For me, it’s always been all about the people. When I graduated from high school, I had no intention of returning home for a career, especially not a career in agriculture. After a semester at UW-Madison, I realized that even though I did NOT miss milking cows twice a day, I really missed the ag community. I missed the common threads of conversation being land, animals and family and the friendly and familiar faces at community events. I began looking for the right major and career in agriculture for me, and was offered a summer internship through an extension program that was close to home called UW Discovery Farms. The rest, as they say, is history!
I feel honored when farmers and colleagues share a little bit of information about their families with me, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share with them. To me, forming and maintaining relationships with farmers and colleagues is the greatest reward of my chosen career path. It brings even more meaning to my job to share this more personal information, because it means that there’s a mutual trust developed. My career goal has always been to be seen as a trusted resource, and it is truly important when navigating complex situations, especially those that can be divisive.
It helps remind me that although we may have different viewpoints, we are all people doing the very best we can. This thought is especially valuable when heading down the path of accusations or generalizations. Experts in the fields of education and communication (two things that are pretty near and dear to me) are very clear about the value of relationship building and clear communication. The late Rita Pierson, a professional educator, wrote, “The more you know about a person, the easier it is to develop a positive, healthy relationship. Without clear communication, misunderstandings occur and intentions are misinterpreted.”
Dr. James Comer, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University, has spent much of his career working to promote collaboration between teachers, educators, and the community to help children achieve greater success in schools. He says, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”
In working with farmers and colleagues on water quality issues, I hear stories about failed attempts at completing projects and about the poor state of water quality in this area or that area. Often the stories come with disappointment, resentment, and finger pointing. What if we replaced the disappointment and blame with a desire to create meaningful relationships in order to propel us forward? What could we accomplish if we tried to first listen and learn instead of always trying to teach? Can we really expect someone to listen and learn from our viewpoint with no established relationship?
If there are two things I’ve learned in the past few months, they are 1) the value of extending the opportunity to create a relationship and work together and 2) the impact that offering a friendly wave, a smile, or a few minutes of conversation can have towards creating a legacy of valuable relationships. At Discovery Farms, we often say our focus is on research and education, but the truth is, without relationships, we wouldn’t accomplish any of our goals. We learn as much from others as they do from us, and the most fulfilling part of our work is being viewed as a trusted resource. Through established projects and even some new ones, we are looking forward to continuing to extend the opportunity to create those relationships and learn together.
This article originally appeared in the latest UW Discovery Farms newsletter. If you would like to read more from the newsletter please click here.