Written by Alex Noffsinger
Being a successful agricultural advocate means engaging a broad range of people from all parts of the country and from all different backgrounds of life. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned from my internship this summer at NASDA.
I did not grow up on a farm, and I was not a member of 4H or FFA. Although my mother and many of my uncles work in Michigan agri-business, I never envisioned myself wanting to work within the world of agricultural policymaking. I decided to study Social Relations and Policy at Michigan State University because I knew I was interested in public affairs, and learning about the policymaking process within a liberal arts setting was what I thought would prepare me best for a career in public affairs. It wasn’t until the summer between my sophomore and junior years that I fell in love with agricultural policy.
As a Demmer Scholar, I was placed with the Minority Staff of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. One of my first assignments was to research two titles of the farm bill that I wanted to do the most work with, and I chose conservation and forestry as I wanted to stay close to environmental issues (my minor at MSU is in Environmental Policy). However, from May until August of 2016, I contributed to the staff’s work on everything from specialty crops to commodity assistance and quickly took a great deal of interest in the broad spectrum of agricultural issues. It was this experience that convinced me to return to Washington D.C. this summer to work once again in federal agricultural policymaking.
Using my background as an example of an unengaged individual in agriculture is probably not the best considering I grew up with corn fields on two sides of my house and a mother in the seed business, but I hope it illustrates one of the long-term issues facing agriculture. As a greater percentage of the American population becomes concentrated in metro and urban areas and is no longer connected to the food supply chain in some manner, the disconnect between agriculture and the American public will only grow.
Unfortunately, not every agriculturally illiterate American will take it upon themselves to complete two agricultural policy internships in our nation’s capital, and this should not be the prerequisite for communicating the importance of production agriculture to the American people. At a time when Americans are watching Food Inc. on Netflix and an increasing number of Congressional districts are in metro and urban counties, the agricultural community needs to become stronger, smarter advocates if the policies we want to see in place are to be passed.