By Cyndie Shearing
Volunteers at every level across the country are celebrated during National Volunteer Week (April 17-23), and rightly so. They often work side-by-side with dedicated staffers who share their passion for a cause, a special interest or an industry. This article provides perspectives from several graduates of the American Farm Bureau’s Partners in Advocacy Leadership program with a passion for agriculture who work closely with state Farm Bureau member volunteers.
Describe your current staff role with your state Farm Bureau.
I currently serve as the assistant director of field services at the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. My main roles are to coordinate the programming for the state Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers & Ranchers Committees. Several of my state coordinator counterparts would agree when I say the most comprehensive way to describe our roles would be “other duties as assigned.”
I currently work for Utah Farm Bureau as a member of our Government Affairs team where I work on both state and national issues. I am also a regional manager and work with six county Farm Bureaus. Our state Legislature meets for 45 days every year beginning in late January. During that time, I practically live at our state capital. My job is to make sure Farm Bureau policy is considered and implemented and that ag has a voice in the legislative process.
Ana Kennedy Otto
I have a couple of staff roles with the Arizona Farm Bureau. My primary role is serving as a government relations manager with a focus on regulatory affairs. I also serve as the outreach manager for the Yuma County Farm Bureau.
What’s the most rewarding part of working with Farm Bureau volunteers?
The most rewarding part of working with Farm Bureau volunteers is helping them to realize their potential in leadership and see them receive recognition for their contributions both on and off the farm.
The most rewarding part of working at Farm Bureau is the friendships I have made, and being able to work with those friends to find solutions to the problems facing agriculture. I get to work for the best people and stay involved in the industry that I love. Farmers and ranchers are busy; they often don’t have time to attend every meeting or follow every bill that could affect them. It is rewarding to represent our good members and make sure their voices are heard while they are busy running their farms or ranches.
Ana Kennedy Otto
The most rewarding part about working with Farm Bureau volunteers is helping them resolve various questions and issues that they run into.
Why is it important for people in agriculture to give back through volunteering?
It is important for people in agriculture to give back through volunteering because time is in short supply for those who experience agriculture firsthand. Having people who are willing to give their time away from their farms and families to share the unique experience of agriculture has a profound impact, humanizing a way of life that people are becoming more removed from.
Agriculture is dependent on the contributions of people who volunteer. We need people to serve not only on our Farm Bureau boards, but in many other positions as well. Conservation districts, irrigation companies, commodity groups, outreach and education efforts and much more are run by people who receive little if any pay. Where would agriculture be without people willing to donate their time and energy for the benefit of all? No one person can do it all; everyone needs to help by doing a little bit.
Ana Kennedy Otto
Agriculture is extraordinarily diverse. Through volunteering, farmers and ranchers can help bridge the knowledge gap that exists with the general public and many others whose decisions impact agriculture. They also have the knowledge and insight that is critical to informing Farm Bureau staff regarding emerging issues, as well as how legislative and regulatory matters will impact their farm or ranch business.
What other insights about volunteering would you like to share?
I am deeply impacted by the Farm Bureau staff who shaped my volunteer leader experience. I hope that I can repay the debt in encouraging other leaders to pursue fulfilling their leadership development through Farm Bureau.
There is great satisfaction that comes from volunteering in your community and especially in the agriculture community. As I write this, I am sitting at my desk at the local volunteer fire department where I serve as the fire chief. Rarely is my volunteer service convenient, just the opposite, it is often difficult and challenging, but it is always rewarding. Not everyone is going to be a volunteer firefighter, but everyone can volunteer and do something to help make our industry and our communities better. The friendships I have developed through my volunteer service are invaluable; the reward is great.
Ana Kennedy Otto
I am very proud to come from family with a long history of involvement in Farm Bureau. My grandparents were active in the San Benito County (California) Farm Bureau. My father was active in Farm Bureau in both California and Arizona. Currently my brother serves as a county Farm Bureau president and second vice president of the Arizona Farm Bureau. I feel blessed to have had the experience to serve as a Farm Bureau volunteer and now work for the organization on behalf of Arizona’s farmers and ranchers.