In July 2013, I drove to Illinois with my car packed. I was starting graduate school at Illinois State University and I had never lived in any other place than my home state of Alabama. My GPS, a revolutionary yet flawed device, decided to take me on what we could call the “scenic route” – backroads and small towns. This equates to a longer drive time and slower speed limits. Yet, in this way, I saw the heart of the state and its charisma. As I drove through, I glimpsed a community festival under large white tents in the middle of the town square. I saw golden rows of corn. I witnessed the “amber waves of grain” that I had often sung about as a little kid but had never seen up close. I saw Illinois as it is: welcoming, community oriented, and unapologetic. This is the reason I stayed.
Although I am from the South, I grew up in a metropolitan area. The only farm I saw regularly was the Powell family’s few acres on my way to school. Farming absolutely exists in Alabama but I was rarely exposed to it. So many people ask why I applied to and subsequently took a job at Illinois Corn.
Advocacy was one reason I was drawn to IL Corn. At the beginning of high school, I joined the competitive speech and debate team. Speech is a creative outlet that teaches enumerable skills including argumentation, time management, and advocacy. One of the main goals of the activity is to teach people to speak with conviction about an issue that matters to them. Here at IL Corn, I have the opportunity to work with a grassroots organization that promotes the interests of the public that it engages with. In this way, I get to work directly with the people who I am helping to speak for and that echoes the training I received in speech.
Yet, I still have a learning curve. Naturally I hope to learn about the basic aspects of agricultural life. For instance, it took me until living here to know there was a difference between corn for animal feed and corn for eating. At the same time, I am looking forward to understanding the widespread issues important to Illinois farmers today, ranging from technological to political. I am excited to build that knowledge to better help the interests of Illinois farmers through my work.