation (dude, I’ve helped people 12 work days in a row, this work is rough, I’m whipped), retirement (heck yea after 25 years I deserve a Florida condo, an RV and a free calendar), food (why is this crap so high?), shelter (my landlord better pay for that, not my fault) and most of all, money (my REFUND better be good, I need a 60” TV with surround sound). I’d recently graduated from college and married my sweetheart; I’d experienced some ‘real life and culture’, but that was starting to wane as I returned home. Not to say a bad thing about my first real job OR my home but there are just some things you aren’t regularly exposed to when you live where I live… a county of 2200 people, average age of 60, it experiences two traffic jams a year, less than 220 youth enrolled in the public school system. Home is a place of safety, shelter, security; I like being safe, who doesn’t? My 9-to-5 job with my 9-to-5 coworkers was uneventful for the most part, waiting for the clock to reach 5 so we could go home, get pedicures, watch a ball game or eat out for supper. I felt safe collecting my paycheck, baking pies and petting my dog. Life was good.
We’re getting there, just bear with me…
So eight years ago my husband and I decided to change this monotony. He farms already, employed by the home farm, and can (almost) cut off the day when the sun goes down (except certain parts of the year). What we were deciding to do, however, was scary and uncertain…it was by no means a simple venture. We didn’t want to ‘regular farm’ like our neighbors – cows, sheep, hay, corn – we wanted to grow VEGETABLES! For ‘flat country’ Virginia, that’s not new. But try and explain why you want to spend your summer in a field, planting, picking, spraying, weeding, praying and planting, again. Explain how you’re going to plant vegetable variety that has a date of maturity just inside one of the shortest growing seasons in the state! Explain to your neighbor who owns the corn field you want to rent that growing broccoli and tomatoes will be good for the both of you in the long run. And then convince yourself, again, that you’re not CRAZY!
How do you do that?! By telling your story. By telling our story, we convinced our neighbor to rent us some ground. By telling our story, we were able to rent MORE property to grow our business. By telling our story, we received a grant to fund farming improvements. By telling our story, we were the most popular table at the farmers market on Friday’s from June to September. With our story, we were named Rookie Farmer of the Year for one of our distributing companies. With our story, one of our wholesalers increased their purchasing ability so we could better serve their clientele. By telling our story, we built a relationship with our community and received support through times of transition and change. By telling our story we forged long time bonds with companies, specialists and organizations who would aid in our success as a farming family and as a viable business.
So how’s that tie into politics and Richmond? We as citizens AND as farmers can’t succeed without THEIR help! We can’t expect THEIR support if we don’t tell our story.
In politics, EVERYONE needs to get involved. Decisions made by our policy makers effect EVERYONE, whether we agree all the time or not. Whoever gets the vote, they speak for US, they FIGHT for US. And THEY can’t tell our story unless we tell it first so they can better understand.
With VALOR during this third session in Richmond, a lot of us told our stories. Some of us told them to ‘the right people’ and made some headway agriculturally, politically, socially… emotionally. I watched a fellow shake hands with the Governor and thank him for support of a policy that mattered to his employer. I watched a fellow meet their delegates and representatives and discuss matters they felt needed change or revision. I went to a dinner where agriculture was praised for its successes and prayed for in its times of trial. I saw support and recognition for critical issues that face Ag, big and small. I saw first-hand through a media training how important it is to stay positive, stay on topic and stand your ground so you can explain your reason ‘why’.
My point is, if you don’t know why I can’t go on a weekend getaway or a girl’s night out, or why my vacations only happen once every 5 years, and in the winter …if you can’t understand my situation, then that’s MY fault. I haven’t told you MY story well enough. You can’t possibly understand my farm, my job, my family or what I do if I don’t TELL you in terms you can understand. I think some farmers expect politicians to “just know”. (“We feed you for Heaven’s sake!”, my internal voice screams). “Why can’t we just farm” my husband asks, “why does it have to get political?”
Why? Because THEY don’t understand. People can’t read minds; they don’t know what’s going on unless they’re told, and told often and told the RIGHT story.
And things change… Politicians are reelected, standards of learning are changed in schools, teachers retire, partnerships disband and collaborations end. There is a constant re-envisioning of what is and is to come; one must stay vigilant in telling the story. If policy makers can’t understand what farmers need from them, then we can’t expect them to vote in our favor.
In everyone’s work, there IS a story; you become part of that story when you commit to your job, your career, your lifestyle and only you can give first-hand accounts of what it looks like. Don’t know all the facts? Its time to do some homework. Nothing’s worse than a story told the wrong way; it’s not only bad for you, but bad for others you represent, or those in your same field.
Our responsibility as Ag Leaders – past, present and future – is to share the ‘right’ story … our story.
So, the next time you have the chance to answer the question “why should I care?”…
Well, let me tell you a story…