Advanced Agriculture Leadership Program: An Opportunity Like No Other

In October 2017, I drove to Guelph to attend my first seminar as a participant in Class #17 of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program. This program, run by the Rural Ontario Institute, is a 19-month executive leadership development experience for people who want to shape the future of agriculture and food industry and make a positive difference in rural communities across Ontario. The curriculum includes a series of eight seminars across the province, a North American Study Tour, and an International Study Tour. Study topics include government and political systems, marketing and economics, environmental impact, national and international trade, communication and organization skills, decision making, consumer and social issues, media relations, agri-food trends and society and globalization and the dynamics of change.

That first October meeting in Guelph, we had several 14-plus-hour days in close quarters with dozens of people we’d never met before. This included a formal banquet with AALP alumni, having professional photographs taken, completing an intensive two-day workshop on management styles, and receiving a lesson in business etiquette. By the end, I was exhausted, self-conscious, and unsure whether I should return.  However, during the intensive two-day workshop, I had sat around a table with four amazing people, all totally different, who had given me constructive insight into my personal style, my blind spots, and my areas to improve upon. I had also learned about their challenges. We were becoming a community, and the thought of losing them was intolerable. They gave me the drive to keep going, even though they didn’t know it.

It’s been more than a year, and since that time, the ground we’ve covered as a group has been immense. We’ve seen research and economic development partnerships in Sarnia, we’ve looked at local food systems in Eastern Ontario, we’ve visited national and provincial legislatures to talk with politicians, staff, and policy makers. We’ve toured diverse farm operations and community food hubs. We’ve learned how to talk to the media, facilitate groups, cultivate client relationships, and examine our own competing commitments that hold us back from achieving our goals. We’ve completed Myers-Briggs personality tests (shout out to my fellow INFJs!), and are nearing completion of a year-long project in teams of three, for a real-world client.

In addition to all of this, we toured the Great State of Texas in July 2018. Through this trip, guided by the dedication of knowledgeable and generous Dr. Jim Mazurkiewicz of Texas A&M University, we were exposed to a society, agriculture industry, and culture that was exciting and illuminating of our own home and global issues.

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We are not done yet. In February, we complete our international study tour to Washington, D.C. and Colombia. Among other things, we will visit the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, the National Federation of Cocoa Producers, Colombian Coffee Federation, and visit chili, sugar, coffee and cocoa production areas.

I was interested in the program because I felt I was ready for a challenge to help me identify my next steps. I wanted to be challenged in my assumptions and opinions, I wanted to reconnect with primary agriculture all across the province, and to deepen my understanding of it. Through participation in AALP I believe I have made progress on these goals. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would learn many things that I didn’t know I wanted to learn. I would never have visited Texas on my own. Having done so has educated me in unexpected ways. That trip, as well as my exposure to my classmates, our speakers and tour hosts, has helped me to grow in unanticipated directions. I am still unsure as to how I will be able to apply all of the learning I’ve done through AALP, but I know that it is positively affecting my work and my outlook, in some way, every day.

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