AgForestry program focuses on leadership development

By Darlene Paterson
Empire Press Correspondent

The Washington Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation (AgForestry) is a leadership development program for adults working within and connected to Washington state’s agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries.

In this three-part series, Empire Press Correspondent Darlene Paterson interviewed three members of this year’s graduating class — Hannah Poush of Orondo, Emily Bautista-Herdt of Wenatchee and Jordan McDevitt of Leavenworth — about their experiences in the program. 

Last week, the graduates discussed details and requirements for the AgForestry Leadership Program and some of the seminars that had an impact on them. In this second installment, they discuss the leadership aspects of the program.


Empire Press: The mission statement for the AgForestry Foundation says, “We are a leadership development organization dedicated to advancing the natural resource industries through enhanced understanding, education and empowerment of future leaders.” Do you feel that was accomplished during your time in the program?

Jordan McDevitt: Yes, it is very much about leadership. Natural resources are the thing you rally around but the skills would be applicable to anyone. Leadership involves getting exposed more fully to the world around you. Our exposure was incredibly broad — from the political system to the transportation system. When you get into the program, the world just explodes around you. It’s fascinating to suddenly understand so many things you have heard about all your life. Now, the news comes alive. I see things about power issues, water issues, labor issues, ag-labor issues, criminal justice issues and all of a sudden I have a context about those things. It has been an incredible growth opportunity.

Hannah Poush: It has definitely expanded my world. The program takes people involved in ag-forestry and gives us a better understanding of the issues in our state and community. When we have a better understanding, we can be better voters and make a greater impact upon our society.

Emily Bautista-Herdt: Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more your eyes are opened. Not only that, but you can bring it home and talk about it with your family and your co-workers. You can help broaden their perspective as you share your experiences. That is a big part of leadership to me. It is absolutely life-changing.

McDevitt: People in natural resources are good at doing natural resources but not always good at advocating for themselves. The program equips you to represent yourself well. It teaches you how to interact with people that think differently than you do. The class is intentionally made up of people with a broad spectrum of ideas so you have to sharpen your own thoughts as you interact.

Bautista-Herdt: It pushes an individual out of their comfort zone. There are opportunities to develop your speaking skills. You are interacting with 23 other people from different walks of life and different natural resource industries. There is definite growth in personal development and leadership skills.

Poush: Seeing the world from other perspectives expanded my understanding. Speaking in front of others and sharing our experiences is a big part of leadership.

Bautista-Herdt: Our company hosts an annual two-day conference when we present innovative new technologies in the agriculture industry. This year I invited Hannah and Jordan to speak. They did a great presentation that was very well received. My employer said he has seen a huge difference in me since I started AgForestry. I am a better leader and better able to speak in front of our employees. It has helped me immensely.

EP: Are there any other ways the program has impacted you personally?

McDevitt: I drove to Portland recently and as I crossed the Columbia by Biggs Junction, I noticed wind power turbines, power lines, trains, grain terminals, barges, 18-wheelers, all things we studied in a seminar at Vancouver where we learned how the Columbia River system is used for transportation and power generation. I looked around and realized it all made sense now.

Poush: I know what you mean. When we drove through that area after the seminar, my kids asked me what was in the barges and I knew what to tell them. Conversations in the car as we drive around the state are much more interesting now. AgForestry has made me ask more and better questions.

McDevitt: There is something specific to AgForestry — the equipping and the exposure — that makes life more interesting. I am already thinking about what might be next.

EP: And what might be next for the three of you?

Poush: I am currently Class 38 representative to the board, a position I ran for and won. My term will expire in June when I have the option of running for a board seat, which I am very interested in. I’ve also been very involved with a new project in Orondo — a town hall — which is just getting off the ground and is already making a positive impact in our community. I strongly believe in the project and am highly committed to seeing it through.

Bautista-Herdt: I will continue my AgForestry journey because I am currently serving on the board of trustees. Going forward, I will continue to be a part of the administration of the foundation.

McDevitt: A few months into AgForestry, I volunteered for the Chelan County Planning Commission and have served on it since January of 2016. I would never have considered doing that without the inspiration of AgForestry. It has been really rewarding to serve the community.


Next week: The class visits India and Nepal; and the Public Policy Project.