Raising awareness and opening new pathways of discussion on agriculture, food, and the environment –
By Patricia Beech –
Macy Staggs of Seaman and Linda Ayres-Louiso of West Union are among two of 24 Ohio farmers and agribusiness professionals who will visit Washington, DC later this month as members of the eighth class of the AgriPOWER Leadership Institute in Columbus.
“I’m very excited about this trip,” said Staggs, “We get to meet with Congress and tour Washington, in addition to learning about agriculture practices in different areas of the U.S.”
Louiso, who for a short time in 1987 worked for the USDA in the nation’s capital, says she is looking forward to the trip, “Working there before, I didn’t really have time to go sightseeing or visit the capitol where the lawmakers work, so I’m very interested in seeing how the process does work.”
During their year-long training Staggs and Louiso are learning how local, state, and federal public policies impact the farming and food industries.
“My eyes have been opened,” said Louiso, “I have certainly broadened my horizons by learning about the issues involving agriculture and water quality in Ohio and nationwide.”
Operating as a branch of the Ohio Farm Federation, the AgriPOWER Institute offers its elite training program to help Ag professionals develop leadership skills and gain an understanding of national and global issues relating to agriculture.
“Sustainable agriculture is an issue that should concern all of us,” says Louiso. “We all need food in order to survive, and we need to make sure that farmers are able to produce the food and protect the environment while they’re doing it.”
Staggs says most people never consider where their food comes from, they just trust that it will be there when they want it.
“People don’t think about the different types of agriculture and farming,” she says. “This training helps us to educate people and get them interested in the subject.”
The two women began their AgriPOWER training in January including classes in public speaking, media training, social networking, and communications.
“The instructors help us identify our strengths and build on them,” said Staggs. “I’m an extrovert, I don’t mind speaking to a room full of people and these classes have helped me develop the skills I need to be an effective communicator and an advocate for agriculture.”
Seven two-to-three day training sessions are held throughout the year, including the September session in Washington, D.C.
An additional training session is held in Georgia where participants learn about the differences and similarities in U.S. agriculture from state to state.
“AgriPOWER explores the different choices in food, agriculture and the environment and I think there needs to be a discussion about that – people who farm, we take this for granted, but those who don’t farm really don’t have an understanding of what goes into producing their food,” Louiso said. “I think for the next generation it’s important that we get the discussion going.”
According to the director of AgriPOWER, Melinda Witten, the Ohio Farm Bureau started the program in 2008 because it recognized a need for leaders who could be advocates for the food and agricultural industries.
“Over the years, AgriPOWER graduates have taken the training they received and applied it to their businesses, communities and the Ag industry,” said Witten. “They’ve really stood out with their leadership whether it’s at a township meeting or at a meeting with their member of Congress in Washington.”
Staggs works for the Ohio State University Extension in West Union as its Tech Wizard program coordinator. She helps on her family’s Angus cross cow-calf, grain and hay operation and its feed mill in Jackson. She is on the Adams County Farm Bureau board and is helping start a local Young Agricultural Professionals chapter
Louiso has worked 40 years for the USDA Rural Development and currently holds the position of Mortgage Loan Underwriter for single family housing loans. She and her husband operate a 1,000 acre farm on Unity Road where they grow grains and maintain 150 head of registered Angus cattle.