AgForestry program is ‘life changing’ for participants

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.

The graduates previously discussed the details and requirements of the program, seminars they were involved in and leadership aspects of the program. In this concluding installment, they talk about their trip to India and Nepal, and the Public Policy Project.


Empire Press: How did your trip to India and Nepal impact your life?

Hannah Poush: We ate a lot of curry! Seriously, it was life changing. I think about it every day when I talk to people, when I’m working and in my everyday conversations.

Emily Bautista-Herdt: Whenever I start to complain about something, I think about my experience in India and stop. We are rich beyond our wildest imaginations. To be exposed to India and Nepal was very humbling.

EP: What kinds of things did you do in India?

Jordan McDevitt: We participated in a variety of agricultural experiences. We went to a dairy research facility and learned about milk production in India.

Poush: We viewed a slide presentation at the U.S. embassy and learned they produce 17 percent of the world’s milk. It is so different from our U.S. dairies. You literally see one jug of milk being carried on someone’s head, or two jugs transported on the back of a motor bike and you think, how can 17 percent of the world’s milk be transported one jug at a time. It was mind-baffling!

McDermitt: An average dairy size in India is one or two cows. And you think how can they produce 17 percent of the world’s milk one cow at time?

Bautista-Herdt: Besides visiting a dairy, we visited a rice processing facility. We also learned about their government systems. We visited temples and the famous Taj Mahal.

Poush: We walked up to the Taj Mahal, a beautiful building, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and looked down at human waste all over the ground. We had to watch our step everywhere we went.

McDevitt: What struck me in India was the number of people. It was 10 times what I imagined. It is amazing the number of humans in such a small space. The embassy staff said India’s cities are growing by 10 million people per year. That is the size of the Chicago metro area. I couldn’t help but feel like it was an important time to be there. In 30 or 40 years, India will be a totally different place.

Bautista-Herdt: What struck me was that 70 percent of India’s population lives on $2 a day. When I go to Starbucks and spend almost that on a coffee, I think about the average person in India who lives on what I spent on my coffee. It’s hard to grasp.

McDevitt: The disparity between rich and poor is enormous, but there is also a growing middle class. Thirty or 40-story condo buildings are going up everywhere in the cities. You look one way and see 10 going up at time, and when you look on the other side of the street you see the same. It is hard to comprehend.

Bautista-Herdt: The people are kind and everyone we talked to was very obliging. The people are surrounded by poverty and pollution, yet they go about their daily life living as happily as they can. It was an experience of a lifetime.

McDevitt: It sounds kind of canned, but it is true. Our experience in India and with the whole program is absolutely life changing.

EP: Is there anything else about the leadership program you want to tell us?

McDevitt: The Public Policy Project is worth talking about. It is a program done outside of the seminar sessions. We did a personality quiz at our first seminar determining which of four personality types each person was. The leadership formed public policy groups made up of four people, one from each personality type.

Bautista-Herdt: They intentionally create a challenge by choosing people that might see things from different perspectives. The goal was to utilize the knowledge we obtained and the public speaking skills we learned to work together to make changes in the real world.

McDevitt: My group tried to think of something that could actually make a difference in public policy. We ended up submitting a bill to the state Legislature. Working with the assistant attorney general and the Department of Agriculture, we wrote a bill that changes the way disputes between seed brokers and producers are handled. For example, if a broker sells pumpkin seeds that are the wrong variety and the producer experiences a loss, there is currently an antiquated system on the books. Our bill simplifies the process. It’s been passed in the House and Senate and is now on the governor’s desk for signing.

Bautista-Herdt: Opportunities to testify were part of the program. Jordan testified before the Senate committee and one of the guys in my group testified before the House ag committee. There were two AgForesty alumni on that committee who spoke up to say, “Ours was the best class ever.”

Poush: That is a running joke between every class. Of course Class 38 is really the best ever!

McDevitt: It’s been remarkable to travel around the state and encounter alumni everywhere. They are so supportive.

EP: One more question. Can you tell us the cost for the program?

McDevitt: It is a $21,000 program, but each student pays only $6,000 for the 18-month program. The balance is subsidized by corporate sponsors and alumni of the program. Subsidies pay for hotels, plane tickets, food, etc. The whole program is an incredible gift. We will always look for ways to give back in appreciation for what we received.

EP: Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

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