By Stephanie Brase
When I was younger, and someone would ask me what I’d like to become, my reply was “I don’t know yet, –but I definitely don’t want to work in an office!” That was an attitude that I kept through the years. And, lo and behold, I ended up applying for an internship with NFU – in their national office in Washington, D.C. When I applied, I made sure not to mention my dislike for office work or my negative perception of politics. Now, after being an intern for almost two months, “working in an office” has become enjoyable. Working in the NFU office as the Communications intern, there were no “Devil Wears Prada” moments. Instead, there is a staff passionate about their work acting as a team to accomplish goals that we all believe in. During my two months, politics has become one of my top interests. Politics here have given me a clearer understanding of the meaning of the old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” There is a big difference between government classes in school and experiencing politics “live” in the capital of our nation. NFU opens a lot of doors by creating opportunities to meet important policymakers, take part in current issues and learn from a staff who will take time to give extensive answers to your questions.
The Farm Bill has been the most prominent issue during my time here. I also got to experience the preparations for the “Farm Bill Now!” rally and see how much planning and thought is necessary for such a rally to take place successfully and without complications. Along side of this, the preparations for NFU’s annual Fall Legislative Fly-In were in full action. The Fly-in and the “Farm Bill Now!” rally were two events that especially highlighted my internship.
The Fly-in enabled me to meet farmers and ranchers from across the US. There was a wide variety of people who made up the participants; members of all different ages, from different states, and specialized in different agricultural areas. It was interesting to meet the Farmers Union Presidents and staff from different states. In one day, I was able to meet Hawaiian farmers, beginning farmers, an oyster farmer, and the six students who make up the Farmers Union National Youth Advisory Council.
The NFU Fly-In also made me think more globally. It made me more aware of the lives of people in different parts of the country – and the world. It made me aware of the things that motivate different people, and of the things that play a huge role in one person’s life and are important to them. For example, the dairy farmer takes an interest in going to the World Dairy Expo, whereas an engineer will take interest in the World Congress on Engineering. Each person seems so dedicated to what they do, as if the world mainly revolves around it. The cotton growers’ world revolves around the cotton industry and the oyster farmers’ world around oyster production. But then there is that point where the worlds blend together.
The Farm Bill Now Coalition made this obvious when so many various groups with different specialties and priorities came together and united with a common goal. Members from these different groups came with signs and shouts to the “Farm Bill Now!” rally. Among them were our Farmers Union members for whom the rally was the climax of this year’s fall Fly-In. Here was something that everyone who calls themselves a farmer –and anyone who realizes they are a consumer—could rally for. And I wondered, would an American father working in a law office care for this? Would a college student writing his doctorate in biology care for this? Would a professional volleyball player care for this? I sure hope so.
In the past months, after the meetings I’ve been to, after my experience at the Fly-in and with the Farm Bill, a simple fact, which I was always aware of, I have now begun to understand more fully: Farmers are feeding the world. Every individual who buys something to eat and takes a bite to content their stomach has had this fulfillment of their human need made possible by farmers, from small gardeners to plantation owners, who worked the dirt and harvested the crops. Every person in this world has a need for food. This means there are global interconnections. The soybean production in South America has an impact on the U.S. The U.S. drought has an impact on Europe. Nutrition being a base necessity, farmers have an impact on the whole globe. This is something I didn’t take time to consider while working on my parents farm. While out feeding cattle on a hot day or driving the tractor up and down the fields or rising at 5am in the cold of December to milk the cows, who notices that their little world of farming is in some way having an effect on everyone else’s world?
It took me from cow barns in Minnesota to an office in D.C. for me to truly understand the global importance of agriculture. There is something almost paradox about working in an office in the busy city of Washington D.C., after having grown up doing manual labor out in the wide open countryside. But most of the NFU staff did just that. It’s a different way of life here and I have found interning here profitable, as the skills promoted in an office are very wide ranged. Getting acquainted with the office work, living in the beautiful capital of the United States, and lobbying on behalf of farmers across the country were experiences that I appreciate NFU has made possible. Looking back, these past two months, packed with so many happenings and new information, have been amazing –and absolutely crazy.