I didn’t grow up on a farm. Only three of my four grandparents grew up on a farm. I have cherished the time they spent retelling the stories of life on the farm. It was always mindboggling that my granny’s family grew wheat, and to get flour, they would have to travel to get their wheat milled into flour to cook. I have always felt connected to them and the way they grew up. They were surprised I wanted to work in agriculture. When I took the job, I had family members tell me I was making a mistake going into a male-dominated industry. They were dead wrong. Everyone I work with treats me like their family. I am fascinated by what my farmers do, feed the world, and I feel lucky to play a role in the supply chain.
The company I work for, Mennel Milling, is a wheat flour milling company that began in 1886 and is still operated by the Mennel family today. Our locations are all east of the Mississippi and span flour mills, bakery mix plants, and grain elevators. I work in the grain side of our operation at Old Dominion Grain, located in West Point, VA. I began working here when I was seventeen as a grain grader testing inbound trucks for grain quality. I went off to college to become a history teacher, and my last year, I was offered the job of Office Manager back in my hometown. I manage a fleet of trucks to pick up wheat, corn, and soybeans from the farmer’s fields in my current position. I also originate and work directly with farmers to market their grain and assist my boss with making sales for grain out of my facility. Our West Point location is uniquely situated on the Pamunkey River. We load barges, have a rail siding, have a local truck market to end-users, and are close to multiple ports to export grain overseas.
I serve on the Virginia Grain Producers Association as a board member and secretary for several years. It is a great way to stay connected and be a voice for corn and small grains producers in the state. We work closely with our sister organizations to lobby on behalf of our members and educate others about Virginia agriculture. VGPA hosts several events throughout the year to bring producers and industry leaders together. One of the things I have learned from being part of the organization is telling the story of agriculture. As we often discuss, if we aren’t telling the story, someone else will say it for us. Like myself, many people are removed more than one generation from the farm. The lack of knowledge or misconceptions around agriculture is shocking. There is a lot of work to do to share our message and reconnect people with industry critical to their survival.
VALOR hits a lot of the areas I am interested in growing as a young AG professional. I love grain, but I am curious about the other industry segments and am looking forward to refining my communication skills to be a strong voice for the industry. They say timing is everything, and I graduated with my MBA one week before VALOR began. It was perfect timing to start this new journey. After our first virtual session, I was amazed by how different Class V is, and yet we all have a few things in common. I am excited to start this journey to learn and grow with each of you.