Attending the National Farmers Union women’s conference made me remember one of the top 3 reasons why I started farming: I didn’t like what I saw in our food system, but I only had opinions; I wanted to have a QUALIFIED voice on food/land/ag/farm policy. Experience that I could rely on. "Knowledge" with a capital K. So I began to farm.
I’d forgotten this while I’ve been in the throes of production, working harder than ever to make ends meet, living in poverty, and letting rural life in Stearns County influence my values a bit differently than it did 15 years ago. Listening to my community and neighbors, hearing the real stories and not just superficial examples, brings understanding, not divisiveness. It’s not about red or blue, it’s about conversations that help us hear what's important to one another. Seeing reality and having boots on the ground (literally) has changed my opinions - in multiple ways. I’ve learned new things about freedom and regulation, and I’ve learned new things about rights. And I’ve acquired new respect for people different from me - different in their values and worldview. By farming - by DOING - I’ve been forming that qualified opinion I wanted, and experience that will speak for me and other farmers for years to come whenever the opportunity serves us.
I’m asked to run for local office every election season, but I say no every year. I say no to every invitation to board positions. Because right now, I am busy serving in a different way - by putting food on the tables of my community. I still think our food system is messed up, but for now my priority is to "be the change I want to see in the world," and about survival, listening, and getting the lay of the land. Eventually, when I have something new to contribute that will have an impact on our food system, I will. (Thanks, Barb Heen, for that lesson.) At least now I have that qualified opinion I wanted so badly!
My new friends from the National Farmers Union Women's Conference inspire me - these women are so intelligent, hard-working and practical, and more than anything they lift each other up with their shared values in running good businesses and farms, rural organizing for freedom and democracy, and working hard in our lives, electoral politics, and land stewardship. When it comes to being leaders, we're reminded to ask ourselves: If it's not me, then who?
I'm grateful to the Minnesota Farmers Union for the scholarship that sent me on this week-long adventure in sunny California. My love for farmers and farming just grew even stronger.
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