Chatfield High School graduate and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities junior Katie Winslow, daughter of Scott and Jean Winslow, recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where she and other members of the Minnesota Farm Bureau spoke with legislators in support of a new farm bill and other agricultural issues.
Chatfield High School graduate and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities junior Katie Winslow, daughter of Scott and Jean Winslow, recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where she and other members of the Minnesota Farm Bureau spoke with legislators in support of a new farm bill and other agricultural issues.
With the recent federal government shutdown and debt ceiling problems grabbing much of the media's attention, several issues that had generated legislative concern in September have fallen by the wayside. Among those was the proposed 2013 Farm Bill, which was facing a difficult road to passage even before the government shutdown. The Senate had passed its version of the bill in September, but the House still had not made a decision up until the government shutdown.

The bill would have made changes to a 2008 Farm Bill which would have expired last year had Congress not extended it to give themselves more time to prepare a new bill. Debate over the bill ranged over topics such as food stamps programs, farmer subsidies and more. Once the government closed on Oct. 1, the current farm bill expired as well.

When it still appeared the government might prevent a shutdown and the farm bill may have a chance, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) members visited Washington, D.C., from Sept. 11 to 14, in the hopes of rallying votes for a farm bill and other agriculture-related legislative action.

MFBF Young Farmer and Rancher (YF&R) member Katie Winslow, daughter of Scott and Jean Winslow of Fountain, was able to participate in the lobbying efforts and shared her experience of the week amid the turbulent political climate.

Winslow, who is a junior studying agriculture education at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, had won the opportunity for the trip by being a semi-finalist in the YF&R discussion meet this past January.

The choice to go to D.C. with the MFBF was an obvious one for Winslow. As a member of a six-generation family farm, her agriculture background had always been something she loved to share with others. She started teaching farm safety when she was 9 years old, became very involved with 4-H, and joined YF&R in college.

Winslow recalled the moment in middle school when she was told her passion for promoting agriculture could be a career.

"My hobby was telling people my story and promoting it," she said. "When I realized I could do that in college and in a career, it led me to become more involved."

Her current track at the U of MN will see her obtain a teaching license in agriculture education, but she said her interests lie in consumer engagement and promotion. She wants to connect farmers with the consumers and lend her voice as a positive one for agriculture.

Winslow gained valuable experience and insight into what her future could be like when she became the 2012 Minnesota Pork Ambassador. "I was able to talk about what my family does on our farm," she said.

Winslow listed things she learned from the experience: she worked as an intern on the National Pork Board, visited schools, spoke with producers and consumers at farmers' markets and more. Plus, Winslow did it all as a freshman in college. "It was one of the best years," she remarked.

It seemed only natural that she make the trip to D.C. with 35 other representatives from the MFBF. A large portion of the group was made up of YF&R members, which represents the age demographic of 18 to 35 years old. Despite the serious nature of the trip, Winslow said she couldn't help but have fun as well.

"Most of us know each other and we have become friends. They know where you are coming from," she explained.

Upon reaching its destination, the group met with staff from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and went over the different issues the lobby felt were most important: the farm bill, ag labor reform and waterway transportation improvements.

"They helped us go through the talking points to make sure we were prepared and not going in blind," Winslow added.

The main group was split up in smaller sections, which then visited all 10 offices of the Minnesota delegation. Winslow and her group spoke with House representatives Tim Walz and Erik Paulsen and senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. In each office, the group members shared their stories and then answered questions from the congressmen.

Winslow said she recognized the importance of not just presenting facts and figures, but also putting faces and families to stories.

The MFBF went to D.C. expressing its desire to have a five-year farm bill with adequate crop insurance. According to Winslow, ag labor reform discussions centered on ensuring legal, reliable sources for farm labor. Waterway transportation discussions included a plea for fixing locks and dams.

Though her main objective was to promote the MFBF's agenda, Winslow shared, "I got to tell the story of Katie as well. A huge part of connecting with consumers is making it real."

While the MFBF was in Washington, D.C., the Senate passed its version of a five-year farm bill. The lobbyists' efforts became more focused on the House.

Winslow admitted she became frustrated with the "politics" behind everything, but pointed out that they couldn't turn their backs on their representatives. "We thanked them for the work they had done," she stated.

The trip also included attending American Farm Bureau speeches, taking in the monuments and some attended the U.S. Department of Agriculture lock-up.

When she returned home, Winslow realized the work she did in D.C. would continue. "Our work is never done, whether on the farm or in D.C." she explained. "You always need to have a voice present."

Winslow said the experience helped her become more aware of what was going on in D.C. and has already noticed it helped her in the classroom and in her interaction with classmates.

"I have classes with people who don't understand agriculture," she said, noting how much of an opportunity it is to provide another viewpoint that is not always considered. Winslow has been active in promoting her personal agriculture message at the university.

She is a member of the Agriculture Education Club that makes classroom visits and holds an Ag Awareness Day for students and staff. "It shows them that they are a part of agriculture," she stated.

Winslow also reaches out to young kids; she is "pen pals" with a fourth grade class in Worthington Elementary School and will visit them near the end of the school year to talk about her experiences with agriculture.

Winslow is also on the College of Food and Nutritional Sciences student board and in the Beta of Clovia 4-H-based sorority.

"I wouldn't change it for the world. I love what I'm doing," Winslow said about her background. "I'm extremely grateful I grew up on a farm."

Her message, she hopes, will get more people in her generation educated about agriculture. She also hopes those who have a background in agriculture and don't promote it will begin to do so.

"Maybe they won't be the people who go to D.C., but they can get involved on a personal level," Winslow concluded.

They can do so, Winslow explained, by learning more about the issues and legislative decisions that impact their lifestyle.

The state of the farm bill and the federal government is stagnant, but the issues are still there and will be there in the future. These are problems, but they are problems that Winslow is passionate about solving and helping others feel the same way.