WASHINGTON — It isn’t every day that undergrads get an experiential education in national agricultural policymaking like the one three Cougs got in March, as part of a visit to Washington D.C. during National Ag Week, March 13-16, 2016.
Jacklyn Bennett, Brennan Hyden, and Tyler Sabin traveled to the nation’s capitol to meet with agriculture policy leaders and learn about the national legislative process. The three were among 40 students selected from across the country to attend the Agriculture Future of America Policy Institute.
“I wanted to diversify my knowledge and experience in agriculture, and policy is important in all aspects of agriculture,” said Hyden, a major in agricultural biotechnology, whose family owns a small sheep farm 40 miles north of Spokane.
A jam-packed schedule kept the students busy during their spring break, preparing for meetings on Capitol Hill, meeting with legislative staff members, touring USDA offices, attending panel discussions and seeing some of the nation’s most iconic memorials and monuments.
“The people we met with stressed what a great time it is to be involved in ag—there’s so much variety in the field now,” said Sabin, an organic ag systems major. “With innovations in biotechnology and crop production, and with population growth there’s really a need for more people with education in agriculture.”
The trio had a special opportunity to meet directly with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) at her Capitol Hill office.
DelBene shared her thoughts about agriculture and groundwater pollution, the importance of representing different stakeholders, making sure farmers get treated fairly, and that waste is handled correctly. She also wanted to know why the students were interested in agriculture, what they were learning and what their majors were.
They also met with legislative aides for Congressman Rick Larsen and Senator Patty Murray.
“We could have talked to [Senator Murray’s aide] forever,” Bennett said. “He was really interested in our majors and where we thought agriculture was headed.”
During the weeklong experience, the students were exposed to a range of topics and policy issues from labeling foods that are genetically modified to growing food in space.
“The space age talk was really cool,” Sabin said. “The USDA is going to begin working on producing food in space for astronauts. It adds a whole other layer of complexity to agriculture.”
Bennett said her favorite part, outside of the hill visits, was touring the headquarters of the USDA and meeting Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse. He spoke to the visiting students about being at the forefront of an ever-changing industry.
“Agriculture is changing a lot and it’s really important to stay up to date on new developments,” said Bennett, who is double majoring in agricultural education and strategic communications. “It’s also important to talk to consumers and educate the public about how food is grown, that it’s safe, humane and ecological. We need to be transparent with consumers about how we produce food, to let them know we have the best intentions for people, animals and the environment.”
Each year Agriculture Future of America, whose mission is to prepare college students for careers in the food and agriculture industry, chooses outstanding college students from the U.S. to participate in leadership training and National Ag Day activities on Capitol Hill.
National Ag Day is organized by the Agriculture Council of America, a nonprofit organization composed of leaders in the agricultural, food and fiber community who are dedicated to increasing the public’s awareness of agriculture’s role in modern society.