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Wait – you're not a farmer!

When asked on what committees I'd like to serve when a legislator, I reply that, along with Health and Human Services and Economic Development I'd of course like to deal with Agrriculture, since this is an ag-intensive district.

But I'm not a farmer. I'm a teacher. Wouldn't it be better to have a farmer represent this district?

I'm all in favor of farmers in the Legislature. If any farmer wants to run and serve there, I'd be the first to applaud and support her.

But I've been to the Capitol many times and know what goes on there. And very little of it is what our farmers do so well. Our farmers are great at planting and harvesting and repairing their own machinery, but there isn't any of that going on in the halls of the Capitol (though it would be nice if they'd let farmers repair their own machinery – that's called "right to repair"). Our farmers are excellent at milking and breeding – not much of that going on up there either. Do you know what there IS a lot of in the Capitol halls and offices?

ADVOCACY – people making a case for this or for that, then forming a coalition to get it done. Maybe what farmers need in St. Paul more than a good farmer is a good advocate.

Be clear: I'm not saying some farmers can't also be good advocates – just listen to the eloquence at Farmfest each year. But that's not the issue. The issue is this: who can be the most effective advocate at the Capitol for farmers IN BROWN AND REDWOOD COUNTIES?

That's who I will be. In nearly every year of my 45 years of college teaching, I taught a course with that very word, "Advocacy," in the title. I've not only taught advocacy, I've practiced it, all of my adult life.

Now an admission: my advocacy hasn't always succeeded – maybe only half the time. While I take responsibility for my failures, I suspect many of them are due to the fact that I always seem to be taking the side of the underdog, the little guy against the Big and Powerful. Those are hard to win. The Big and Powerful don't need advocates; they are big and powerful and can do whatever they want. But still I've won a few.

One of the early ones was on behalf of a young wife who was a teacher. When she was expecting a baby her school board wanted to fire her since they thought she should stay home and be a full-time mother. We won that one. I designed the advocacy flier that went to every home in School District 88 supporting a bond issue. Those are hard to win, but we won that one. For that I got the "OLE" award from the school district. I did the same to help build Vogel Arena in New Ulm and the swimming pool in Flandrau State Park. On the state level I was a registered lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions advocating for more funding to help the Human Rights Department clear a case backlog. More funding is really hard to get, but we got it. For my Human Rights work I got a commendation from the governor. Be clear: I didn't do any of those things alone, but with coalitions of good people. That's how things get done.

I admit I will never know as much about farming as those who have spent a lifetime doing it, who have puzzled over seed choices, calculated fuel costs for planting and cultivating, prayed about the weather, struggled with the machinery, agonized about the markets, worried about the loans – but who have also thrilled at the emerging green sprouts, rejoiced over the new-born calf, and felt pride for feeding the world.

I will never know as much about Holstein genetics as Jill Nelson of Olmar Farms near Sleepy Eye. It might be nobody in the world knows as much about Holstein genetics as Jill. But I could take to the Legislature her problem with stray voltage that almost wiped out her entire operation, and do something about it there, so she wouldn't have to go to court to save her farm. And maybe I could build a coalition to make it easier for her to expand her dairy operation into cheese-making – something that would strengthen her bottom line and also serve her community.

I could join and expand the efforts that make it possible for young families to get started in farming. I could explore the problems caused by consolidation of suppliers and buyers, and control them for the protection of family farmers. I could work to expand affordable housing and day care in our communities, so that they thrive and maybe lure some of the kids back home. I can be the farmers' advocate – listen and learn, and then get to work to find ways to make lives better.

Those are the kinds of things an effective advocate can do – even if he is not a farmer.


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