New – Weird – Different

“We try to be a department that looks at problems in new, weird, and different ways.” Jaime Pinkham, Principal Deputy Assistant at the U.S. Army for Civil Works (and Washington Ag Leadership Program Alum) shared this quote with our VALOR class, and gave tangible examples how his organization lives out this mantra daily. As I’ve reflected on this seminar over the last several weeks, this challenge to think about new, weird, and different solutions to problems has resonated with me the most. Our time in D.C. certainly exposed other individuals and organizations that are doing just that to finding new, weird, and different solutions to some of our biggest problems.

Xochitl Torres Small and Sanah Baig

Our group meeting with USDA was certainly a highlight of our time in D.C. We heard from an all-star lineup of speakers, who shared their leadership journeys and talked about the work being done by the agency through many of its different mission areas. The day was emceed by Dr. Basil Gooden, VALOR program alumni and the Director of State Operations for the Rural Development mission area. We listened to remarks from Former Deputy Secretary Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie and Administrator of the Farm Service Agency Zach Ducheneaux. 

While everyone who spoke to our group was incredible and inspiring, I really resonated with the messages shared by Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small and Sanah Baig, Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics. I was in awe of these women, and the passion that they brought to their roles within the agency. Both helped our group to see the new and different programming and services being offered to help advance rural spaces and agriculture through research and education. They were incredible representatives of the administration, and helped our group see how a systems approach to solving problems helps you to make significant strides in achieving long-term, sustainable solutions.

DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) & Dreaming Out Loud

The most eye-opening stop of the week for me was our time spent with Amy Bachman of DCCK and Chris Bradshaw of Dreaming Out Loud, Inc. I was inspired and humbled to see the work of these dedicated professionals to increase access and equity within the D.C. Metro food system. I was blown away by the beautiful new facility that DCCK was putting the finishing touches on in Navy Yard, and I know that it’s going to be a thriving hub for that community. In addition to providing healthy and nutritious food for the homeless and DC Public Schools, they also offer culinary job training and career opportunities. They are taking a holistic approach to food security, by not only providing nutritious food, but opportunities. I am excited to go back and experience DCCK now that they are open to the public in that location.

While at DCCK, we also met with Chris Bradshaw, Founder and Executive Director of Dreaming Out Loud, Inc. Dreaming Out Loud is engaged in all aspects of the food system in the D.C. Metro area by serving as a food hub and providing training and support to urban farmers. Chris really helped to open my eyes to the fact that we’ve been trying the same things over and over to address the issues within the metro area’s food system, and it’s time we do something different. Chris and his team also engage in advocacy work. It’s staggering to hear the statistics related to food access and insecurity. I live less than 20 miles from the location where we were meeting, and to hear that a nearby ward of D.C. only has ONE grocery store BLEW. MY. MIND. I am so thankful people like Chris, Amy, and Lindsay are engaged in this meaningful work, and that I had the opportunity to learn from them as a part of this experience. 

Little Wild Things

Meeting with Brittany Gallahan of Little Wild Things City Farm may have been the most eye-opening stop during our time in D.C. Little Wild Things is a microgreens/edible flower growing operation located right inside of Washington, D.C. They operate out of the top of a parking garage, they sell their products to local restaurants and to more than 100 CSA (community supported agriculture) customers. It was cool to see how they make the most of their limited space, and maximize their production based on their innovative techniques. Also, I’ll never forget having a tasting party of their products with my classmates when we got back to the hotel. 

This seminar was an Incredible opportunity to hear from movers and shakers in the agriculture space here in DC. I’m especially thankful to VALOR Alumni Dr. Basil Gooden for all he did to arrange our visit at USDA, and VALOR Alumni Lindsay Smith for taking time to meet with our class during our visit to DC Central Kitchen to help us better understand the nuances of the metro area food system. I can only hope to contribute to future seminars in NoVA and D.C. in meaningful ways, as they have. 

Our days in D.C. were certainly a whirlwind. Since I’m the only member of our class to live in NoVA and work in the District, it was fun to welcome my friends to the “big city”. Besides helping folks figure out the metro and Uber while they were in town, I hope I was able to help them see what it means to work for agriculture (and more specifically, farmers and ranchers) in Washington, D.C. I’m thankful for this experience, and I can’t wait to explore the Bluegrass State of Kentucky for our domestic in just a few weeks!

3 thoughts on “New – Weird – Different”

  1. Excellent blog, Austin! You were a very helpful host and I would recommend your services to any ag group visiting DC. I think you’re in the right role at FB, embodying its cooperative principles and carrying out the grassroots mission!

  2. Thank you, Austin, for also helping us find a way to include a visit to American Farm Bureau during our time – you are definitely an asset to their leadership team!

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