Rural Leaders are Crucial in Preserving Rural Communities
Hello! I’m Becky Stuart from Dillon, Montana. Mother of two vibrant kiddos, married to the kindest soul, lover of animals, cooking, nature, music, history, traveling, and the big skies of Montana. Born and raised outside of St. Louis, Missouri, I moved to Montana for a 5-year adventure, but I’ve now been here for 13+ years with every intention of staying. My husband and I live on his family ranch with his grandparents and mother, raising Hereford cattle and sheep. My time is divided between raising my children, volunteering with the Dillon Jaycees, doing ranch chores and my full-time job as the Graduation Program Coordinator at the University of Montana Western. I’ve been a member of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation for about 10 years, having spent several years as a board member for the Southwest Counties Farm Bureau. I was introduced to MFBF by the man who is now my grandfather-in-law, but at the time was someone I met and offered to help to shear his sheep as a way to check an item off my bucket list. Little did I know what fate had in store!
My interest in the ACE program was piqued mostly by the experiential leadership and communication training it offers. We’ve had training sessions with so many talented guests throughout this year, and gained experience from mock testifying at the Capital, on-camera interviews, and leadership brand development. I applied knowing if I got accepted into this program, I’d be learning with a cohort of talented and passionate people who care for and aspire to, one way or another, advocate for agriculture in their communities and beyond. I am so inspired by the hope and promise ACE conveys for the future of rural communities and agriculture throughout Montana.
After completing ACE, my goal is to build on my role as the current Women’s Leadership Committee Chairwoman for SW Counties through my ACE project, Community Connections, as well as fundraising for Ronald McDonald House Charities. I aspire to become more involved with MFBF leadership within my district and plan to apply for more leadership and advocacy programs MFBF offers. As my children grow and become more involved with school activities and 4-H, I imagine my involvement with their activities will grow with them. I can see myself applying my real-life ranching experience, passion for agriculture advocacy, and natural ability to connect and collaborate with people as an elected official in the state capital one day (but that day is easily a decade or two away!).
I am excited to put the new skills and techniques I’ve learned through this year in ACE to hopefully become someone SW Counties can turn to when we’re needing someone to speak up on an issue on the local radio station, in print, on social media, or testifying in Helena. Additionally, with the Hoofin’ It for Hunger race moving to Dillon, I will continue to work with the YF&R board to organize and promote these races that run through my grandparent-in-laws ranch where my family and I currently reside and raise sheep. I’d love to continue my advocacy training in a future DC Fly-in once I’ve met the requirements.
One issue that is heavy on my heart is the influx of new community members of rural Montana who do not understand agriculture, or its ties to our rural communities, and want to change it. I see this as an excellent opportunity to welcome these neighbors and help them understand why things are done a certain way in agriculture. As a Missouri native, I am a “transplanted” Montana resident, and can wholly relate to the culture shock, challenges, and benefits that come with moving to a rural community. It is important we find a way to build genuine relationships with our new neighbors so they feel welcomed in our communities, embrace our way of life rather than change it and understand the symbiotic relationship our rural communities have with the local agriculture industry.
I think the continual development of leadership and advocacy skills among members in rural Montana communities is crucial because it is the only way our communities will outlast us. Sharing the good, the bad, the growth, the successes, and all the stories in between that make up rural Montana will help sustain, evolve, and keep up with the times while still preserving its cornerstones: family, community, safety, and stability to name a few. Without continually developing leadership and advocacy skills, younger generations will find themselves without seasoned leaders who can pave the way for emerging advocates, and share with them their lessons of successes and failures. The future challenges in agriculture will be similar to ones from 100 years; but without the continuity of leadership and advocacy, those strategies would be lost. New leaders will provide the everlasting knowledge, grit, and passion needed to represent agriculture and rural Montana to its opposition and challenges.