By Solomon Gustavo
COKATO, MN Jenna Davis saleswoman for JBS United, mother of a baby boy, wife of a dairy farmer, daughter of a swine farmer turned corn and soybean farmer went to Washington DC September to speak on behalf of the one percent.
“Less than one percent of the population is employed in agriculture,” Davis said.
She traveled to the nation’s capitol as part of the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s (MFBF) Farmers to Washington DC group. “To meet your legislature and create those relationships. To tell your story and share your experience. That’s the whole reason we went to DC,” Davis said. The group spoke to “all 10 offices, both senators and all eight congressmen and women,” she added.
One of 27 to sign up, Davis and her cohorts gave voice to agricultural workers, the less-than-one-percenters. The small number of farmers relative to their non-farming counterparts can lead to a less than accurate perception of what all goes into farming, according to Davis. “People don’t know what we’re doing,” she said. Because of this, she noted, the existence of the MFBF and trips like this are important.
The stark contrast, between those few who are informed, aware and sympathetic to the life of a farmer and the preponderance of those that don’t, leads to a skewed perspective of agriculture which can be compounded in larger metropolitan areas, and particularly in DC, said Davis. “So few people, especially in DC, who are making these policies, have any connection to agriculture. If we can be the Minnesota voice of ag, and work with them, maybe they will work with their colleagues and make better decisions.”
The first day of the trip, a Tuesday, the group gathered to organize what topics they would discuss. Among them were “really” investing in statewide transportation structure, biotechnology, GMO labeling, ways of improving the next farm bill and having the EPA explicitly define waters of the US, Davis said.
Cokato’s US Congressman is Tom Emmer. “Getting to meet him face to face was really good” and it was “neat sharing” her experience and story, Davis said. “He’s my connection to Washington D.C.,” she said of Emmer.
Davis said she found Emmer, and all of the lawmakers she met, to be receptive and open. The MFBF also heard lawmakers’ perspective. “Hearing what is on their minds is pretty neat, too,” Davis said, “if they need information on a particular issue, we’re there to help.”
The entire trip wasn’t just policy talk, though. Day three was the group’s day of leisure. Davis broke off with a smaller group and headed to “a bunch of museums,” she said. The National Museum of American History, which houses exhibits displaying Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and Julia Child’s kitchen, was “definitely” Davis’ highlight. “I think I spent three hours in there,” she said.
Davis said she grew up on a small, 700 acre farm in Okabena. She ventured to the Twin Cities after high school, attending the University of Minnesota and graduating with a bachelors degree in animal science and masters degree in swine nutrition.
“Then I married a dairy farmer,” Davis said with a smile, “we really don’t feed pigs.”
They moved out to Cokato, about three miles south of downtown.
Davis’ MFBF experience has been rewarding, not just in winning recognition like being named one of eight semi-finalists in the 2015 MFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Discussion meet, but in “supporting agriculture,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a small farmer with 10 cows or 10,000 acres,” she said, “it’s a voice for you and all of ag.”
Joining MFBF because her friends were in it and because she felt she ought “step up to the plate,” Davis has relished the multitude of leadership opportunities the “grass roots organization” has afforded her, she said. Davis is the young farmer and rancher board chairperson and has attended leadership conferences that “help you develop leadership skills,” she said.
Davis appreciates the communal aspect of the organization. “When times are good, people are happy, but when times are tough, it’s good to have other people in agriculture who understand and are going through the same thing as you,” Davis said.
The MFBF D.C. trip takes place twice yearly, in March and September.