How many agriculturists does it take to change a lightbulb?

by Katie Navarra

Today, maybe more than ever before in our country’s recent history, our supply chain is being tested. Agriculture advocates need to think about all the perspectives that need to be considered to ensure a bright future for American agriculture and all the people it represents.

In recognition of National Ag Day, the National FFA sponsored a series of webinars focused on effective advocacy. Leadership coach and speaker Jason Wetzler led the session “How many agriculturists does it take to change a lightbulb?”

“When we’re advocating, what we’re really talking about is the people in agriculture,” he said. “When we’re telling our stories, we’re creating connections with people.”

Effective advocacy begins with recognizing the sheer number of people it takes to raise a product, get it to a processing plant, package and ship it to the market and onto a customer’s table. Wetzler used a personal experience as a worker in a blueberry packing plant in Ohio. Once the jars were labeled, he was tasked with moving boxes of packed blueberries onto pallets that were loaded on a truck.

Years later he traveled thousands of miles from home to Japan. A family welcomed him into their home and a jar of blueberries bearing the same label applied by the plant where he once worked appeared on the table.

“I got randomly paired with a student and went to their family’s house,” he said. “They had happened to buy the same jar of blueberries that I canned back in the factory in Dayton, Oregon. It blew my mind that those blueberries were sitting in front of me in Japan. What are the chances of that happening?”

That’s when Wetzler said he realized the vastness of the agriculture supply chain and thought about what it takes to research and develop a product and move it through the value chain all the way to the end user.

“It was the first time that I had witnessed two aspects of the value chain sitting at the table at the same time,” he said.

Understanding this bigger picture is important for effective advocacy. There are conversations taking place around the country between advocates and elected officials. Those advocates who end up with a seat at the table have a responsibility to understand that their efforts impact every point in the entire supply chain.

“When we don’t intentionally include everyone, we are unintentionally excluding someone,” he said.

There are only a certain number of people who are going to meet with decision makers. It’s imperative those people notice who is missing and seek out ways to learn how an issue is going to impact that person in the agriculture chain.

“Sometimes we can get overwhelmed with the amount of differences of opinion in our country, and that’s fair because there’s a wide variety of people with backgrounds and perspectives and thoughts and they’re all valuable as a leader,” he said. “But as a leader, remember that you are not the person at the head of the table – you are the person who’s pulling up a chair for someone else.”

Reaching out for perspectives not yet considered increases advocacy efforts exponentially. Combing inclusivity with storytelling techniques make compelling cases to elected officials so that hopefully they’ll act on the issues being presented.

To learn more about including all stakeholders in advocacy efforts, watch the full webinar at vimeo.com/400558455.

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