May 2022 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter
By J. Scott Angle
On her desk in Farm Bureau headquarters, Staci Sims keeps what she calls “The Little Green Book.” It’s a who’s who of Florida agriculture, and anyone in it will drop what they’re doing and take her call when she conjures the name “Wedgworth.”
The actual title is the “Alumni Association of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute Membership Directory.” It’s the network, in paper form, that Sims was inducted into when she completed the two-year Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources.
She leans on it to do her job as legal counsel, connecting her and the Farm Bureau with leaders in Florida’s agricultural industry, including farmers, ranchers, commodity associations as well as environmental groups and government agencies. The network is an important way she knows someone is listening when she speaks as the Voice of Agriculture and a useful way to listen to the rest of the industry.
For Sims, Wedgworth programming provided insight on issues facing the industry, but more importantly, understanding of perspectives and social issues affecting our local, state, federal and international communities.
It’s an understanding she uses regularly as she advocates for 134,000 members who can’t legislate from their farms and ranches.
Curt Williams, assistant director of government and community affairs at the Farm Bureau, didn’t need to be sold on the program. He’d heard Sims and the many other Farm Bureau staffers who are alumni evangelize about the program.
It was only a question of confidence: Could he fully commit to developing himself into an even more effective leader on your behalf while upholding existing commitments to Farm Bureau, family and family farm?
His Wedgworth classmates helped him answer it in short order. They experienced the same struggle of commitment. They, too soon saw that the long-term payoff of Wedgworth participation, for themselves and for their industries, outweighed the costs of being away from their jobs and families.
Williams learned enough about himself through Wedgworth that he’s been inspired to be more involved in leadership positions.
Wedgworth has changed his focus to how important it is to be involved and to never fall prey to someone-else-will-do-it thinking.
The question isn’t “Am I worthy?” Sims concurs. It’s, “How can I serve?”
Wedgworth helps participants answer that through two years of multi-day sessions every other month at which they study contentious issues and meet the principals at the heart of those issues. They not only take a deep dive into the facts of issues confronting agriculture, but they get practice and experience in interacting with people with whom they may disagree.
Such practice in empathy and understanding the point of view of someone who’s on the other side of an issue is essential to the search for common ground and preventing stalemates that Florida agriculture cannot afford.
Wedgworth celebrates 30 years of programming this year, and Class XI graduates in July. Applications will open in late spring 2023. For more information about the program, contact Christy Chiarelli at [email protected].
Farm Bureau has sent a staffer and sometimes a board member almost every one of those years. Don’t doubt whether you’re worthy. Just ask yourself, like Sims, how you can serve.
Already the Wedgworth experience has prompted Williams to become a leader in local civic organizations, his church and on the advisory board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
He’s scheduled to graduate this summer with more finely honed leadership skills to serve you. With the addition of his and 29 more names, the Little Green Book will get a little bigger.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).