WASHINGTON, April 14, 2015 – A group of 4-H members shared their passions about the future of agriculture with the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research today and emphasized why it’s more important than ever before to build “bridges” between rural and urban residents.

The 17 young people, delegates to the National 4-H Conference, came from states as small in land mass as Rhode Island and as large as Texas. They were from urban, suburban and rural areas, raising livestock ranging from “fluffy rabbits” to goats to grand champion steers.  

In his opening statement at the hearing concerning the future of agriculture in the United States, Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Davis, R-Ill., addressed the challenges in enacting the 2014 farm bill.

“If we do not mend the divide between rural and urban areas and foster a widespread understanding of the food and fiber industries and the impact they have on everyday life, it is likely we may face the same challenges in enacting future farm bills,” Davis said. “Bridging the gap between rural and urban areas is essential to the passage and implementation of future food and agricultural legislation.”

Ranking member Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., agreed.

“We need to do a better job of educating people on the importance of agriculture, and continue to build rural and urban coalitions, so that people’s understanding of food extends beyond what appears on grocery store shelves,” she said.

In their testimony, the 4-H delegates talked about how they’re working to bridge rural-urban gap.

Harley Rogers is a 10-year 4-H member and Texas cattle rancher. She said that when she started marketing beef in Farm to Table markets in the Austin and Dallas areas, she was “constantly” asked questions about her products. The young rancher invited a consumer who was concerned about Rogers’ steers to visit her ranch to see the cattle and her everyday routine.

Rogers and the consumer became friends.

“She would come to my stock shows and watch me show,” Rogers said. “Gaining this trust between the consumer and producer is something that I believe is very important.”

Gabriella Germann lives in a primarily agricultural community in California, yet she said she was “stunned” by the lack of awareness some teens had about agriculture. Her family hosts farm visits for school children and she presents at elementary school career days.

“Through this,” Germann said, “I have learned the importance of informing people about agriculture while they are young, so as to cultivate early understanding and support, bridging the gap between consumers and producers.”

Kailey Foster, who lives in South Kingston, Rhode Island, testified that she experienced the urban-rural divide in her own family. Her father, a milk truck driver is from a farm family and was very involved in both 4-H and FFA, but her mom “grew up in the city where her idea of a major farm was an apple orchard.”

Foster says her first visit to a dairy show at a local fair changed her look on agriculture and prompted her to work to change her mother’s heart as well. Today she and her sisters are all in 4-H. The family raises both rabbits and dairy cows.

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The delegates also shared how agriculture education is helping to bridge the gap. Garrett Tomera is a sixth-generation rancher, whose family has ranched in northern Nevada for more than 150 years. As he and his family noticed producers and consumers growing apart, they looked for ways to connect with consumers. In his community, the “Agriculture in the Classroom” program is a tool through which producers teach students about farming.

USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden pointed out in her testimony that, as the “average age of farmers and ranchers in America continues to rise, the question of how we build our bench in agriculture becomes ever more important.” She pointed to a number of programs and outreach activities at USDA and within organizations like 4-H.

Last summer, Agri-Pulse took a look at the changing demographics in rural America and their impact on political influence. The last two articles in the “Packing Political Punch in Rural America” series featured 50 young leaders in agriculture under age 50.

As House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, addressed the 4-H members he echoed what many of the “50 under 50” leaders told Agri-Pulse. Farmers, Conaway said, “have to tell our story over and over and over.”

“As you can see here in this room, the work of supporting and engaging the next generation is already well under way,” she added.