Young farmers focus on honing advocacy skills

Issue Date: March 17, 2010
Christine Souza

Young farmers and ranchers from throughout California who gathered in Sonoma County last weekend were told to share their personal stories in order to be better advocates for agriculture.

"So many people today talk about corporate agriculture. They talk about factory farming and they try to define us. We can't let them do that," said California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger, who first became involved in Farm Bureau as a member of its Young Farmers and Ranchers program. "When you are going out to dinner or going anywhere, be sure and tell people who you are and what you do, because it is so important that you identify yourself as a producing farmer or rancher."

About 160 young men and women involved in the California Farm Bureau Federation YF&R program attended the group's 2010 Leadership Conference in Rohnert Park.

"An important part of Young Farmers and Ranchers is learning to be a good advocate," said CFBF YF&R Chair Maria Azevedo of Merced. "We tried to emphasize that to everyone during the conference through the tours, the breakout sessions and our featured speakers, and it has been very successful."

During the event, developed around the theme "Farming Beyond Your Field," attendees were told to strike up conversations in elevators, use social media Internet sites and talk to people in their local communities about who they are and what they do as farmers or ranchers.

Keynote speakers Troy and Stacy Hadrick of Advocates for Agriculture know first-hand the importance of telling their story. Whether at the grocery store in their local community in South Dakota or in a homemade YouTube video, the Hadricks said they advocate on behalf of agriculture one conversation at a time.

Santa Clara County Farm Bureau Director Pete Aiello of Uesugi Farms in Morgan Hill poses a question to a speaker during the Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference in Rohnert Park last weekend.

During their presentation entitled "Discovering Your Influential Power," Troy Hadrick explained that it is important for farmers and ranchers to help people understand "what we do, how we do it and why we do it, and how food gets onto their plate."

The Hadricks recommended that everyone develop a 30-second "elevator speech."

"When people meet somebody that is connected to raising their food, they are going to start asking you questions and you have to be prepared to start answering them," Stacy Hadrick said.

The Hadricks also pointed out a commonality between people in the nation who are socially and politically influential and many of the YF&R members in the room.

"There's a big common denominator about those people that are considered influential, and that is the fact that 75 percent of these folks attend at least three or more meetings a year, compared to almost 15 percent of the rest of the population," Troy Hadrick said. "Knowledge is power. When you attend one of those meetings, you now have information that those people who did not attend don't have and they will come to you looking for that information.

"When you go home from this meeting, what will friends and family ask you? 'What did you learn at the YF&R conference?' That is when you become that source of information. That is when you can start using your influence to talk about agriculture."

Past YF&R Chair Jeff Carlton of Santa Rosa said the Hadricks "did a fantastic job and their message really gets you motivated to be involved. It is very important for everybody to get their 30-second elevator speech ready like the Hadricks talked about, and tell people what we are all about and what we do. All of us have opportunities to share our story with those outside of agriculture."

For those wanting to take their advocacy role to the political arena by entering into public office, Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa and Mendocino County Supervisor Carre Brown, who are also farmers, took part in a session titled "Ready, Set, Represent."

"If you are ever planning on running for office, you need exposure. It is very important that you get involved," Chiesa said. "You are starting at a much younger age, you are much more educated and you are more worldly than I was at your age. People get involved either by being inspired or motivated by a cause, or are wrangled in by a friend."

Both Chiesa and Brown recommended that the young farmers who are interested in any sort of political office gain exposure by taking part in the Leadership Farm Bureau program or other opportunities such as committees or school boards they may find in their local communities.

"Politics is not a spectator sport, so when you do get involved you know you have to be fully involved; you can't sit on the sidelines," Brown said.

YF&R members were instructed on how to expand their advocacy education in other breakout sessions, including one from the Hadricks on "Flexing Your Influential Muscle," another called "10 Points to a Pretty Good Presentation" by comedian Damian Mason, and "I Have a Couple of Questions Please," a media-training session with the CFBF Communications/News Division.

On the final day of the conference, attendees heard from Richard Pombo, a former U.S. congressman and farmer from San Joaquin County. He told the young farmers that he was moved to get involved in politics to improve private property rights, and encouraged all of the YF&R members to be involved.

"I'm here to encourage you to have the same fortitude, to have the guts to step out the way your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did, to stand up and do everything you possibly can to make sure the next generation has those same opportunities," Pombo said. "That is what made this country what it is—that deep belief and desire to give the next generation a better life. That is why our country was founded and that is why we have millions of people who immigrate to this country from all over the world, in search for a better life that they didn't have. It is your turn now."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.