As one of the top four contestants in the American Farm Bureau Collegiate Discussion Meet, Katie Winslow of Fountain received $1,250 in scholarships.
As one of the top four contestants in the American Farm Bureau Collegiate Discussion Meet, Katie Winslow of Fountain received $1,250 in scholarships.
Katie Winslow of Fountain recently traveled to Virginia Beach, Va., to participate in a collegiate discussion meet hosted by the American Farm Bureau. Winslow first won the Minnesota Farm Bureau meet in November, securing her trip to the national competition earlier this month.

Winslow is the daughter of Scott and Jean Winslow of Fountain, a Chatfield graduate and current student at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.

She explained that she competed with 52 other collegiate Farm Bureau members in the national contest during the week of Feb. 7 through 11.

Winslow was interested in participating in the Minnesota Farm Bureau Discussion Meet, a debate contest involving current issues facing agriculture, even when she was a student at Chatfield. It has three levels of competition - high school, collegiate and young farmers and ranchers. Winslow was just as pleased to have had the opportunity to attend the Minnesota discussion meet as a college student who then got to participate at the national level in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference.

"I was never able to participate in the high school competition, but knew that it was something that I wanted to do," Winslow said. "I participated in my first discussion meet in my second year of college."

Winslow spent hours studying and "mentally preparing" for the meet.

"Studying the topics is always important because you never know what direction the discussion will go," Winslow explained. "The broader your knowledge base is, the more you are able to productively contribute to the discussion. A national meet is also different because you have voices from across the nation bringing in perspectives that I may not be as familiar with, which is also a really fun component of the national meet."

She also explained that as a college student she is "pretty busy," but felt that even when she wasn't actively thinking about her actions as preparing for the national discussion meet, the experiences she was having were giving her foundations for many of the questions she would likely be asked at the meet.

"I also took part in phone and web conferences to hear about the topics and ideas that we might want to think about," Winslow said. "I was excited about every aspect of this trip. National conferences bring new and interesting perspectives."

The American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference began with orientation, during which Winslow met some of the competitors from 43 different states - overall, she noted, there were more than 1,000 people in attendance.

"The first few days of the conference, I was mostly focused on the discussion meet," she said. "On the seventh, I had orientation and got to meet some of the other competitors, as well as learn what our first discussion topic would be. Our competition started on Saturday morning with two round robin events. This meant that all 53 of us competed in two different discussions, each with a different topic."

Winslow said her first topic was "How should Farm Bureau engage farmer and rancher members, representing all types and kinds of operations - conventional, organic, large, small, and niche markets - to work together to better promote a more positive image of agriculture?"

The second topic was announced at the end of the first round, Winslow explained. That topic was "How can young farmers and ranchers work with elected and appointed officials to eliminate unnecessary or excessive regulations placed upon agriculture, while ensuring that new regulations are justified based on their costs and anticipated benefits?"

After giving it her best, Winslow was chosen to compete in the conference's "Sweet 16" round.

"On Saturday afternoon, the Sweet 16 for the discussion meet was announced. These 16 competitors were chosen based on the cumulative judges' scores from the two round robin rounds," Winslow explained. "I was thrilled to hear my name called! The topic we were given for the Sweet 16 was 'U.S. agriculture is one of the major industries for the American economy. What can farmers do to stimulate more economic growth?'."

Competitors were sent to four different rooms, where they debated and discussed until a winning debater was selected.

"After the Sweet 16, the Minnesota delegation had the opportunity to participate in a dinner with the delegations from New Mexico, Rhode Island and California. This was an excellent experience, as well as informative," she said. "We got to ask a lot of questions about the agriculture in those states and found differences as well as similarities to relate to."

Winslow shared that the national conferences are always interesting because one gets to interact with people from all over the country.

"I heard firsthand experiences from people in California and New Mexico that are dealing with a major drought right now," she said. "We were all involved in agriculture and could share similar stories. However, they each brought perspectives from their own states and were able to share those with us."

After the dinner, an awards ceremony was held during which the final four debators were announced.

"I could not believe it when I heard my name announced," Winslow said. "I was thrilled and speechless. I was so thankful to have made it that far."

The final round's discussion topic centered on the question, "How do we encourage young farmers and ranchers to continue to be involved in Farm Bureau? How can young producers lead, even if they don't hold elected positions on boards?"

Winslow said the final discussion did not take place until Sunday afternoon.

"I spent the day on Sunday attending general and breakout sessions, all of which were very informative," she said. "One of the most challenging parts for me at the meet was that I did not know my competition. When I know who I am competing against personally I am able to draw on their personal experiences and bring that into the discussion. For this meet, I had to focus more on what was said during the meet. I like to draw on personal experiences, and not knowing theirs makes it challenging to incorporate them."

She stated that even though she faced challenges, she was honored to be able to be representing Minnesota Farm Bureau in the collegiate discussion meet.

"I wanted to give them something that they could be proud of. I don't know what could have been more rewarding than making it to the final four," she said. "All of the competitors I saw could have been in my chair during that final four discussion, and I was glad that my dedication was paying off."

During the trip, the delegates ventured beyond the walls of the conference center to visit Virginia's agriculture - certainly not cows and corn.

"I was able to visit an aquaculture farm where oysters and clams are raised," Winslow said. "Learning about that process was especially intriguing because we don't have that type of agriculture here in Minnesota."

Winslow is majoring in agricultural education and is set to graduate from the University of Minnesota with the class of 2015. Since she and her older brother, Colin, are the sixth generation to live on the Winslow farm - raising pigs, corn and soybeans - there's no question about her career choices and how attending the conference advanced her education and leadership skills.

"I have always had a passion for agriculture. I would either like to teach high school agriculture, or I would like to work in promotion and education, using my knowledge of how people learn to tell farmers' stories to consumers," she explained.

Agriculture is Winslow's passion and she said she would like to share that passion with others.

"I believe that every agriculturalist has a story and I want to help them share that story," she added. "I also want students to realize and work towards their passion."

This conference has made Winslow want to help other young Farm Bureau members participate in the discussion meet so that they too can have the kinds of experiences she has had during the conference.

She concluded, "I would like to thank everyone who was sending words of encouragement and luck through social media posts, phone calls, and text messages during the discussion meet. I appreciated it more than I can put into words."