By Bailey Corwine @ByBaileyCorwine
Growing up on a small cattle and row crop operation in eastern Kansas, the turning of the calendar page to August meant many things: back-to-school shopping, the county fair, cooler morning air while doing chores and trying to get the last of the alfalfa hay baled.
But for members of Congress and their staff, August means one thing: recess. Each year, both the House of Representatives and the Senate gavel the session out for most of the month of August and the first part of September so that elected officials can return home to the places they represent. Most representatives use the break to travel around their districts, meeting with as many constituents as possible. They may visit county fairs, host town halls or keep open hours in their in-district offices.
The August recess presents an excellent opportunity for telling agriculture’s story, but farmers and ranchers may wonder, “How do I make the best use of time with my elected official?” I started my career working for an elected official and offer the tips below for making the most of the August recess.
- Inquire about the member’s schedule. Many officials post travel plans to social media pages, but you can also contact offices directly to find out when your member of Congress will be in your area. Visit senate.gov or house.gov to view the contact information for Washington, D.C., offices and in-district offices.
- Invite him or her to visit your farm or ranch so you can show firsthand the good work you are doing to feed, fuel and clothe the world. Personal connections are one of the most valuable ways to advocate for agriculture.
- Have a plan for what you will discuss during your meeting and how you will tell your story. Select one or two important issues you want to focus on and describe how they impact you directly. If there is legislation currently in Congress related to the issue, mention it to your elected official and explain your support or opposition. AFBF’s priority issues for the August recess include expanding broadband access in rural America and protecting the stepped-up basis provision in the tax code.
- After your meeting or farm tour, connect with your member of Congress’ staff on LinkedIn. Staffers receive dozens of business cards from constituents. While I always tried to keep the cards I received neatly organized, there were more than a few that were forgotten in a blazer pocket, had a cup of coffee spilled on them, or were accidentally dropped on the ground as I shuffled the senator in and out of meetings. LinkedIn is like a digital business card, allowing staffers to have a means of contacting you in the future without having to keep track of a physical piece of paper. Should they ever need a constituent’s perspective on an agricultural issue, they’ll have your LinkedIn profile handy.
- Send a hand-written thank you note to the staffer you interacted with the most, including a specific detail about your conversation. When I worked in the state Senate, I kept every thank you card that was sent to me, displaying them proudly on a bookshelf in my office. Whenever I looked at the bookshelf, I was reminded of the constituent meetings I had been a part of and the stories of the folks who attended them.
While August may be a busy time on the farm or ranch, it’s important to remember to tell your agriculture story. Farmers and ranchers depend on elected officials to represent their interests in Washington while raising the nation’s food, fuel and fiber, but they cannot do that if they do not know what is happening in their home state or district.
If you are not able to meet with your elected officials in person, try connecting on social media, giving their office a call or writing an old-fashioned letter. Although the August recess was designed for connecting senators and representatives with their constituents, there is never a bad time to reach out to your elected officials about the issues that are important to you.
Bailey Corwine is media relations specialist at the American Farm Bureau Federation.