Leadership Opportunities Available through MFU
GREAT FALLS – Applications for a program geared to develop leaders in the agricultural field are now open, with four spots from Montana Farmers Union available.
The Farmers Union Enterprises Leadership program is intended to empower future leaders in the Farmers Union Enterprise states of North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota.
Each year, four members from each state are selected to represent their state organization in the program. The group receives hands-on learning experiences to enhance their knowledge of cooperatives and the roles that Farmers Union plays, as well as immerse in concepts ranging from emotional intelligence and conflict resolution to public speaking and how to have a lasting impact in their communities.
Paul Neubauer, who recently completed the program, was drawn to FUEL as a way to learn from fellow producers.
“I didn’t realize I would develop such close friendships with the people in my FUEL cohort. I cherish those relationships,” said Neubauer who is farm operations foreman at Vilicus Farms and owns a custom grazing operation.
The program also provided mentorship opportunities, as well as taught him that talking about his experience can be a powerful leadership tool.
“My biggest takeaway might be that the power of showing up and speaking truthfully about your experience to individuals with decision making power is incredibly effective. And that doing so with other folks, joining our voices together, is even more so,” Neubauer said.
Overall, the program’s lessons have made him more comfortable participating in policy debate and the work that MFU does, including helping to set up the Montana Premium Processing Cooperative in Havre, the board of which Neubauer heads up.
“I feel like FUEL has allowed the thread of my agricultural experience to be woven more closely into the fabric of people advocating for family farms through their work with MFU,” he said.
Neubauer’s sentiments were echoed by Gwyneth Givens, who farms near Ledger with her husband, John Wicks.
“FUEL gave me the confidence and desire to get more involved,” said Givens, who now works as a MFU Membership Ambassador.
“You really get the opportunity to find your voice and build relationships,” she added.
The FUEL program consists of four learning opportunities with the cohort and runs from National Farmers Union Annual Convention this coming March through the Washington, D.C., Fly-In held in September.
While the time commitment is sizeable, the benefits are worth it MFU President Walter Schweitzer said, adding that the program was impactful to himself and his wife, Cindy Palmer, when they went through it several years ago, as well as still today.
“FUEL really changed my view on agriculture, and now I realize that there is an importance to growing more food locally and processing more of our food locally so that it can be eaten by our neighbors,” he said.
Schweitzer credited the program with giving him confidence to step into more leadership positions.
“It’s really the main reason I’m where I’m at right now and the same for many others,” he said, adding that he and Palmer remain close with their other cohort members.
Those relationships have been important within the larger Farmers Union organization that brings together farmers and ranchers of all sizes and practices to advocate for agriculture.
“It opens the dialogue and conversation from a basis of trust and friendship and being able to listen to their concerns and have them listen to our concerns. Because we’re stronger together than we are independently – and that’s what Farmers Union is all about,” Schweitzer said.
To learn more or apply by Dec. 1, go to https://montanafarmersunion.com/fuel/.
Another professional development and leadership program offered through Farmers Union is the Beginning Farmer Institute.
The program provides lessons integral to day-to-day operations, as well as forging personal connections amongst participants, who must be at least 18 years old and currently farming or planning to begin farming in the next year.
Participants learn about accounting, working with FSA, and other business skills, as well as about policy.
Applications are due Dec. 1 and can be found at https://nfu.org/beginning-farmer-institute/.