Matt Reese and a group from the Ohio Farm Bureau went on a visit to the office of Congressman Bob Latta while in Washington, D.C.

Unique and weird

By Matt Reese

There is something special about farmers.

Jack Irvin will be the first to tell you he has no farm background to speak of. He grew up in northeast Ohio with an interest in politics and lobbying. Early in his career he got a job working in the Statehouse in Columbus. It was there — on the occasions he would work with them — Irvin first noticed that there was something different about farmers. They may not have always had much political polish, sometimes they wore boots instead of nice dress shoes and ties were optional. What they maybe lacked in smooth talking, though, the farmers at the Statehouse made up for by being authentic, well-reasoned and straight forward — a stark, and pleasant oddity in the political realm.

Though he did not really know the difference between a corn stalk and a cover crop, the uniqueness of farmers encouraged Irvin to shift his lobbying efforts toward agriculture. Now as the Ohio Farm Bureau vice president of public policy, Irvin accompanied the county presidents of the organization to Washington, D.C. in March on a lobbying trip focused on farm issues. On the trip he told the group of farmers from Ohio his story.    

“I told our farmer leaders they were a unique and weird group, and I meant that as the highest of compliments. When you sit down with a farmer, you know you’re going to get direct answers, you’re going to get honest answers, thoughtful opinions, and almost always in civilized respectful manner. In this city, that kind of combination is pretty weird and unique, so I’m encouraging them just to keep doing that,” he said. “I think you have to be understanding that it is complicated to fix some of the challenges we’re bringing to people when we ask for solutions on things like the farm bill. These farmers recognize it is difficult, but they can still be direct and forthcoming. When a farmer comes into an office and says, ‘These are the issues I’m having on my farm and I need some solutions. I’m not the expert, but we’ve elected you to help us solve this,’ no one is going to look them in the eyes and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about on your farm.’”

Beyond Ohio Farm Bureau, the “unique and weird” aspects of farmers on Capitol Hill have been showcased through many conversations in recent weeks as farm and commodity groups from around the country representing everything from cattle to corn have gone to visit legislators. In fact, as I was headed into a congressional office with Ohio Farm Bureau members, a group from the Ohio Soybean Association was just leaving. The Ohio Sheep Improvement Association was there on a trip as well. Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association was there a week after the Ohio Farm Bureau. Ohio Cattlemen’s Association is going on a lobbying trip in April.

While on the March trip to Washington, D.C., I witnessed some “unique and weird” farmer activity first-hand. On the first night of the trip with the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents, we went to a wonderful dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was a very large group of people and the food was served family style. The folks seated around me were all commenting on the amounts being served. The wait staff set down plate after plate of delicious food in amounts so large there was no way we could possibly eat it all. At the table I was sitting at, my fellow diners and I all discussed strategies the restaurant could use to reduce the amount of wasted food.    

After eating this giant meal, many in the group decided to walk back to the hotel. Joel Penhorwood and I took an extended walk around the National Mall and as I neared the hotel, I noticed a group of Ohio Farm Bureau members who had also taken a circuitous route back. They were carrying multiple bags of food they had been handing out to those in need they encountered on their evening walk. Among them was Becca Waldo from Ashtabula County.

“It was very painful for me to sit there at the dinner and see this. We just kept thinking back on how we are here to advocate for farmers and looking at this plate of food and thinking how many people’s lives went into it just to produce that pork that made that sausage that came all this way and then it’s just going to go to the trash because we didn’t eat it,” Waldo said. “So, we ended up asking our waiter, ‘Please can you only set down two plates instead of three?’ Then we did package the extra up. On our walk back to the hotel — we got a little sidetracked and lost — but it worked out perfectly because we ended up finding some people out on the streets who were looking for some food. They were they happy to accept it.”

That March night in Washington, D.C., I’m guessing there were not many other lobbying groups as focused on minimizing food waste and then taking the time to actually do something about it for the benefit of others. So, thanks farmers for once again being “unique and weird” in some truly wonderful ways by bringing rural American sensibilities to a city often known for its lack of such virtues. I wouldn’t suggest changing a thing.

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