En route to hunting ground, Tracey Miller and her husband RJ had a conversation not typical of deer hunters.
With an opportunity to be part of the World Farmers’ Organisation’s Gymnasium — a global program meant to turn young producers into leaders — the Millers needed to work out the logistics of Tracey’s required three-year commitment, especially after the couple had a son in May.
“I mulled it over for quite awhile, and we covered a lot of the issues before I committed,” Tracey said, noting that son James as well as COVID-19 were among her chief concerns. “With that, and my desire for personal and professional growth, and my passion for agriculture — all of that was weighed. I spent a lot of time reflecting.”
In the end, Tracey decided to submit her name, and she found out Nov. 12 that she was one of 20 worldwide named to the group.
“I got the email, and I was so excited,” she said.
The gymnasium is “a high level capacity building (program) aimed at training young farmers to (help) them become future leaders in the agricultural sector.” The first gymnasium started with 20 producers in October 2017 and ended in February of this year.
Miller is set to be part of the second gymnasium, scheduled to run immediately through 2022. To be considered, candidates must be under 31 years of age and be producers. The WFO also requires the class of 20 be balanced, both by gender and geographically.
The program typically features, at minimum, two in-person conferences per year in different parts of the world. In the first gymnasium, participants went to Rome twice, Berlin, Madrid and New York City.
The Millers have taken advantage of North Dakota Farmers Union’s leadership programs. They were recently North Dakota’s Farmers Union Enterprise couple, which saw them travel to other states and learn about regional agriculture.
“We gained a lot of understanding of agriculture on a national level,” Tracey said. “Being able to see the commodities grown where their farm is based on a half-acre of production, it’s much different. If there’s that much diversity within our nation’s borders, I would imagine it’s even more globally.”
Tracey, nee Weber, grew up with cattle on the family farm near New Rockford, as did RJ with his family’s ranch in the Flasher area. Tracey has an off-farm job as a government relations specialist for KLJ Engineering in Bismarck.
Tracey has been part of Farmers Union her entire life. She was part of the EPIC youth program in Eddy County growing up and went to camp every summer, eventually earning her Torchbearer Award, the highest honor given in NDFU’s youth program. She is a director on the Burleigh County Farmers Union board.
Tracey said she has really grown with her participation in NDFU’s Women In Leadership Development (WILD) program, attending many of the conferences and social events.
“With the WILD program, I’ve really had the opportunity to participate and grow,” she said. “It’s given me confidence to build on that experience.”
As a producer, Tracey said she is striving for continued education on how agriculture can communicate its problems to consumers.
“Growing up in the Midwest, we’re very fortunate that it’s not uncommon for people to have experience with agriculture,” she said. “Unfortunately, outside of our world, that is not the case. That’s why we have organizations that help others understand agriculture and that the food system that serves us is extremely important.”
Learning more about agriculture’s problems in other parts of the world is part of the solution, she said.
“The correlation of food systems is the nuts and bolts of what I’d most like to learn,” Miller said. “We think of agriculture as a commodity and a business. For many, it’s about producing food for themselves and their neighbors. We take a lot of pride in growing food for the world. Sometimes, it’s easy to underestimate what that means if we don’t take into account growing food for survival. It has a whole lot more weight to it when you’re exposed to varying societies and their practices.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions still surround the second gymnasium as it relates to in-person events, at least in the first year. The WFO has started its communication, holding a virtual meeting shortly after the program’s participants were announced.
“The first segment is all virtual right now,” she said. “It’ll stay that way until it’s safe to travel. I won’t be going much further than home for now.”
Miller said she completely understands the caution and is looking forward to meeting her new colleagues some time in the future.
“I’m trying so hard not to get my hopes up,” she said. “I’m a relationship-driven person. The ability to see them in person with my own two eyes is really important to me. I’m a learning junkie, and it’s about the opportunity to take this in, in-person, and read body language. Regardless, it’ll still be an extremely fruitful learning process. It’s still access to materials and knowledge I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
For Miller, it’s about never missing an opportunity to better herself, which is why she’s ready to take the next step as the United States’ sole representation in the WFO’s second gymnasium.
“Right now, I have the ability to lead based on my personal experiences with Farmers Union,” she said. “This (WFO program) can further contribute to discussion in what we do for agriculture locally, statewide, nationally and globally. It’s easier to work toward policy reform and problem solving with a global perspective.”
— NDFU Editor Chris Aarhus