Commentary: Program helps farmers hone their advocacy skills


Issue Date: October 9, 2019
By Jenny Holtermann
Jenny Holtermann
Participants in the American Farm Bureau Partners in Advocacy Leadership program pause for a photo during their tour in New York.

Talking with shoppers at a Whole Foods store in New York City, I quickly realized one of the benefits of participating in the American Farm Bureau Partners in Advocacy Leadership program.

PAL is a high level, executive-type personal development journey. It brings together 10 farmers and ranchers from across the country and takes them through unique training modules. The program is designed to help agricultural leaders accelerate their abilities and roles as advocates for agriculture.

After completing the program, graduates have the confidence and knowledge base to represent their fellow farmers and ranchers before the media, in speaking panels or policy arenas. I am privileged to have been chosen to represent California for the next two years as part of PAL Class X.

I am a fourth-generation farmer. Today, my husband and I farm almonds in Kern County alongside his father and brother-in-law. I am also a blogger, freelance writer and social media advocate. In Farm Bureau, I serve on the California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors and as second vice president of the Kern County Farm Bureau.

My PAL journey began in July with a trip to New York City. Each class is assigned an issue of importance to study for the duration of the class, and ours is trade. With the help of specialized coaches, we were able to strengthen our advocacy efforts through intense media training. Through discussions and presentations about trade, we were tested on our knowledge and ability to think under pressure.

The challenge was always to stay engaged and on topic, even when pushed to the edge. We earned firsthand experience as we met with Wall Street Journal reporters and were questioned on our positions on tariffs and the trade war.

The PAL training also tests your emotional intelligence and personal strengths, through a series of strength-builder tests that help to analyze why and how we make decisions in our daily lives. These psychological analyses also show how you portray yourself to people of the opposite political spectrum.

These tools are great assets to building relationships with coworkers, leadership colleagues and also with media and political officials.

We had the chance to study consumer behavior with our boots on the ground at farmers markets, grocery stores and the streets of New York City, where we had the opportunity to listen and share our lifestyle experiences with others.

It was humbling to stand in the bulk-foods section of Whole Foods and talk to shoppers as they purchased nuts. I will never forget the dad who shared with me how his daughter prefers a handful of almonds over cookies every snack time—and to watch his daughter as she looked at me as if I was a celebrity when I told her I was a farmer.

I would have never thought that shoppers in New York City would be so open to talk to me about why they purchased almonds, and how willing they were to tell me themselves all about the health benefits of almonds. It was reassuring to hear firsthand how shoppers loved farmers, but at the same time how they had a few questions about farming and agricultural practices.

Not only were my advocacy skills tested during the first module, but the coaches pushed us all to step outside our comfort zones. Following each module, we return home with pages of homework assignments and lists of research topics to complete before we meet again a few months later. Between books, projects, media engagement and presentations, we are kept involved through more learning opportunities and chances to utilize our new skill sets in our real lives.

My journey in PAL has only just begun. This month, I will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to study policy and relationship building. Next spring, our module will focus on stakeholder engagement. The class will conclude with an international trip to China in the fall of 2020, to study trade firsthand. Commencement will be in the spring of 2021 at the American Farm Bureau Fusion Conference.

I am excited for the experiences to come and grateful for the opportunity to represent California Farm Bureau.

(Jenny Holtermann farms in Wasco and represents Kern and Kings counties on the CFBF Board of Directors.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.