My name is Rhonda Hergenrider.  I farm with my family in South Central, MT between Belfry and Bridger.  We raise sugar beets, malt barley, feed, cattle and a few hogs.  I have been a Farm Bureau member since 2004.  I was first brought into the Farm Bureau family through my mentor, friend and insurance agent, Larry French.  It was Larry who encouraged me to become a Farm Bureau Agent.   I served in that capacity for five years; until I had the opportunity to return to my family’s farm/ranch.  Today I am president of our County Farm Bureau.  

The ACE program interested me because I have always been passionate about Agriculture and educating others about Agriculture.  The disconnect between those of us on the land and those who are not is very real.  This became even more clear to me when I had the opportunity to serve as the biotech spokeswoman for Montana’s sugar beet growers.  I thought that ACE would be a great opportunity to increase my ability to communicate with folks outside our industry. 

One thing I thought was really neat about the first ACE training is that we are learning more about our leadership style.  Knowing this allows us to be more effective leaders.  As far as specific goals, I plan to share the things I’ve learned with fellow Farm Bureau members.  For example, I plan to do a role play with our board members with hopes of increasing their ability to speak with folks who may have negative opinions about agriculture.  Also, since Farm Bureau has, in a sense taken over Ag in the Classroom I believe there is a great opportunity to get ag information into the hands of our youth.  And I plan to work with our members to make that happen.  And finally our County Secretary, Sarah Boyer and I have been talking about putting together some sort of adult education platform and I know the ACE program will be helpful in making that a success.  

There are never any shortages of issues that are critically important to agriculture.  One that will never go away is water.  Who gets to use it?  ACE could help effectively influence decision makers in the same way it can be used to influence them in all issues pertaining to agriculture.  In ACE, we are learning how to find our common ground by focusing on empathy and relationship building.  Once there is a foundation of trust, we can start actually talking about issues.  We in agriculture are a proud group of people.  When someone questions the way we do things, often times our feathers are wrinkled, so to speak, which immediately puts us on the fight and therefore we create enemies and get nowhere.  There is a better way and we are learning that though ACE. 

I plan to implement the skills and techniques learned through ACE by sharing the information with other Farm Bureau members.  One thing that was mentioned at the ACE training is that for years farmers and ranchers have been told to share our story, but no one has taught us how to do that.  ACE will help me be able to do that better and help others do it better too. 

No one knows our story like we do and if we don’t share our story no one will. We are a minority.  While at the first ACE meeting we had the opportunity to listen to Bruce Vincent, a logger from Libby whose life and business were shattered because of a vocal environmental movement.  It became clear to me that something similar could happen to Montana’s farmers and ranchers if we do not continue to develop our leadership and advocacy skills and do it correctly.  I think ACE offers an incredible opportunity to do just that.  And I’m looking forward to the remainder of the year!