By Debra Davis
Agricultural advocacy, politics, gardening and Southern storytelling entertained and engaged more than 200 Alabama Farmers Federation members during the annual Women’s Leadership Conference in Birmingham April 3-5.
Nationally recognized author and speaker Michelle Payn told members how to connect people, science and farming. In addition to speaking to the group during the opening banquet, she also held workshops on improving conversations between farmers and consumers.
Lawrence County Women’s Leadership Committee Chair Sandra Terry said better communications skills will help her be a better farm advocate.
“It’s always good to learn better ways to communicate,” said Terry, who joined six other ladies from her county at the conference. “Understanding that people make decisions about food based on emotions helps us understand how people think differently and helps us improve communications by finding common ground.”
Payn said farmers focus on producing safe food, and consumers are focused on knowing more about how their food is grown and raised.
“Improving communication between farmers and consumers is the best way to dismiss a lot of the misinformation and suspicion that’s out there about food,” Terry said.
Attendees also learned about one of the state’s largest home-grown industries — Bonnie Plants, whose corporate headquarters are in Union Springs. The company’s e-commerce manager, Sidney Phelps, discussed Bonnie Plants’ history and current programs. He also provided gardening tips and videoed interactive sessions for Simply Southern TV.
“I don’t exactly have a green thumb, but after hearing Sidney talk, I think I’ll try a few of the things he suggested,” said Debbie Dunn of Geneva County. “This was my first Women’s Leadership Conference, and I thought it was great. I know I learned some things to take back home to my county.”
Dunn, who is the Region 4 representative on the State Women’s Leadership Committee, said she especially enjoyed hearing Sean Dietrich, a columnist, novelist and storyteller.
“I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard,” Dunn said. “Most of what he talked about was everyday life. He reminded us it’s important to laugh and not take everything so seriously.”
The Federation’s Governmental & Agricultural Programs Director Brian Hardin and National Affairs Director Mitt Walker urged members to remain involved in politics even though campaign season is over.
“It’s important to stay engaged with your legislators and to tell them ‘thank you,’” Hardin said.
Walker discussed ongoing trade negotiations and anticipated passage of disaster funding. He also urged members to register comments on pending regulations, particularly the Clean Water Act.
During the conference, attendees hauled in 630 pounds of pop tabs for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama. The ladies also enjoyed free massages, sweet treats and shopping with special vendors who attended the event. Many also were recognized for their work in sharing agriculture’s story during the Farm-City awards luncheon.
“I think this year’s conference offered an array of diverse topics to help each of us be better advocates, educators and leaders,” said Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Earwood. “I think all attendees found information to help them communicate the story of agriculture a little more effectively.”