When Caleb and I applied to the Farmers Union Enterprise’s (FUE) Couples Leadership Program, we didn’t know entirely what to expect. We knew that we wanted to engage with our community and Farmers Union in a deeper way. We also felt that we could always use more instruction and leadership training. With that intention, we applied for the program and have been so glad that we did.
Our first experience was to travel to Montana where we met last year’s outgoing couples (including Stacy and Tenzin Botsford) and our own leadership cohort. All together, we went through a training where we learned about our own tendencies in communication, as well as how to read others so that we can develop better abilities to dialogue with people with differing styles. The farmers unions presidents of all five states came and shared some history of our inter-state relationship’s development and took time to answer our questions on several topics. Most importantly, we got to know couples from all five of the FUE states who participate in agriculture in different production methods and scales. As we’ve developed deep friendships, we’ve also come to realize how many views we share in common - despite our obvious differences.f
The next time we all met was at the Minnesota State Convention. This time, everything was different. We were seeing ‘old friends’ and telling them how wonderful it was to see their letter to the editor shared by their local paper. We got to see how a different state runs their convention and hear the policy debates happening over the boarder in a different community. We also had another training that focused more on our own personalities to help us consider how to step up into leadership opportunities while recognizing our own natural tendencies.
Our most recent reunion with the FUE couples came at National Convention where we began by learning a brief history of cooperatives in their relation to farmers union. We went through a workshop to help us become more comfortable with public speaking - and even though we were all nervous and weren’t sure we would do well, we all left amazed and impressed with each other’s short presentations. It built our confidence and taught us more about our new FUE friends. We also learned how to lead a meeting using Parliamentary Procedures and had a lot of fun being raucous in our example meetings as we exercised proper language and protocol. Beyond the FUE training, it was so inspiring to be a part of the strong Wisconsin delegation to Kansas City. We got to meet many of the Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) participants and saw our state’s candidate to the National Farmers Union’s Vice President position voted into the role. We were proud of our state, impressed by the positive powers of Farmers Union, and happy to continue sharing ideas with our friends from other states.
As we look ahead to our final two meetings in the Program (a Washington DC fly-in and the meeting to welcome next year’s delegates into the fold), we realize what a true gift we’ve been given through this program. We’ve been invited to learn more about our own inclinations and potential. We’ve developed deep bonds with farmers in different states and production models that we would have otherwise never met. We’ve learned about the depth and history of Farmers Union and we’ve become inspired to step up.
The FUE Program doesn’t end with a concrete plan or a list of expectations. Rather, it tapers off in an open end where each individual is allowed to reflect on their experience and consider - with their newfound knowledge and skills - where they might be able to offer their gifts to provide positive impact to their communities. All that we can really say is that we appreciate the support through this learning process and we look forward to offering what gifts we can to this amazing community-minded, democratic organization. We’d like to express our thanks to Farmers Union for taking a gamble on us. We’re looking forward to welcoming the next FUE couple into the fold.
The deadline to apply for the FUE Leadership Program is April 11. Applications can be found on our Upcoming Events page.