It was a total breach of etiquette, but I’m glad I did it. This past March, I invited myself to tag along with the U.S. Apple Association’s (USApple) Young Apple Leaders from across the country as part of USApple’s Capitol Hill Day. I pitched it as a firsthand experience of the USApple Fly-In (as it’s affectionately called). And the wonderful folks at USApple agreed to have me!
It’s easy to think individually about each state’s production, but it was amazing to see the next generation approach the opportunity to represent their state and industry in Washington, DC, with so much enthusiasm. I joined them at networking events, at the USApple committee meetings, and for a day on the Hill.
For the day of Capitol Hill meetings, I was an honorary Michigander. And, of course, I was well-versed in the topics we covered: trade, immigration, and the Farm Bill.
It may seem like a broken record when the issues don’t change year to year, but a Farm Bill is on the line in 2018 (and from all indications it seems like it might be off the table until after the midterms). It’s important to speak with your representatives and explain the role that immigrants have on your ability to harvest the crops you grow, how important research dollars are to the future of the industry, and just how important fair trade regulations are to your business.
I realized just how important it is to get in front of some of these legislators, especially since most of the folks in the Senate and House are far removed from the agricultural landscape of their respective states. Not every state has a Senior Senator like Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) who lobbies for the interests of specialty crops. In fact, some may have industry groups telling them the exact opposite of what’s in the best interest of the apple industry. So, imagine if we weren’t there.
Kudos to the folks from the Michigan delegation (and all the states) for seeking out meetings and planning visits for each state. I was impressed with how active a role the Michigan Young Apple Leaders took within the discussions. Each shared a story of how labor impacts their operation and just how crucial farmworkers are to the large task of harvesting Michigan apples.
“It was a very unique opportunity for us to network with other people who are up and coming in the industry, as well as people who have worked in the industry for so many years and have so much knowledge to share,” Katie Vargas, Operations Manager for Great Lakes Ag Labor Services in Lansing, MI, said of being a member of the 2018 Young Apple Leader class. An added bonus, Vargas says, is how young leaders walked around with other USApple members from her state to better understand the process.
“It was great, too, for us to get the chance to go on the Hill visits and be involved in it. I’m sure many of us will be doing that more often,” Vargas says.
To any young apple grower reading this (or a family member), don’t hesitate to apply for this program. It’s such a great opportunity to meet folks around the country who are focused on promoting the U.S. apple industry. It’s a great chance to see how legislation impacts the whole industry, not just your specific state.
Applications for next year’s Capitol Hill Day are due Dec. 31, so don’t wait. Contact Jessa Allen, USApple’s Director, Membership & Communications at [email protected] for application information.