01 Sep Community Engagement with Stephanie Henry
When you think of people making a difference, it’s easy to imagine that they’re off somewhere far away doing big, exotic work. But change can happen a lot closer to home. At least, that’s how it happened for Stephanie Henry, who got her start in her own community of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Bloom Where You’re Planted
Stephanie’s dreams started when she was six years old and wanted to open her own farm-to-fork restaurant. While she hasn’t given up on those dreams, they’ve become a bit more realistic over time. During her interview with AgGrad Live, Stephanie says she “focused on the restaurant part because I just assumed that there would always be enough farmers to supply what I needed. But that wasn’t the case.”
She discovered this in her twenties while visiting a friend’s farm and realizing that not everything grown by farmers is consumable. By talking with someone at the heart of the agriculture industry, Stephanie learned more about what really goes into the process of farming, and that farmers were struggling more than she thought. What she did next teaches a valuable lesson we all can learn: when you see a problem, get involved!
With this problem in mind, Stephanie moved to Fort Wayne for its reputation as a town that supports local agriculture. While she was brainstorming new ways to make a difference, she became aware of another opportunity right in her own backyard: the chance to plant a garden. Stephanie knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked for some tools to get started. But that meeting led to a whole lot more when that neighbor gave her a new idea: why not start a community garden?
Two weeks later, Stephanie got city council members involved and got approval for her first-ever community garden. She likes to say “the garden was truly a community effort, in every sense of the word,” because it was supported entirely by donations of time and money from volunteers right there in her neighborhood. Today the garden serves as a reminder of the incredible things that can happen when people who care come together.
Talk to Your Elected Officials
In telling the story of her community garden, Stephanie points out that it didn’t come together by accident. A lot of regulations and government policies go into making change in your community, and in Stephanie’s case, that involved countless hours of talking to her local officials, getting to know the people in the city planning office, and learning how agriculture laws are made. That opened up a whole new world for Stephanie and it’s one she wants to share with everyone, because this important part of ag-life often gets overlooked.
While she recognizes that everyone might not have the time—or the passion—that she does for sifting through legal documents, Stephanie wants the AgGrad community to be aware of two things she learned from this process:
Retain a Childlike Enthusiasm
In retrospect, Stephanie says that she was inspired by every opposition she met and that each new challenge encouraged her to keep going. She chalks this up to a childlike enthusiasm and willingness to “just go for it” that people sadly relinquish as they get older. To accomplish change and stay positive, Stephanie encourages cultivating this enthusiasm in your daily life and business endeavors.
Avoid “Analysis Paralysis”
When asked why people are reluctant to get involved with their communities, especially local government, Stephanie suggests that it’s because of “analysis paralysis.” Maybe it’s not understanding governmental regulations, or worrying that you don’t know enough to get involved, or thinking someone better or smarter will do it, but the reasons to talk yourself out of making a difference are endless. That’s where that childlike enthusiasm comes in, to remind you that if you’re passionate about something, you should go for it!
That’s exactly what Stephanie did, and today, she’s continuing to make a difference in government by interning with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C. She’s currently helping with impactful pieces of agriculture policy by connecting legislators to real communities and showing how their decisions can help farmers. So, whether your passion is advocating for agriculture in government or making a difference in your own hometown, give some thought to Stephanie’s tips and don’t be afraid to speak up.
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Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/stephaniehenry1
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