Just when you think you have “agvocacy” figured out, you go on a trip to Sacramento and your mind is blown.
During my last quarter here at Cal Poly, I have been lucky enough to take an agricultural public policy class. All quarter, movers and shakers in California Agriculture have come into our class and hashed out the issues affecting our industry. Over the past eight weeks, my classmates and my knowledge on labor, immigration, air quality, invasive pasts and communicating the agricultural message has grown exponentially. For two hours twice a week, I got to sit down and learn about the industry I love. It has been fantastic.
The capstone to the class was a trip to Sacramento. The trip was organized by Cal Poly alum, George Soares, whose law firm, Kahn, Soares and Conway, represents the majority of the California agriculture industry. There is no better workhorse for agriculture than Mr. Soares. Mr. Soares is proactive in educating people on agriculture issues and making sure that agriculture is always fairly represented. Simply getting to spend time with Mr. Soares is an inspiration.
From Sunday night to Tuesday morning, we visited with lobbyists, legislators, the head of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and many more important people. I feel so lucky that these important people took time out of their very busy days to speak with us, all with the belief that we too would be working for the agriculture industry very soon.
Of course, we had to prove that we had been absorbing the information all quarter. Monday night we visited the California Farm Bureau Federation, where we gave group presentations on issues affecting California agriculture to Cal Poly alumni and more than a few parents of myself and my classmates (I got to see my parents for the first time since March! It was great!). My group was charged with educating the group on issues in the California dairy and poultry industries. We approached the issue from a values standpoint- we explained both the scientific and values reasons behind decisions made every day in animal agriculture. If we can convince the public that we all have the same values when it comes to animal welfare, the public will respect the practices in place in the animal agriculture industry (I have a feeling I will be writing an entire blog on this topic this weekend :)).
During our last meeting today, I began to realize that it is possible to make a difference for agriculture on a public policy level. So often we only hear about the losses agriculture experiences, but in reality, people are working hard everyday to preserve agriculture in many more ways than we realize. It’s true that the majority of votes in the State Senate and House of Representatives come from urban centers who don’t care about agriculture and don’t understand its many facets. But people are working everyday to educate them, and strong relationships are being formed.
Mr. Soares is a great example of a person who is reaching out to the urban decision makers and making a difference. I’m not completely sure how the relationship began, but somehow Mr. Soares formed a strong relationship with Gil Cedillo, the Assemblymember from the 45th District, or downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Cedillo deals with education, gangs, drugs and violence in his district. Mr. Soares reached out to Mr. Cedillo and gained his support on a water bond that was begin put together. Later, Mr. Soares brought Mr. Cedillo out to the Soares Dairy in Hanford, where Mr. Cedillo was able to speak with workers, watch daily operations and drive a corn chopper. Because of Mr. Soares’ effort to make a difference, agriculture gained an ally in Gil Sedillo.
If we work hard enough, we can make a difference. It is possible to affect change for agriculture on a public policy issue, though it doesn’t always seem that way. But if we go beyond the law offices and beyond the Senate floor and get decision makers into the heart of agriculture, we can gain allies and protect agriculture.