This week’s post is written by Catherine Harward, a rising senior at North Carolina State University. As a Warren Leadership Fellow, Catherine spent this summer interning with North Carolina Farm Bureau learning about public policy and agricultural advocacy.
Three years ago, I never could have imagined where I would be today. If someone would have told me that I would be interning in agricultural policy for the largest agricultural organization in North Carolina, I would have shook my head in disbelief.
To give you some background, I grew up on a beef cow/calf operation in Stanly County raising purebred and commercial cattle with my father, mother, and four sisters. Even though my dad has all daughters, he never allowed any of us to think because we are girls we could not work on the farm. Since I was little, I enjoyed riding with my dad to feed cows, check fences, and vaccinate the herd, among other work. As I grew older, I became increasingly active in my family’s cattle operation in addition to our livestock marketing businesses. We market cattle across North Carolina and in adjoining states, keeping all members of our large family busy and involved in the family businesses. In my spare time, between school, sports, and the farm, I showed cattle at fairs and exhibitions, sparking my interest in youth agricultural organizations. I loved growing up in a farm family, and I appreciate the life lessons the farm taught me that have motivated me to work hard and to be successful.
I realized that even if you are not interested in politics, it still affects you, and it is crucial that we have farmers at the table helping to make decisions.
Over the past three years as a college student, I acknowledged my increasing passion for agricultural advocacy. Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program at NC State opened my eyes to the diverse avenues for advocacy and the power of networking. I met various professors who motivated me to look into my passions and purpose in agriculture. Each time, my passions circled back to cattle and advocacy. I never had a great interest in politics and tended to shy away from those discussions. However, reality hit me over time and I began to recognize how important it is to have people working in agricultural policy to keep farmers farming. I realized that even if you are not interested in politics, it still affects you, and it is crucial that we have farmers at the table helping to make decisions.
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently created a program, the Warren Leadership Program, dedicated to bridging the gap between students with an agricultural interest and public policy. Fortunately, I became a Warren Fellow and the program placed me with North Carolina Farm Bureau’s legislative staff. My goal throughout the experience was to learn about Farm Bureau’s role in shaping agricultural policy at the NC General Assembly. It was an eye-opening experience to see the dynamic of the General Assembly and to watch the process of legislators taking an idea and shaping it into law. I watched Jake Parker and Paul Sherman convey the needs of the members of Farm Bureau to legislators in order to protect the farmer’s livelihood. They continuously talk with legislative members, draft policy, correspond with other agricultural groups, and ensure that legislators understand the large economic contribution of the #1 industry, agriculture, to our state.
In addition to spending time at the General Assembly, Farm Bureau graciously provided me with opportunities to participate in tours, conferences, legislative luncheons, and other travel experiences to learn more about agriculture. During the three months of my internship, I accompanied different staff members to several events and learned about their roles in the organization. For example, I joined policy staff from North Carolina in Des Moines, Iowa at an economic and commodity conference to learn about the agricultural economy and discuss national issues with Farm Bureau representatives from across the country. Additionally, I participated in a beef cattle tour in the western and piedmont regions, rode with a district field representative, and accompanied staff to legislative events in other counties. Lastly, one of my highlights all summer was the chance to go to DC to speak with Congressional staff about agricultural issues and experience the environment on Capitol Hill. I have only scratched the surface of my experiences, but I can guarantee that I will not take for granted the lessons I have learned from each opportunity. (There is a full account of my summer experiences on my blog Downtown Farming.)
Everyone always ask me, what is your next step after this experience? I plan to graduate after one more semester at NC State and go back to help run my family’s cattle and marketing operations. With a decreasing number of young people going back to the farm, the agricultural industry needs educated and motivated individuals using advanced technology and practical methods to produce food for a growing population. I intend to utilize my experiences at Farm Bureau to have a better understanding of policy to remain involved in the discussion about agriculture and the needs of the industry. I will be an advocate for agriculture by educating my community about ag, being involved in county and state agricultural organizations, and working with young people and farmers in my community to promote agriculture.
I challenge young farmers to find their seat at the table and participate in the discussion about agriculture.
When I entered this internship, I knew that I would face challenges, because I did not know much about agricultural policy. To overcome those challenges, I asked questions, I listened, and I learn as much as I could from the various staff at Farm Bureau. Now, I challenge college students to take advantage of an opportunity when the door opens. The door could open to an internship, an organization or club, a degree, or something else. Don’t take those opportunities for granted; take a chance to walk through the opened door and learn something new. In addition, I challenge young farmers to find their seat at the table and participate in the discussion about agriculture. Agriculture continues to change and it is crucial that we as farmers are present to contribute to the conversation.