To say that spending time in a city is somewhat out of my comfort zone would be a large understatement! City streets, traffic, people and all things that go with this are VASTLY out of my comfort zone! I’m so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve experienced minor panic attacks trying to determine which way the “one way” street is or even just getting out of a hotel room!
However, I will admit that there’s a lot of truth in the statement “In order to grow, you must step out of your comfort zone”. Pushing myself to participate in events that require a lot of interaction, public speaking and fast paced activities have allowed me to grow in ways I never could have imagined. It was an amazing experience sitting in the Governor’s Cabinet Room meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Matt Lohr; the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Caren Merrick and James Campos; the Secretary of Labor, George Slater; and the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, Travis Voyles. Additionally, we were joined by the Office of Regulatory Management Director Andrew Wheeler and Department of Conservation and Recreation Chief Deputy Director Andrew Smith. It was humbling to know that each of these dignitaries took time out of their day to spend with our VALOR Class VI and show their support for the Agriculture Industry. There was an immense amount of knowledge in that room and I will never forget this experience.
We then had the opportunity to visit with two Agribusiness Entrepreneurs, Tanya Cauthen – Belmont Butchery and Dave Cuttino – Reservoir Distillery. The work that these two proprietors put in to developing successful businesses was amazing. Hard work, thinking outside the box and having quality products are extremely important and will go a long way in building their brand. They are prime examples of stepping out of their comfort zone by taking risks and capitalizing on opportunities to make their dreams a reality.
We had the opportunity to visit our representatives while in Richmond and I took that time to connect and talk with Delegate Israel O’Quinn, discussing what was going on in Grayson County. We then observed the opening session via the House Chamber Gallery and were introduced by Delegate Bobby Orrock. I’ve never had the opportunity to sit in on a House Session and this was a truly amazing experience.
We then took time to have an engaging conversation with the Commissioner of Agriculture, Joseph Guthrie and Deputy Commissioner Charles Green. Roles of VDACS staff were discussed, along with the issues concerning VDACS laboratories and how beneficial each lab is to Virginia. The opportunity to connect with the VDACS staff was extremely beneficial and not only allowed me to represent Grayson County Agriculture Producers at the state level, but also bring back beneficial information for our producers and Agribusinesses. Commissioner Guthrie then joined the VALOR fellows that evening as the VIP Guest for the 51st Agribusiness Council Annual Legislative Appreciation Banquet. Over 800 guests were in attendance to this banquet that included all local foods, opportunities to network with representatives from all areas of agriculture, along with state representatives and remarks from VA Governor Glenn Younkin. Yet another experience only achieved because I decided to step way outside my comfort zone! I came across a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt while writing this post that said “Do one thing every day that scares you”. This banquet certainly fulfilled this recommendation!
Being the introvert that I am, neither large crowds nor speaking on TV/Radio are at the top of my list! At the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Headquarters, we were joined by Norm Hyde, Video Production Supervisor and Nicole Zema, Photographer/Staff Writer to learn all about media training. They held mock interviews in front of a real live camera while our cohorts got to watch on a big screen how we answered, reacted and posed during the entire interview! If I had to guess, this was probably way out of the comfort zone for the majority of my cohorts….but everyone flawlessly went through the exercise and learned a great deal on how to interact with reporters, camera crew members and others involved in the media industry. Additionally, Stefanie Taillon, Associate Director of Governmental Relations spoke with us concerning lobbying and advocacy. Farm Bureau spends a great deal of time lobbying for ag producers and keeping abreast of any bills that affect the agriculture industry in any way. Her presentation was extremely informative about the presence Farm Bureau has at the state level and beyond to ensure agriculture producer voices are heard. Part of my job as the Agriculture Economic Development Director in Grayson County is to ensure our local producers are heard and supported, not only from a local level but also through state level opportunities and programs. This training provided me additional confidence to create those connections and advocate for our producers.
We ended the day learning about strengths-based leadership from VALOR graduate Dana Fisher. Understanding what your strengths are as a leader will ensure your success while working with others….helping you to know when you need to lead and when you need to call on others for support. Having this knowledge will help me encourage others to do their best by working off of their strengths and better understand their point of view.
Our last day in Richmond included a tour of the Capitol. I haven’t toured Richmond since I was in school, and I’ll have to say….I enjoyed the tour much more as an adult than a young student! It also helps to have an amazing tour guide who can get you into the House Chamber for a picture standing where the Speaker of the House is stationed!
We ended our trip to Richmond at Keenbell Farm learning about the obstacles and successes that C J Isbell endured to continue his family’s farming heritage. I’m still not sure how he keeps up with all the meat and egg orders, while caring for his livestock….but he does it quite well! They served the best lunch to set us on our way…and I’ll have to say, that was some of the best sausage I have ever had! You should certainly check out the fresh products they have available for sale – https://keenbellfarm.com/ . The perseverance of this family to continue farming and provide quality food products is evident.
I certainly needed a good week to recover from this session, but I am so glad I decided to step out of my comfort zone and participate in these experiences I may never otherwise have.