It is a Wisconsin Farm Bureau tradition for each WFBF Leadership Institute class to take a photo on the steps of the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. What did they do to get there? Before these Farm Bureau leaders pose for their photo, they take several steps in leadership and personal development.
The WFBF Leadership Institute gives participants the skills and confidence necessary to lead the future of farming and agriculture in their county Farm Bureaus, local communities and beyond. The program consists of five, multi-day sessions that provide hands-on learning on agricultural issues, leadership development and speaking skills, interaction with Farm Bureau staff and government leaders at the state and national levels and networking with other participants.
Class XIV’s capstone event was traveling with the WFBF Board of Directors to Washington, D.C., in June 2022.
How can you have this experience? Just follow the same steps they did.
STEP ONE: Participate in the WFBF Leadership Institute
The WFBF Leadership Institute is a year-long leadership development program that provides personal growth and leadership training to develop the next generation of Farm Bureau leaders. These leaders participate in several in-person and virtual training sessions throughout the year.
“The Institute is a great opportunity to build leadership skills, as well as a great networking opportunity to build more connections,” shared Green Lake County Farm Bureau member Chad Bruss. “It was a terrific group of people determined to become better leaders in their communities.”
Participants in WFBF Leadership Institute Class XIV included Paige Blair, Brooklyn; Chad Bruss, Green Lake; Heather Erdman, Augusta; Robert Fox, Kaukauna; Logan Frei, Janesville; Rachel Harmann, Algoma; Michael Luebke, Maribel; Shawn Monien, Beaver Dam; Kat Nissen, Rock Springs; Sam Olson, Chetek; Charisse Orth, Fennimore; Nichole Rabitz, Crivitz; Andrea Rippley, Whitehall; and Tess Zettle, Juda.
This year’s class was a hybrid learning experience with virtual and in-person sessions. During the training sessions, participants focused on personal development, team building, advocacy training, policy development and agriculture issues.
STEP TWO: Prepare for Congressional Visits in Washington, D.C.
Following the completion of the advocacy training portion of the Leadership Institute, participants put their new skills to the test in the nation’s Capital. Before visiting with their representatives, participants visited the American Farm Bureau Federation office to hear from economists and lobbyists about trade, market outlooks and the next farm bill. These discussions helped prepare participants for the Capitol Hill visits the following day.
The WFBF Leadership Institute class visited the offices of the United States Trade Representative to learn about Wisconsin’s impact on global trade. Representatives at USTR offered insights into the demands in different regions of the world and the complexities of trade agreements.
The group also met U.K. Foreign Agricultural Trade Advisor Greggor Cato who updated participants on Brexit and trade between the U.S. and U.K. The U.K. is a net importer of goods. AFBF and WFBF support an agreement that increases agricultural trade in the region. Cato shared insights into agriculture in Great Britain and shared his love for Wisconsin cheese with the group.
Gathering this background information from AFBF, USTR and the U.K. Agriculture Trade Advisor gave institute participants helpful perspectives as they prepared for the next step in their leadership journey.
STEP THREE: Advocate for Agriculture on Capitol Hill
On June 8, Institute participants advocated for their local communities and state while meeting with Wisconsin’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. The issues discussed were dairy labeling legislation and the harmful impacts of mandatory compliance with the Security and Exchange Commission’s emission rules. Members thanked the federal delegation for the work to protect mink farming and delist wolves in Wisconsin.
These visits opened the door to farm bill discussions as program discussions continue. Participants shared a high-level overview of their farm bill priorities, including issues within dairy to improve price transparency and better farm gate prices. These preliminary conversations will eventually lead to follow-up discussions as WFBF continues to develop farm bill priorities.
“Participating in the Leadership Institute has given me the opportunity to expand my personal and professional abilities,” said Rock County Farm Bureau member Logan Frei. “It has opened doors like this opportunity to come to D.C. to speak with legislators on agriculture issues and build my confidence in continuing to be an advocate for agriculture.” Each participant had a chance to share personal stories and experiences with their representatives. Farm Bureau policy starts with the members, and these legislative visits put grassroots in action to advocate for agriculture.
STEP FOUR: Celebrate Accomplishments and Bring Skills Back Home
After a day of meetings with elected officials, institute participants relaxed and enjoyed a night tour of Washington, D.C. It was a special experience to see the beautiful monuments illuminated against the night sky.
The trip concluded with a visit to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. The property transported the group back in time. Washington was a farmer, and the institute class got to experience a taste of what agriculture was like in the 1700s.
“Being part of the WFBF Leadership Institute has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. Not only have I had the chance to meet some incredible people, but also work on my professional skills in my county and at the state level,” said Green County Farm Bureau member Tess Zettle.
Members of the WFBF Leadership Institute Class XIV left D.C. prepared to strengthen their county Farm Bureaus. Each of these leaders has outstanding potential to make a positive impact on Wisconsin Farm Bureau. Every step along the way made each participant a stronger leader.
Are You Ready to Take Your First Step?
Are you interested in taking the steps to become an emerging Farm Bureau leader? Learn more and apply at bit.ly/institute2023.
Story by Rachel Gerbitz and appeared in the August | September 2022 Rural Route.