WOOSTER, Ohio — Dressed in a suit and tie, I arrived to the first session of Ohio AgriPOWER in downtown Columbus, not knowing what to expect. On the one hand, I did know there would be about 20 other participants, and that we’d be focusing on leadership and personal development.
And, like the other participants, I had received and read scores of memos and emails about what to expect. I read a few of those memos twice, just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything!
But there was no way I could have fully prepared myself for the experience that was ahead: seven multi-day sessions, for a total of 16 days, learning about agriculture and farm policy at the local, state and national level.
And there was no warm-up session. We started promptly at 9 a.m., and on the second day, we each gave a five-minute prepared speech, and received constructive criticism on how to make it better.
For a moment, when I saw everyone dressed so sharply, I wasn’t sure of what I was getting myself into. But as we introduced ourselves, and I heard other members talking about their dogs and farm animals, and their love of the land, I knew I was in good company. The suits came off, and we got to see each other in a variety of settings, ranging from farms to the nation’s Capitol building.
The greatest lesson I learned was summarized in a statement on plaques handed to us on the last day, at graduation. The plaques read, “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have mastered, you will never grow.”
That quote really was the highlight of my AgriPOWER experience, even though I didn’t realize it until the end. From the first session, when I took the podium to deliver my speech (something I don’t like to do) until the final session, I was pushing myself in new ways that forced me to grow.
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For me, the most interesting thing was meeting and hearing from a wide variety of producers, which included peanut, cotton and tobacco producers in South Carolina. We didn’t just “meet” them, we learned first-hand about the challenges of growing those crops and came to appreciate the work that farmers in southern states do. We may never grow cotton or peanuts here in Ohio, but those crops are the livelihood of the people who do.
All of the people we met through AgriPOWER provided valuable insight into their part of the ag industry — whether it was farming, ag communications, ag law or something else. And we participants asked them more (and deeper) questions than I would have ever imagined.
But maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. We had a lot of talent and ag experience even among ourselves. Among the 20 of us, we had members from the farm insurance industry, farm loans and financing, taxation, production agriculture, and ag communications.
Our conversations were full of timely topics and information — and some good social times in the evenings.
While part of the program exposed me to new ideas, part of it also helped expand things that I already knew — or thought that I knew. I had met Ohio and Washington lawmakers various times in my career, but never in the same environment that AgriPOWER provided.
This time, it was more relaxed (I didn’t have to write a story) and I was able to see the lawmakers and staffers on a little more personal level. I learned more about the challenges they face (political and even everyday life) and the unique road that each chose, before they came into office.
Pushing for more
No one gets to be a senator or representative — or a leader in general — without pushing themselves to do new things. The process isn’t always smooth, but is rewarding in the end.
I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet and learn from the other AgriPOWER participants, and hear of their successes and challenges. Some were just getting started in their careers, and others were looking for something new, or going through a major life transition.
I got to see agriculture from all perspectives, and I made connections that I know will last well into the future. But just as one of the graduation speakers pointed out — the experience doesn’t end at graduation.
It’s incumbent upon people in agriculture to keep learning — to keep pushing themselves and finding out more of what they’re capable. I definitely pushed myself when I blocked off 16 days to participate in this program — and I know that I am better because of the experience.
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