Smith part of S.D. Ag and Rural Leadership in Washington, D.C.

Ray Smith showed items and explained where food actually comes from to this classroom of inner city students.

They say you can take the farmer out of the country, but not the country out of the farmer, as 29 ag "students" of Class V South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership (SDARL) proved during a week-long seminar in Washington, D.C.

They may have been a long ways from their farms, ranches and agriculture dependent small towns, but farming and agriculture were never far from their minds as SDARL class members spent the last week of February learning how Washington works. While there the group took time to visit with senators, representatives, ag organizations and elementary school students about how agriculture works and how what they are doing in Washington, D.C. relates to what class members do in South Dakota.

"I have never learned so much in one week, not only about myself but about a much bigger picture of the world," said certified public accountant and livestock owner, Michelle Olson of Aberdeen.

During their study seminar on American government and ag policy, the group spent time with all three members of the state's congressional delegation. Sen. Tim Johnson outlined the stimulus bill and how South Dakota benefits. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin discussed healthcare and energy policies. Sen. John Thune rounded out the afternoon, explaining his vote on the stimulus package and discussing environmental policies and taxes.

For Beresford farmer DougWevik, the week was an eye-opening experience. "The biggest thing I took home from this week was that our senators and representative are not unapproachable. I realized that I can provide input to them. I was inspired by the feeling that all of our legislators were working passionately for what they believed would make this country great," Wevik said.

A trip highlight for the group was attending the 2009 Ag Outlook Forum with 1,700 other delegates from around the world. They heard newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack deliver his first public address discussing the new administration's vision for agriculture. Food and nutrition will be high on the list. Economist Lawrence Summers also spoke to the group. Summers was United States treasury secretary during part of the Clinton administration and is the former chief economist of the World Bank. Summers currently serves as economic adviser to President Obama.

SDARL members learned that even though the government in our nation's capital can seem overwhelming, they can, and need to become involved. "I now know I have a say in what happens in Washington and how to get my voice heard," said Kip Hansen, a class member and ag banker from Watertown. "I have always been proud to be an American, but this trip to D.C. has awakened even more pride."

While in D.C., they spent a morning visiting classrooms in an elementary school. They paired off and talked to students about where their food comes from, and teaching them about agriculture in South Dakota. "The response from school children and their teachers was great. They admitted learning a lot about food sources, and SDARL class members learned a lot about how others view agriculture," stated Denny Everson, SDARL executive director.

Even though members found that the school children and their families live very differently than people do in South Dakota, Lynn Kruse, Huron, found there are similarities. "What stood out the most, though, was how those children were so similar to my own," Kruse said.

The American Bankers Association hosted the group for a day, while class members met with several lobbyists representing various agriculture interests every 30 minutes. Michael Dunn, was one such speaker. He is acting chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Dunn is responsible for overseeing daily trades on the exchange totaling approximately $5 trillion each day.

The class spent a morning at the United States Department of Agriculture complex learning about the various agencies that make up the department. Speakers included some South Dakota natives who work with Farm Service Agency and crop mapping around the world.

SDARL members had the opportunity to meet with various animal, environmental, political watchdog and regulatory agencies. "I am more passionate that education not only of the urban areas concerning animal welfare issues needs to occur, but also of our farmers and ranchers regarding animal welfare and ID, available programs and that they need to be involved with the government process," said Tammy Anderson, a veterinarian from Bowdle.

SDARL is a non-profit ag-focused leadership development agency dedicated to identifying and training leaders for the ag sector of our state, as well as providing willing and able leaders to serve in various capacities for our rural communities. SDARL Class VI will begin in November 2010.