By: Paige McFarland, Kansas Corn Intern
Last week I traveled with Kansas Corn Communications Director Sue Schulte to Washington D.C. for an opportunity to participate in the Corn Communicators Summit. We discussed a variety of issues at the meetings, heard some very informational speakers and had the opportunity to do a few tourist-y things as well.
We started at the crack of dawn heading to MCI in Kansas City, despite some minor construction, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare! We boarded the plane, which just happened to be the second time I have ever flown. It was a breeze. Once we arrived in DC, we hopped around town and were able to squeeze in the Botanical Gardens, the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden and Pavillion Café, and we were able to see a few other sites from afar. I was absolutely blown away by the Botanical Gardens. All of the different varieties of flowers and plants that we don’t see every day were really neat.
The Amber Waves of Grain Festival was taking place at the Botanical Garden as an informational tribute to the history of wheat innovation. I have learned about many of the wheat varieties in my Crop Science class so it was pretty awesome to see them all side by side. There was even a tidbit on Dr. Norman Borlaug. I recently had the opportunity to listen to Norman Vietmeyer, who was Norman Borlaug’s assistant and wrote the book Our Daily Bread, the Essential Norman Borlaug.
We ate dinner at the Art and Soul Restaurant. The Chef, Art Smith, is a two time guest on the TV show Top Chef. We had a wonderful server (who was trying to engorge us) and a lovely meal! We dined with Missouri Corn’s Communications Director Becky Frankenbach and Janet Adkison, the Washington DC Bureau Chief for RFD-TV. Janet is also president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. There was a lot of good conversation about agriculture and media.
Day 2 in Washington D.C. started at 9:00 a.m. on a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Museum of American History. We were shown around by Peter Liebhold, Chair and Curator of the Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian Museum of American History,who was extremely passionate about his. So many people think museum=boring, once upon a time I was probably one of those people. This tour was far from boring, he knew what we were there for and tailored the tour to things that would interest us. We got to see a room full of items that were full of life, each item had a story whether it was a keyboard, Dekalb sign, coca cola can, or a beanie baby. My favorite was obviously the Dekalb flying corn sign. The winged ear of corn represented the hybrid era. The reason for our visit was to learn about a new American Industry exhibit that will debut next year. Agriculture is one of the industries that will be featured and it was obvious the curator understood the importance of agriculture. The exhibit will include advertising materials from the Corn Farmers Coalition, an effort funded by several corn grower state organizations and NCGA to educate decision-makers in Washington DC about corn farmers and agriculture.
Another highlight of the day was listening to Dr. Cathleen Enright speak about genetically engineered crops. She is a top executive from the Biotechnology Information Organization (BIO). It was enlightening to hear her input on talking to people about such a controversial topic. She pointed out that biotech plant breeding was just a sped up version of traditional plant breeding. Plant breeding is just another term for genetic modification. The vegetables we eat today are all products of plant breeding. For thousands and thousands of years, man has genetically modified plants, which has resulted in the natural vegetables we eat today.
We also met with staff from the US Grains Council, talked ag policy with NCGA’s Washington DC office, and the pro-ethanol group, Fuels America.
Thursday night we went out on the water in the Odyssey dinner boat. It was so incredibly beautiful to see the luminous skyline of downtown Washington D.C. reflecting on the water. Dinner was wonderful, the view was breathtaking and sharing stories with fellow cornies made for an enjoyable night!
We began our final day in Washington D.C. at the Washington Post. This was an awesome experience to see the behind the scenes work of a newspaper. They are not only a newspaper, they have an incredibly large social media presence. The Post was recently bought by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and they are aggressively pursuing social and broadcast media to provide their news coverage. They assured us that they will keep printing for years to come, due to the fact the newspaper is a sentimental thing to many people. Your morning wouldn’t start off on the right foot if it wasn’t for reading the newspaper and drinking a nice warm cup of joe. As I am writing, I am drinking out of my complimentary tumbler from the Washington Post!
After our tour we ventured off to have lunch and head back to the airport.
Here are a few other light observations I made about the trip:
- Washington D.C. is a MUCH more fast-paced city than Princeton, KS (pop. 276)
- Taxi drivers pay no attention to whether you get whiplash or not.
- Bicyclists don’t stop for anybody.
I had a great time mingling with corn staffers from several states from Virginia to Texas during our time in D.C. I want to say thank you to the National Corn Growers Staff for allowing me “The Intern” to take part in this meeting trip and welcoming me! I found that both serious meetings and social events are great tools for discussion and learning. I learned a lot and came back with a passion burning higher and brighter about the future of our industry.