• Leader & Times
Amy France is a farmer and rancher in Western Kansas in rural Wichita County, and now, she is getting an opportunity that very few in America are getting.
France is also the coordinator for Kansas Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) program, and along with nine others from across America, in March, she will be traveling to Europe to help advocate American agriculture as well as learn about farming on the continent across the pond.
France’s opportunity comes through American Farm Bureau’s Partners in Advocacy Learning (PAL) program, and she was one of 10 people selected nationally to take part in the trip.
France said the PAL program is a two-year program to help hone skills in advocating to policy makers and consumers who may seem out of touch with today’s agriculture world.
“Another part of that too is just to help in the misconceptions and the food fear movement right now,” she said. “We do media training, policy and political training.”
In Europe, France said the group will be seeing farming from a different perspective and learn about farm organizations that continent has to provide, as well as the legislation and regulations European farmers deal with in their work and comparing American and European consumer perspective.
Some of what France has learned through her involvement with PAL is training for communication and media spokespeople. After she was selected chair of YF&R, she testified at a Farm Bill hearing last February in Manhattan, which she said served as a kickoff for getting other hearings to get that legislation passed.
France said she took the current opportunity, as she does each one she can get, because it will make her a better individual as a whole. She was asked to complete an application to be part of the European trek, and KFB President Rich Felts asked France if the chance was something she would be interested in along with other Farm Bureau staff.
“They really encouraged me to kind of step out there and see if I could even be accepted,” France said.
As she awaited the decision on her selection, France said her nerves was somewhat wrecked.
“A lot of times, I felt completely inadequate,” she said. “They just kept encouraging me and talking me through the things that I did know.”
This is not France’s first project with PAL. She was also part of trips to New York City and Washington D.C. She said the NYC involved training with mock interviews and mock press conferences.
“Just really how to convey our message properly and effectively,” she said.
France said this helped her and others to become better storytellers.
“As all of these misconceptions continue to arise, it’s really important for us in rural America and as farmers and ranchers to tell our story, why we do things the way we do, why we’re passionate and that the way I grow my crops I feel is safe and healthy for my own family to partake, reassuring the other consumers that the way I’m doing it is okay for you too,” she said.
France said most of the PAL training in New York becomes intense through meetings and mock interviews and press conferences.
“But it really gives us a safe environment to try our stories out, be corrected and try again,” she said.
France said trips like the one to D.C. and even Topeka offered her as a constituent a grasp of what life looked like in both the state and national capital.
“It’s very segmented,” she said. “When you get in there and you have the opportunity to talk to your legislator, you’ve got to get your point across from the word go.”
That grasp, France said, also gave her understanding of what it is like for lawmakers to do their jobs.
“Sometimes, I think as constituents, we don’t realize how hard it is to stand firm on one issue without compromise on others,” she said.
France said outside of Western Kansas, it is always eye opening for her to learn just exactly how impactful both KFB and AFB are.
“Our legislators are knocking on KFB lobbyists’ doors or our president and the same in Topeka,” she said. “They want to know what Kansas Farm Bureau wants or American Farm Bureau wants so they kind of know how to go about their votes. It’s always completely mind blowing how influential Farm Bureau is as a whole.”
France said when she was in New York, she introduced herself saying she was a Kansas farmer, and this had quite the impact on people there.
“It’s amazing just that introduction does as far as opening questions, setting the stage for there to be open conversation and allow questions to be asked,” she said.
From all of her time with the PAL program, France said the biggest thing she hopes the people she meets gain is to be able to have conversation in a non-hostile setting.
“I learn just as much from the city folks as they learn from me,” she said. “It’s kind of nice to find a common ground and go from there.”
France said she likewise wants to set people straight about some of the misconceptions about agriculture.
“It’s my job as a farmer and a rancher to not only produce safe and affordable food, but also to speak up so we can continue doing that,” she said.
As urban areas continue to grow, so does the representation from those communities, and France said this means rural people will need to work harder to make their voice heard.
“I feel like our voice is really, really important right now,” she said. “Internationally, I’m excited to just grow and learn because I feel like every door opened is an opportunity.”
France said she hopes what she has been through and will go through with PAL is just the beginning of what can be accomplished.
“The time that’s been invested in me through my local Farm Bureau, my state Farm Bureau, American Farm Bureau, I feel like they’ve provided me with a lot of tools to make a difference,” she said.
France said not only now but every day is a time for farmers and ranchers to be vocal.
“It’s now, it’s yesterday, it’s tomorrow,” she said. “We’re under fire, and we’ve taken a back seat for so many years. Farmers and ranchers are pretty humble, hard working individuals. They rarely ever toot their own horn. Now that we haven’t, other people have taken the mic and are telling people what they think we do or don’t do. We have a lot of ground to cover and work hard for. I think it’s only going to be the beginning.”
As far as what she hopes to bring back to area farmers, France said encouragement is her likely her number one goal there.
“It’s pretty easy to get discouraged when you see the numbers being released from USDA about farm income declining,” she said.
No matter what kind of farming they do, France said farmers across the globe face similar work.
“They provide the food,” she said. “This is what they do day in and day out. They’re going to plant. They’ll reap. They’re going to harvest it.”
In Europe, France said farmers are eager to know what is happening with Kansas agriculture due to its tremendous effects on global markets. She said trade legislation being passed likewise needs to be done so with everyone around the world in mind.
“We are partners in feeding the world,” she said. “It’s not just the U.S. It’s everyone. If we can build those partnerships and strengthen them one on one, I feel like that’s some great progress and some good things to do for the future.”
Joining France in Europe will be individuals from Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Maryland. France said it is always good to broaden one’s knowledge, and she has learned much from the people joining her for the European excursion.
“Out here in Western Kansas, we don’t deal with as many issues as maybe Maryland does,” she does. “They’re always constantly battling how far they can graze and keeping that clean water in the bay. To hear their struggles sometimes puts ours in perspective in knowing you have to step back and look at the bigger picture.”
Though she is naturally excited for her upcoming opportunity, France said she could not put into words just how much she is looking forward to it.
“I’m nervous just because I want to do it to the very best of my ability as so many people invest in me,” she said. “I don’t want to let anybody down. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity. I feel like there’s probably people that are far more qualified for this opportunity than I am, but on the other side, I feel like I really can grow from this opportunity.”
Adding to the excitement for France is the chance to bring back her experience to Kansas.
“There’s lots of elements of excitement and education and why I’m just thrilled to be on this ship,” she said.
Being one of only 10 people to get to go on the European trip is something France said is quite humbling.
“There’s people that are far more qualified to have been selected in my book, and my classmates are just amazing and are very good at what they do,” she said. “When I’m with all of these individuals, I truly just soak it in and take up all the information I can.”
In Europe or anywhere else, France said she is ready for whatever comes her way.
“It’s opportunity to me to grow not just as an individual, but as a farmer, to help my husband on our family farm and other farmers and ranchers in Kansas,” she said.