Similarities in a Diverse World

During our time in Washington D.C. we were continually exposed to contrasting and diverse experiences, perspectives, opinions and ideas across the many departments, organizations and groups we came in contact with.

Our fellowship was lucky enough to snag 20 minutes of Mr. Todd Van Hoose’s, President and CEO of the Farm Credit Council, time to start our first full day of our time in D.C. His perspectives and insight into global issues and their collective impacts on our everyday and agricultural life lived up to the hype. This proved to be a great start to the day that got even better when we were welcomed to the USDA offices by our very own VALOR II alumnus Basil Gooden, Director of State Operations, Rural Development for the USDA. Basil assisted to set up quite the line up of speakers including Zach Ducheneaux, Farm Service Agency Administrator, Xochitl Torres Small, Under Secretary for Rural Development with the USDA, Sanah Baig, Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics with the USDA, and Virginia’s own Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, the former USDA Deputy Secretary. All of the amazing individuals had the opportunity to shed some light on their path in their careers and offered advice for each of us to take with us into the future.

My personal highlights for day two of our journey through D.C. included a tour and visit with the staff at the DC Central Kitchen, who’s origins began as a food kitchen in the basement of a D.C. church but has evolved into so much more, providing a hand up to local citizens through career education in culinary arts while prioritizing locally sources produce and foods whenever possible for its for-profit kitchen and non-profit food kitchen which is seem to be set up as complementary partners.

We were then treated to a real delight, some would call an oasis in a desert. When we hopped out of our Uber our group at first couldn’t quite find the address, it was that well hidden, but it was well worth the hunting. Little Wild Things Farm is an indoor growing facility using soil as a medium that grows micro greens, and edible flowers offering salad shares to their customers all operating in a converted corner of a parking deck, in under a quarter of an acre. The remarkable work that Brittany and her team are doing here, producing quite an abundance of produce on such a small footprint, which had 4 staff on-site the day we were there, brought back memories of our visit with Seafield Farm during our visit to the Eastern Shore.

We had the unique opportunity to not just visit our nations capitol with our VALOR fellowship, but also similar agriculture professional development groups from Kentucky, Kansas, Washington, and New Mexico. Fellowships varied in size from 5 to what seemed like 50 (looking at you Kansas) with a wide range of backgrounds, agricultural experiences and industry specialties depending on the state they represented. While our fellowships were only together for a short time due to crossing schedules finding time for small group dinners, with attendees selected at random, was one of my most rewarding moments of the trip.

I had the opportunity to sit among a group at dinner consisting of a sheep farmer/extension agent from Kentucky, an animal health pharmaceutical technician from Kansas, the state veterinarian from Washington, and a beef farmer from Kentucky all while we discussed each others perspectives and philosophies on pressing agricultural issues, and solutions, on a micro and macro scale. Regardless of which part of the country we came from, our perspectives, or opinions the conversations were civil and appreciative for each others thoughts. This small meal seems a bit hokey at first read, but this meal is one I’ve continually thought back on over the past few months and how it is an example that all of our similarities overcome the differences we bring to the table in our relationships and interactions with others on a daily basis.

Before our crew all departed their own ways on our last morning together during this session we had the opportunity to visit the workplace of our very own VALOR fellow’s workplace, Austin Large, who works at American Farm Bureau. Our professional development session, facilitated by Megan Seibel, challenged us by researching special interest groups (some of which had opposing view points to our own) and lobbying efforts that operated in the Washington D.C. space. Having the structure and questions to guide us through our online research into the special interest groups was incredibly beneficial and this resource is one I look forward to utilizing in the future. Plus, seeing the AV production facilities that American Farm Bureau has at their fingertips was a real treat for a marketing nerd like myself.

Our diverse group of VALOR fellows visited one of the most politically diverse places in our country, where debate and conflict seem to thrive in the best and worst ways. One commonality I found amongst our visits was the effort that everyone contributes toward their vision of bettering our agricultural industry.

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