Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Advocating for Agriculture

It was springtime of 2019 when I learned what it truly meant to advocate for agriculture. At this time, I was finishing up my junior year when I was sitting in my animal science class and my advisor began talking about a hot topic going on in my community. An area of land in the northern part of my county was planned to be used as an industrial solar facility. Now at this time, I was incredibly uneducated on solar energy or the plan itself. I found out that there was going to be a public meeting where the BZA would vote on the project and the public could speak at the meeting. My friend and I decided we would go together just to watch. We both were very interested to learn more about our communities decision making process and wanted to learn more about the project itself, so our plan was just to sit and listen. 

We weren’t inside the auditorium for more than 10 seconds before we were approached by an individual who my brother went to school with that we both knew. He was incredibly passionate about having this project be approved, and asked if we supported it, too. We both were pretty neutral on it, but he still encouraged us to sign up to speak just so we can be involved citizens. So for the first hour, the BZA and solar company gave their remarks, followed by the public. As I sat there listening to everyone speak, one key point kept bugging me: this is not agriculture. I will admit that I was still learning about different agricultural areas, but I knew that sustainability is a hot agricultural field. The more I kept hearing this phrase, the more I felt the need to clear the air. My friend went up to the podium and spoke and soon after, I was called up. 

There were more individuals present who were completely against this facility being built than there were those for it, and those against it had some pretty intense words to give. Being one of the youngest in the room, I knew I had to choose my words carefully. Ultimately, I decided to focus more on discussing how solar energy is in fact agriculture. I made the connection that many think agriculture is just trailers trucks tractors, cows sows and plows and that farming only consists of digging a hole and putting a seed in it, but that solar energy is in fact a farming practice and sustainability falls into the agricultural field. When I finished speaking, I turned around and was immediately met with backlash from those opposed. I heard, “Ok kid it’s past your bedtime.” and “She’s a kid! What does she know about any of this?” I expected this, but I was satisfied that I was able to advocate for agriculture and clear up a common agricultural misconception.

The vote passed that night, meaning the BZA chose to approve the facility. I was met with some pretty harsh backlash from others the days following the meeting, and I won’t lie, some of the words I received hurt. This was something I expected though and that I was ready to receive. However, I received a message from an individual who was strongly against the facility that told me she was proud of what I said at the meeting and she was happy that Shelby County agriculture had passionate young people like myself ready to take our community to the next level in agriculture. That right there helped me see that I did my job as a young agriculturalist. The thing about the agricultural industry is that we’ll always be met by people who don’t support us or believe in those common misconceptions. It’s our job as agvocates to share the real news on agriculture so we can educate our communities on this industry that keeps our world moving. There’s no doubt that advocating means we’ll be met with those who don’t agree with us, but that’s when we need to take that opportunity as a time to educate, not rebuttal. 

Always advocating for agriculture, 

Julia Hamblen

2020-2021 Indiana FFA State President

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