Tiralla returns from AFBF trip to England, Brussels
(March 27, 2018) Southern Maryland farmer Jamie Tiralla has had much training in agriculture advocacy and communication, with a recent international trip as part of a nationwide program is just the most recent step in that journey.
Her recent trip to England and Brussels, March 10-17, was part of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Partners in Advocacy Leadership program.
According to AFBF, the program focuses on taking farmers and ranchers, age 30 to 45, who have already begun their personal development journey and moving them to the next level in leadership.
Currently in its ninth class, the two-year program has an executive-type curriculum that provides participants with unique opportunities to represent agriculture in the media, on speaking circuits or in testimonial arenas.
The international trip was the third of four modules for the class and focused on the impact of Brexit on agriculture in the United Kingdom and nearby nations in the European Union with PAL members relating that to issues U.S. farmers face as they. debate the new Farm Bill
Traveling in England and Brussels, the trip included visits with officials in the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the National Farmer’s Union, visited the parliaments of the United Kingdom and European Union, farms and ag industry firms.
The first two modules dealt with strengthening communication skills with the public and policy formation and a fourth is set for St. Louis in the summer focused on communicating within the agriculture industry.
“Our focus with advocacy is the Farm Bill because that’s what we’re dealing with right now,” Tiralla said.
Tiralla is the first Maryland farmer to participate in the PAL program and in the current class of 10, the only farmer from the East Coast. In selecting each class, AFBF accepts up to two applications from each state.
Tiralla said she got a healthy dose of advocacy training attending the AFBF’s Women’s Communication Boot Camp in 2014. As a freelance writer for local publications, including The Delmarva Farmer, Tiralla enjoys writing and communicating but would shy away from public speaking. The three-day seminar took her out of her comfort zone but ultimately helped her grow.
“It’s not a pat on the back,” she said of the boot camp. “It made you look in the mirror and say, ‘this is what I need to do differently.’”
From there, Tiralla participated in Class IX of the LEAD Maryland Foundation, a state agriculture leadership program and saw PAL as “the natural next thing for me to do.”
Tiralla said continuing her training in advocacy and communication is partly spurred by not growing up on a farm.
She said before she and husband Benson Tiralla took over his family’s Monnett Farms in Calvert County, she had her own misconceptions about agriculture and participation in these programs gives her firsthand insight into farms that operate differently than hers.
“I definitely had a passion for it but I didn’t know much about it,” she said.
With their farm based mostly around retail sales, she said she feels a responsibility to be able to accurately answer consumer questions even if they don’t directly pertain to her farm.
“I think we have a good opportunity to talk to people about questions they have,” Tiralla said. “For me, I want to be able to answer them correctly.”
After the PAL trip concluded, Tiralla and two classmates extended their travel to Paris. She said she’d hope to get some sleep on the train ride to France but once a conversation with other passengers started and worked its way to farming and animal care, Tiralla and her classmates couldn’t pass up the opportunity to engage.
Talking with a pair of American travelers, one said she was a vegetarian and supported the efforts of animal rights groups. When Tiralla and her classmates told her they were livestock farmers, “she literally covered her ears.”
But the conversation continued. Tiralla said they talked about their families, hobbies and interests along with how they run their farms and take care of animals.
“We had a lot in common,” Tiralla said, adding thats the key to making connections with the public and with other farmers. “There’s more in common that we all have together than what is different. The key is finding that.”
She said the conversation crystallized for her the importance of her participation in the program.
“This is what the program is all about, staying engaged with people,” she said. “If we had shut off the conversation, it just would have validated to her everything she thought about farmers and agriculture, that we don’t care. We may not have changed her mind but maybe she’ll think about us when she reads things that say farmers are bad people.”
Now serving on the boards of both the Maryland Farm Bureau and Future Harvest Chesapeake-Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, Tiralla said the training has been helpful in looking at issues within the agriculture industry with a broader perspective and given her encouragement to welcome other opportunities to advocate for agriculture.
“This training will help me be a better board member,” she said. “It is fun but it’s hard. And it’s been for the better for me.”
She also wants to advocate for the PAL program and get more farmers to challenge themselves as advocates.
“I hope to encourage another Maryland farmer or two to put in an application because it’s a very valuable program,” she said. “We have more than enough qualified people to be in it.”