I Learned A Lot During My First Trip To Richmond


Throughout my life I travelled thru Richmond. But, I never really had the privilege of seeing Virginia politics at work. To say I learned a lot during VALOR’s third seminar in January is an understatement.

We started our seminar at the office of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). We were greeted by VDACS Commissioner of Agriculture, Joe Guthrie. We then proceeded to a meeting with The Honorable Matt Lohr– Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, The Honorable CarrenMerrick – Secretary of Commerce and Trade, The Honorable Travis Voyles – Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, The Honorable George “Bryan” Slater – Secretary of Labor, Mr. Andrew Smith – Chief Deputy Director, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Mr. Andrew Wheeler – Director, Office of Regulatory Management. Each took time from their busy schedules to learn more about each of the VALOR fellows and the program. I appreciate the time they spent with us and was impressed with their generosity and the genuineness they had towards each of us. I left feeling they learned as much about us as we did about them and their roles in Virginia.

Later that afternoon we had the pleasure of meeting Tanya Cauthen. Tanya shared her journey, including her season 34 appearance on Chopped, leading to her opening of Belmont Butchery. I found her shop to very interesting and if I lived closer I would be a regular customer! Tanya joined up with us later at the Reservoir Distillery. Here, proprietor Dave Cuttinoshared with us how he combined his passion of bourbon, his love of Virginia and his engineering background to become the third distillery outside of Kentucky to distill and release bourbon. 

Our second day took us back to the Capital where we met with local delegates. I was amazed at how many people were in Richmond meeting with their delegates! The building was buzzing! From there we attended and were introduced to the General Assembly by Delegate Bobby Orrock. I found the experience of sitting in for a portion of the assembly to be educational. I’ve always had an interest in politics (was once a City Councilman) so this was a highlight of my visit! Later that afternoon we meet with VDACS Deputy Commissioner, Charles Green. Mr. Green might be one of the brightest men I have ever met. But, he is also very humble and kind. He certainly gives all he has to offer to Virginia!

The highlight of our trip to Richmond had to be the 51st annual Agribusiness Legislative Appreciation Dinner hosted by the Virginia Agribusiness Council. This event was held at an incredible venue, Richmond’s Main Street Train Station. Prior to the dinner guest could sample treats and beverages from across Virginia. Some of my favorites included oysters, peanuts and beer! I was amazed at how many people supporting Virginia agriculture was in attendance. After dinner, Governor Glenn Youngkin spoke to the crowd and shared his continued support of Virginia agriculture.

Our third day took us to the Virginia Farm Bureau Office. Here we underwent media training with Mr. Norm Hyde and Ms. Nicole Zema. Prior to arriving our class was tasked with reading about Solar Energy and was to be prepared to speak about this topic. Let me just say that being interviewed with a camera pointing at you is not as easy as you might think. I found this to be very intimidating and came away with knowing I don’t enjoy this type of interview. However, the feedback was not as harsh as I would have suspected! We also had to complete a Clifton Strengths Assessment prior to our arrival in Richmond. Mr. Dana Fisher – VALOR Class I Alumni, led us through a Strengths based workshop. I was not surprised at my top five themes and after Dana’s session I was able to recognize that these make up who I am. Later that afternoon we met with Ms. Stefanie Taillon. During her presentation we learned more about lobbying. I found this to be very interesting and can see me becoming more of an advocate for agriculture after her presentation.

Our final day started with a tour of the Capital Complex. Our tour guide was excellent and shared his historical knowledge of the Capital and its contents as we completed the tour. We ended our day at Keenbell Farm. Here, owner CJ Isbell, VALOR Class I Alumni, provided our group with an amazing lunch and a tour of his farm. 

As always, I learn from each of our seminars. But, I felt like this particular seminar gave me a lot more to think about. I always enjoy our group discussions at the end of the day and hearing and learning from other fellows on how they interpret what they learned. Again, this was the case and I look forward to seeing and learning from the group at our next seminar!

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