Class IX began Day 4 with a visit to the National Association of Counties where Linda Langston, Director of Strategic Relations, shared about the important work they do on behalf of counties across the country, lobbying on behalf of counties on issues like health, transportation and criminal, justice.

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We learned that 20-50% of offenders in county jails are there because of mental health issues.  The NACO initiative “Stepping Up” enables criminal justice workers to work together to develop actions for “how do we meet the needs of these individuals before they become an offender.” Another key initiative is centered around an epidemic in opioid use  in rural areas.

After the NACO visit, Class IX had opportunity to visit organizations of our choice.  We were challenged to select a group we already fundamentally support the work they do and also an organization with whom we may not already readily agree with their positions.  These appointments allowed us to not only begin relationship-building with entities aligned with our individual interest areas, but also to use some of the tools in our leadership toolbox, such as active listening, to explore and understand positions, issues, and values of these entities and to find common ground where seemingly none existed.

Some of the professional appointments and free choice site visits Class IX connected with included The Aspen Institute, Humane Society of the United States, Clean Water Action, Renewable Fuels Association, Animal Agriculture Alliance, National Pork Producers, US Dairy Export Council and Association of Public and Land Grant Universities.

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The group followed-up the site visits with a very scintillating discussion at the American Farm Bureau Federation Offices that centered around how understanding the positions, issues and values of these entities enabled finding common ground and the potential for moving toward meaningful action.


At the end of the day, the American Farm Bureau Federation hosted a social hour with the Agricultural Leadership Programs from four states:  Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Washington state.  Over delicious hors d’oeuvres, the cohorts from these four programs mingled and got acquainted before splitting into groups of eight for dinner in the DC area. We learned about our respective programs and about each other.  What began as a roomful of near-strangers with a passion for agriculture ended with new friends and renewed vigor for ability to build coalitions and catalyze action for the good of agriculture.

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Submitted by Lisa Gjersvik