Every March for the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of traveling with other members of the Barnes-Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association to Washington, D.C., to express my support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and its lab in Morris.
I was once again honored to be part of the Barnes-Aastad delegation for 2013, traveling with Dan Perkins and Jim Wink to voice our support for ARS and the work being done at the Soils Lab here in Morris. We were fortunate this year to be joined by Pat Peterson-Werre and her husband, Bruce, from Stillwater. Pat is the vice president of Research and Development for Aveda, a Twin Cities-based personal care products company. Aveda began a partnership with the ARS Soils Lab in Morris in 2009 to develop the oilseed cuphea. Cuphea contains medium chain fatty acids that could be used to replace or supplement coconut and palm oils commonly used in personal care products.
Basically, one day the shampoo in my shower might have its start in fields in this area. It’s a very cool project that wouldn’t be possible without the Soils Lab. And I think our Congress should know that this is the sort of good science that happens with the money they appropriate to agriculture research.
Of course, we weren’t the only ones tromping around Capitol Hill. There were groups of Farm Bureau members from across the country, throngs of veterans with the American Legion and VFW, representatives for the MS Society, Community Action Agencies, Native American groups and countless other organizations all traipsing from office to office, just like our little clan. It is a very humbling experience and a reminder that we live in a wide and diverse country and the job of trying to represent we the people is no easy feat. In fact, I cannot imagine a harder job than that of senator or representative. Luckily for us, we have some really talented and dedicated people in the Minnesota congressional delegation.
It wasn’t an easy time to be in D.C. Between the sequester and a snow storm that local television weathercasters dubbed the snowquester, there was a tangible sense of uncertainty in every office we visited.
One of this year’s pleasant surprises was the chance to talk with Morris native Rep. Aaron Schock, who now represents Peoria, Ill. Aaron’s parents are Dr. Richard and Janice Schock, formerly of Morris. Since his election to the House of Representatives in 2009, our delegation has tried to stop by and leave a greeting from Morris during our annual visit. This year, Rep. Schock made a concerted effort to visit with our group, sending word to his staff to keep us in his office until he could arrive. Once there, Aaron asked about his former teachers, Mrs. Fluegel, Mrs. Ross and Mrs. Kittelson and how he still thinks fondly of them today. He talked of how excited he was when news of his election to the Peoria, Ill., school board was reported in the Morris Sun Tribune. He also commented on how he recognized the names on the Barnes-Aastad board of directors and seemed genuinely happy to take time to hear how he might help support his old hometown by supporting the appropriation for ARS.
While on the Hill, we also got to talk with a couple of University of Minnesota, Morris graduates who are working as legislative staffers and heard them talk with fondness about Morris and what they were able to accomplish during their time here. And they, too, seemed excited to have the chance to provide their support to the community that nurtured them for four years.
And the one common message that our delegation heard? Our senators and representatives were elected to represent us and they want to hear from us. Governing is not an easy job and unless and until folks get involved, it will only get harder to maintain a representative democracy. You don’t have to travel to Washington, D.C. to let them know what you think. Every congressman and congresswoman has at least one district office in their home state. You can call, fax, e-mail or write to these offices and offer your support or your opposition to the issues of the day. If it happens to be that you support the ongoing research at the USDA-ARS Soils Lab, that would okay by me.