San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

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By Craig W. Anderson

San Joaquin Farm Bureau members Katie Veenstra and Kelton Fleming are participating in the 2017 Leadership Farm Bureau class that has begun a year-long program of activities and training sessions focused on issues affecting California agriculture. The nine Farm Bureau members participating in the 2017 class were introduced at the annual California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference in Sacramento.

"This is a really great experience," said Veenstra, "and this is a really, really tight group that's already formed a strong bond. The Leadership Farm Bureau program focuses on both group and individuals to form leaders and it's both challenging and fun."

"I'm trying to better myself and get my concerns out there," said Fleming, "because I want to learn the nuances of agriculture and begin the process of meeting people from other counties and hearing their opinions about ag here." The CFBF-sponsored Leadership Farm Bureau program includes six intensive sessions on issues relevant to agriculture plus field-studies trips to both Northern and Southern California. Class members participate in personal-development, teambuilding and communications training and advocate on behalf of Farm Bureau in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Varied areas of study
Each program and session builds on the previous, to provide perspective and training in the areas of personal development, human behavior, public speaking, working with the media, political advocacy, government structure, key political issues and, of course, the Farm Bureau organization and structure. Farm Bureau provides more than 250 hours of instruction during the sessions and meetings will vary according to each month's agenda; each session runs approximately three days.

The ideal candidate for the leadership program is a board member of a county Farm Bureau, YF&R State Committee member or county Farm Bureau staff member who's interested in taking a larger leadership role within the organization. Leadership Farm Bureau is specifically designed with the needs, experience and future leadership of its participants in mind.

2017 class of nine
The 2017 class members include Veenstra of Escalon, director of marketing at Gloriann Farms in Tracy; Fleming, owner of Duck Creek of California, Lodi; Christina Beckstead, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau; Jennifer Beretta of Santa Rosa, assistant herdsman at Beretta Dairies and second vice president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau; Mark Chesini of Meridian, director of operations for the Rice Growers Association of California and second vice president of the Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau; Jill Damskey of Elk Grove, program and governmental affairs coordinator for the Sacramento County Farm Bureau; Laura Gutile of Madera, pistachio grower and secretary of the Madera County Farm Bureau; Lindy Keilson of Potter Valley, marketing and membership coordinator of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau; Ryan Rice of Fortuna, owner of R.P. Rice Construction and president of the Humboldt County Farm Bureau.

In the governmental affairs session, the class members will review development and implementation of state and national policies in meeting with key legislative, administrative, and regulatory officials.

D.C. takes to the air
Veenstra said, "Of the sessions yet to come, the D.C. trip in May to meet with government reps and AFBF official's intrigues me the most primarily because I hope to learn about issues important to them. This should help me understand the issues important to them."

Fleming said the May trip to D.C. is No. 1 on his excitement list "to meet legislators in their natural habitat and observing how business is done in the nation's capital. It's valuable to see close up how politics works in Washington and learn more about how it works in other counties."

Sessions already completed
The first and second LBF sessions have already taken place, the initial session dealing with the CFBF and team building and, said Fleming, "our group is very close, a great bunch of people, all with LBF-fueled goals." The second session concentrated on leadership meetings and the workings of Farm Bureau's workings "discussing our problems and presenting solutions," he said.

Interest growing
Veenstra said she became intrigued about LFB when several former participants spoke highly of the program and "the timing was right for me as I was no longer chairing YF&R and I wanted to develop a larger understanding of what Farm Bureau's done for us at the local, state and federal levels."

"Political advocacy intrigued me, as did the potential of learning communication skills," Veenstra said, although her skills were reasonably well-developed after two years at Modesto JC with a concentration in ag business, and her graduating from Cal Poly SLO with a degree in ag science and an ag biz/ag communications minor.

Hired on
Following her graduation from Cal Poly, Veenstra was hired at GloriAnn Farms where her work marketing and coordinating sales and dealing with corporate buyers spurred her interest in "going beyond the basics through the Leadership Farm Bureau and the unique opportunities it provides to network; to be on a powerful team for a year; attending more state level Farm Bureau events; and building relationships at a higher level."

Both said they are looking forward to enhancing their communication skills, interviewing abilities, applying salesmanship, customer service and other means of improving their business acumen.

Special focus on various issues
Special focus in given to issues affecting agriculture and farmers and ranchers in California and across the nation, eventually to what's happening with ag on a global level, all presented in in-depth training from industry experts. "We'll also have an opportunity to travel within various regions of the state for a first-hand look at the similarities and differences of ag," she said. "We've already had intro to Farm Bureau, membership, professional etiquette and a briefing on the state legislature. And we have assignments such as recruiting a new Farm Bureau member."

Be involved and discover leadership
"I've been here working in the family business for more than 20 years and I've discovered that it's important to be involved and to put yourself out there," noted Fleming. "My staff is superb and my wife Rachael is terrific in combining their efforts in operating Duck Creek Nursery while I'm gone doing Leadership Farm Bureau."

Value in growing up
"I think there's a value associated with growing up in an ag family," Veenstra said. "I discovered over time that ag is my passion and I'll fight for it. Leadership Farm Bureau will help me with that and a lot more as well." The 2017 Leadership Farm Bureau class will complete its program of activities in December with graduation occurring during the CFBF Annual Meeting in Anaheim.

California Farm Bureau Federation contributed to this story.