VALOR fellows: Communicating and advocating for the industry

VALOR fellowsThe second class of fellows selected to participate in the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results program fellowship have just completed the fourth of twelve seminars. The third and fourth seminars, held in the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond respectively, focused on communication, legislative advocacy, and policy development.

In January, VALOR fellows traveled to the “Valley” where they had the opportunity to interface with producers and agribusinesses who are capitalizing on opportunities in Virginia’s diverse agricultural economy. The focus of the seminar was communication and one activity designed to help participants better tell the story of agriculture was media training and mock interviews with Amy Roscher, host of Virginia Farming on WPVT in Harrisonburg.

Fellow Tim Durham said, “Our recent training at WVPT was especially informative. And while it’s often framed as giving the proper ‘spin’ on an issue, it’s more nuanced than that – it’s simply telling your story as a farmer. And as a farmer, you have eminent credibility.”

In addition, VALOR Class II had the opportunity to interface with VALOR Class I during the January seminar. In his reflection blog, Fellow Adam Shiflett wrote, “I think this program Seminar was more about communication in our industry than any of us thought. We all need to make sure that we are communicating what we learn as VALOR fellows on to other people in our agriculture businesses and companies, and when we get the chance, to the next VALOR class. I think we forget that sometimes and it is very important to pass on what we are learning so more people can benefit.”

This point was reinforced with an appreciative interview session with established industry leaders, in which attendees shared personal stories and testimony about legacy leadership.

In February, VALOR fellows visited Richmond to further develop their skills related to media interviews, better understand lobbying, and visit with policy and decision makers.  Virginia Farm Bureau staff members provided the training on media interviews and truth in lobbying. The group also met with First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore, along with several of their deputies and aides. The discussion focused on Virginia’s “new economy” and how agriculture provides the backbone for future economic growth and prosperity in the Commonwealth.

Class members also attended a Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee meeting where the group was recognized by Chairman Emmet Hanger. The VALOR fellows also attended a general session of the House of Delegates where they were recognized by Delegate Robert “Bobby” Orrock. During a recess, Delegate Orrock spoke to the group about the power of local politics and dire need for people in the agricultural industry to communicate the importance of agriculture to people outside of the industry. This is one of the main objectives of the VALOR program. He noted that years ago many Virginia politicians were farm owners, but today most delegates are one or two generations removed from the farm.

Fellows also scheduled office visits with their general assembly members and introduced themselves as a resource for agricultural issues and a member of the VALOR program. Later in the day, the class enjoyed a tour of the Virginia Capitol Building and heard about the early influences of agriculture in government. “It is important for our class members to understand the public policy issues at the state level that can have an impact on agriculture,” said VALOR Director Megan Seibel. “This trip offers them an opportunity to interact with people directly involved in the state policy process.”

VALOR Seminar V is scheduled for May 11-15, 2015 in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. Class members will experience urban agriculture and learn about national agricultural policy.

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