MCGA Agvocates, 2010-11: Derek Mulhern

Derek Mulhern, at 20 years old, has a very pragmatic approach to his ultimate career goal. Now a junior at the University of Minnesota in agricultural education, he plans to intern in agribusiness (with room to indulge his interest in politics) while he completes his degree, teach agriculture in order to refine his ability to communicate about the farming that he loves, and ultimately go into business for himself, traveling around the country and teaching people how to advocate on behalf of agriculture.

 He grew up on a 400-head dairy farm in Fountain, near Rochester, where his family also raises corn and alfalfa.

 Mulhern is one of the four very impressive young people who have signed on with MCGA to be an “Agvocate”. It is a year-long series of trainings, leadership experiences, networking opportunities, all wrapped together with a scholarship towards their education.

 At the Minnesota Agricultural Ambassadors Institute, a program sponsored by the Minnesota Pork Producers, Mulhern feels that he had a number of valuable experiences and learned many useful things. One presenter offered methods for effective advocacy, and advised these young leaders to have both “elevator speeches” and “pocket stories.”

 Pocket stories are the stock in trade for advocates of all kinds, but are especially effective for promoting a positive view of agriculture. It’s a small repertoire of personal stories that the speaker knows very well, which can be adapted to the particular situation and topic of discussion. Especially effective for pocket stories are sketches of a time of crisis, or a turning point, when the speaker felt close to giving up, but instead found inspiration and kept going.

 Elevator speeches, on the other hand, are ready sound-bites to share with anyone in a chance encounter, such as in an elevator, that has a positive message that will stick in the mind of the listener, and can be conveyed in 30 seconds or so. It’s a way of being prepared to respond to any one of the common misperceptions or anti-agriculture representations that are common in public discussions and the media.

 “The presenter surprised me at times,” said Mulhern. “One thing he said that really went home for me is that we are advocating 100 percent of the time. Even when you are on your farm and not with the public, but it’s something the public could or might see, you need to conduct yourself in such a way that you can talk about it and be proud of it. Advocating is total lifestyle, not just something that you do part of the time.”

 The Agricultural Ambassadors Institute included field trips, where they visited Christensen Farms in Sleepy Eye, the largest family-owned swine operation in the country, which raises approximately three million pigs a year. They also visited an implement dealer. The inherent message was that with his interest in politics, Mulhern is looking forward to the networking opportunities and events during this election year that will draw political folks of all stripes—things like AgriGrowth Council annual meeting and FarmFest Forums will be a great chance to meet important state and national leaders.

 Mulhern has something of a tagline that he plans to include in many of advocacy opportunities, whether they are pocket stories or elevator speeches. Derek likes to say, “Whether you are 13, 33 or 83, you need to continue to advocate for agriculture, because agriculture is for all of us.”

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