November 12, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson
LOUISVILLE, Ky.

A day before the fifth statewide Women in Agriculture Conference in Louisville, nearly 30 women learned about how to get involved in public policy.

The women selected to attend the Public Policy Institute came from across Kentucky and from diverse backgrounds, but they all had a common bond of agricultural involvement. One participant was Linda Dickerson. She has operated a farm in Warren County with her husband, where they have grown corn, wheat and soybeans for about 33 years.

“I feel there are many important issues in agriculture facing small farmers today and I’d like to have our local voice heard,” she said. “This institute offered some great classes on public speaking, media networking and writing news releases. I’ll use this information to give programs on soy diesel in my community.”

Gae Broadwater, institute coordinator and Cooperative Extension specialist at Kentucky State University, said the institute was created for women like Dickerson who are interested in public policy decisions.

“A couple of years ago when some women in the small farm program were getting involved in the Phase I (tobacco) program, they were frustrated about not being able to get their ideas heard,” Broadwater said. “We talked about a number of different ways they could do that and at the same time SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program) came out with the Sustainable Communities Innovation Grants and there was an opportunity to design a workshop to meet these women’s needs.”

Broadwater said institute organizers tried to identify the common barriers women face when trying to get involved in public policy. She felt it was important for the women to spend time with others in comparable situations.

“Each participant had a need that the workshop helped to meet,” she said. “I think a lot of them realized they are not alone in this any longer. I think they realized there are other people confronting the same issues they are, plus there are resources out there available to them geared to the needs and styles of women.”

The institute included detailed information about how to communicate a message to legislators, the media and others. Participants also learned how to understand local and state legislation and budgeting, and how to find information about agriculture, community development and economic trends. The institute also provided information about rules for effective and ethical lobbying.

Kentucky Women in Agriculture Vice President Jenny Inman has been involved with the organization since its inception five years ago. She attended the institute because of her love of agriculture and politics.

“Politics and public policy have always been some of my passions, outside of my professional career in agriculture, and coming to something like this where I could gain knowledge on combining the two really interested me,” Inman said. “I think there was really good information about what goes on behind the scenes with legislation and bills being passed. We have a growing desire in Daviess County and the surrounding area to generate a group with a common goal of promoting agritourism. It seems the timing is right to move forward on this.”

Over the next year, institute participants are expected to complete three projects in their communities using the tools and knowledge they gained.

“They may do something really small such as writing a letter to the editor of their local newspaper, or they may host candidate forums or get involved in local boards and commissions related to agriculture,” Broadwater said. “There are a variety of interests; some are interested in farmers’ markets, some in value-added processing and some in using tobacco settlement funds. We wanted to give them tools and skills and hopefully confidence in networking that they’ll go out and use these in their communities.”

Broadwater said that since KWIA now has nonprofit status, the organization is in a better position to go after grant dollars it couldn’t go after before. She hopes that will lead to more programs like the Public Policy Institute.

Contact: 

Writer: Aimee D. Nielson 859-257-4736, ext. 267

Contact: Gae Broadwater 502-597-6325