Chatfield FFA members Abby Hopp, at left, and Jessica Fenske recently attended an “ag boot camp” where they were able to meet with legislators, representatives from the University of Minnesota and the ag commissioner, Dave Frederickson. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Chatfield FFA members Abby Hopp, at left, and Jessica Fenske recently attended an “ag boot camp” where they were able to meet with legislators, representatives from the University of Minnesota and the ag commissioner, Dave Frederickson. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Abby Hopp and Jessica Fenske don't need to be agged on - they've been to boot camp.

"We learned about ag policy at the Capitol," said Hopp, a sophomore Chatfield FFA member.

Her fellow sophomore FFA member, Fenske added, "We got to meet the people doing the work...legislators, representatives and Congress, and the ag commissioner, Dave Frederickson."

The pair attended the Minnesota FFA Ag Bootcamp in St. Paul on Monday and Tuesday, March 3 and 4, shaking hands with Minnesota's legislators - including Rep. Greg Davids and Sen. Jeremy Miller - and meeting Frederickson and University of Minnesota representatives Dr. Amy Smith and Joel Larson.

The two also spent the days attending workshops on ag policy and witnessing the State Legislature in action.

They were chosen for the experience after applying to be part of the conference, as only two members of each chapter across the state were allowed to attend. Their reactions to the two-day boot camp were based solely on the benefits they would reap from participating and the investment made in the students.

Hopp related, "We watched Senator Dan Sparks's meetings, and we went to a House representatives' meeting."

Fenske observed that in being introduced to the lawmakers and educators, they learned the proper etiquette of doing so. "We learned how to properly address and talk to the legislators," she added. "We had a big dinner with them - the representatives and senators came down and talked with quite a few people."

The FFA members were welcomed to forums and seminars, shuttled between the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the state legislators' building and the Capitol, keeping very busy in groups of four assigned to ag officials.

"It was very intense," Hopp stated as Fenske commented, "That's why it's got 'boot camp' in the name...we learned a lot in a short time and we didn't get to sleep in."

Hopp pointed out she liked hearing social media presenter Emily Zweber from the Ag Chat Foundation speak about "how Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogging can spread the word about ag, if you know what your audience is" and being able to see a press conference with the governor's secretary.

Fenske added she enjoyed hearing the speeches. "My favorite part was listening to everybody's speeches - people who are high up in ag, dealing with the politics," she elaborated. "Rod Hamilton grew up in a city and had a rough childhood, and he was sent to his uncle's farm to work there...eventually, that's how he got connections to agriculture."

Hopp cited she most enjoyed going to the Capitol and seeing all the different things going on at once. "I really liked listening to Dr. Amy Smith and Joel Larson on the statistics of ag graduates from the U of M," she added.

Fenske summed up what attending the boot camp taught her. "It kind of taught us that legislators might be high officials, but they do care about agriculture, that we shouldn't be nervous when we talk to them, that it's their job to deal with agriculture even if they weren't from a (rural area), and that most legislators didn't plan to get involved with ag, but they ended up being assigned to it and had to learn," she said. "The main things it taught us were communication skills and relationships affect where you get in life - that you really can't get back your first impression with somebody, so you have to make it count - and that it's not only about who you know, but about who knows you."

The bootcampers hope that another chance is available for Chatfield FFA members to participate in the event, even if they, specifically, aren't eligible to do so again. Both agreed that learning ag policy is great...and great fun.