SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Changing the face of agriculture-related politics means encouraging more women to run for office for Ash Bruxvoort.
From an Indiana farm, she’s now an Iowa-based farmer and mother, as well as an advocate and leadership trainer for Women, Food and Agriculture Network.
She recently teamed up with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and The Land Connection to gather women in farming for an evening of inspiration, motivation and candor called Plate to Politics.
“If you’re interested in sustainable foods, environmental practices and other food-related policies, running for office is one way to make change,” Bruxvoort said.
While the last general election generated a record number of women elected into office, she said more are needed to promote effective food policy change.
“When we get more women at the table, we’re going to change the table, and we’re probably going to need to add highchairs,” added Liz Moran Stelk of the alliance.
On hand for a panel discussion about running for office were former and first female Illinois of Agriculture Director Becky Doyle of Carlyle and state Rep. Sonja Harper, D-Chicago, newly appointed chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Here’s some of the advice they shared:
Did anyone ask you to run?
Doyle: “I was very apolitical at the time, but it was an all-male election committee who encouraged me to run. I ended up with more support in 1986 from men.”
Harper: “A group of people asked me to run for office. I was known in my community for my involvement in many aspects, so many people knew who I am.”
What kind of campaigning advice did you receive?
Doyle: “When you’re young, you don’t know who to listen to. You have to figure that out.”
Harper: “I knocked on every single door in my district. But it’s the amount time, the amount of dedication, the mix of strength, mental capacity and spiritual ground that takes you all of the way.”
Did you have mentors?
Doyle: “I had worked on (former U.S. Rep.) Lynn Martin’s campaign. She and I were both very interested in trade issues, so I told a magazine it is Lynn Martin. As soon as I said it. I thought to myself I should have said Gov. Jim Edgar since I was working for him at the time. One day we were traveling somewhere together, and he looked over at me and said, ‘Lynn Martin, huh?’”
Harper: “I like to say that I have several different mentors. It depends on where I’m seeking advice.”
What was your most helpful skill?
Doyle: “My greatest skill is the knowledge of my district. But the skill that I didn’t have was the ask. I didn’t know how to ask for anything. I was really hard for me to ask for money. What someone finally said to me was you’re not asking for money for yourself, you’re asking for your district and for a better government. Once I understood that, it was no problem.”
Harper: “Know your message and prepare a script to deliver that message. I like to say that I mastered a ‘yes’ in 30 seconds.”