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Commentary: Advocacy program taught me to make a difference

Issue Date: February 16, 2022
By Jenny Holtermann
Jenny Holtermann
Participants in the 2019-21 American Farm Bureau Federation Partners in Advocacy Leadership program gather in Washington, D.C.
Photo/American Farm Bureau Federation

"Great leaders don't set out to be a leader; they set out to make a difference," says famed life coach and motivational speaker Lisa Haisha. Indeed, the job of a leader is to grow more leaders. If you help others grow, you will find yourself in a growth experience as well.

What do you want your difference to be? Maybe you imagine your difference as being the next great thing. You may see it in the hope for the future or merely the smile you see in someone else's eyes. You may strive to make a difference purely from longing for fulfillment or the satisfaction of watching your hard work pay off—or you may want to build a legacy. Everyone has a "why" that drives them to do more and pushes them forward.

If this is you, and if you are someone who wants to a make a difference in agriculture, here are some questions to consider:

Do you have a passion for advocating? Are you ready to make an impact in your industry? Are you actively engaging with your elected officials? Do you currently hold a leadership position within Farm Bureau, Young Farmers & Ranchers or another agricultural organization? Do you engage in public outreach efforts?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then maybe you are an agricultural leader ready to accelerate your engagement abilities and solidify your role as a powerful advocate for agriculture.

In 2019, I took that step forward through the American Farm Bureau Federation's Partners in Advocacy Leadership program, or PAL. I embarked on a personal development journey along with nine other farmers and ranchers from across the nation. The two-year program offers a high-level, executive-style course that provides participants with stimulating opportunities to represent agriculture in the media, public speaking and other means.

In four modules, the PAL program explores your core competencies in self-awareness, industry knowledge, message development and delivery, policy engagement, and interpersonal skills. The first module takes you to New York City to study consumer behavior and habits, as you also embark on a journey of self-awareness and enhancing communication.

Walking into a room with nine other farmers from across the nation and four coaches can be intimidating. Once you let your guard down, you build relationships with like-minded individuals and open yourself up for constructive criticism.

There is also something about being in New York City itself that helps you explore and recognize your own personal strengths and communication styles.

The second module brought our class to Washington, D.C. This policy engagement trip is not the normal legislative and agenda-pushing visit. We did research on the policy process and immerged ourselves into regulatory issues. We also focused on building relationships with our elected officials and their teams.

You never know where those relationships will take you or whom they may invite you to meet months later. You might just find yourself speaking in front of the President of the United States of America, sharing your farm story. The relationship-building aspect of policy engagement is imperative to success and long-term strength for your leadership. I was hesitant about this but found that it works.

The third module focuses on interpersonal skills and building relationships with influential stakeholders. PAL emphasizes techniques to find common ground with stakeholders of differing viewpoints. We may not always see eye to eye, but it is sometimes our differences that unite us to make our voices impactful.

There is also a fourth module where the class typically travels internationally to focus on an agricultural issue. Our class studied trade and sustainability during the two-year program. We dove into agricultural issues and how they impacted our farm or ranch. Focusing on our storytelling and creative messages allowed our class to explore alternatives throughout the program.

With a variety of learning platforms, each individual finds what delivers their message strongest. By learning to produce videos, engage with policymakers, perform media interviews, participate on policy panels, testify in legislative settings and build relationships, we all have a specific and uniquely impactful experience.

At the end of the program, you grow strength in your message, your delivery and your voice.

In 20 to 30 years from now, if you look back on your successes, will there be a long list of resume-building awards and positions? Or will you have a team of impactful people you met along the way that molded you as a leader? Perhaps it will be both.

Are you brave enough to take the leap to invest in your own leadership growth? You may be surprised at the many ways you will grow. And you may even make some new friends along the way.

People in good standing with their county Farm Bureau may apply for the PAL program before Feb. 28. Details are available at pal-partners-in-advocacy-leadership/.

(Jenny Holtermann is an almond grower in Kern County and a graduate of the American Farm Bureau Federation Partners in Advocacy Leadership program. 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.

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