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September 23, 2010   Email to Friend 

BOOT CAMP: Federation Trains Future Ag Leaders
By Debra Davis

Sally Leavelle of Tuscaloosa County, center, accepts her certificate of recognition for attending the boot camp from AFBF President Bob Stallman and AFBF Women's Leadership Committee Chairman Terry Gilbert.
For Sally Leavelle, the rolling hills of west Tuscaloosa County where she and her husband Clyde raise soybeans, hay and cattle are a long way from her home state of New Jersey. But after years of living on the farm, the former "city girl" feels more prepared than ever to share agriculture's story with city folks.

The tools to do just that were handed out in heaping portions during the American Farm Bureau's Women's Communications Boot Camp, July 27-30 at AFBF headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Tuscaloosa County Farmers Federation sponsored her trip. Only 16 applicants from throughout the country were accepted for this year's camp, and Leavelle said she was honored to attend.

"We covered a lot of ground in a short period of time," Leavelle said. "We learned how to give speeches, work with the media and how to use social media to help tell agriculture's story. We also learned about the importance of being politically active, such as running for office or encouraging qualified candidates to seek public office, and we learned about giving testimony about legislation that affects farmers."

Leavelle first learned of the boot camp when she attended the AFBF annual meeting in New Orleans a few years ago. She said it sounded interesting and when the Tuscaloosa County Farmers Federation agreed to sponsor her application, she decided to apply.

Leavelle, who had been interviewed by print and broadcast reporters in the past, said what she learned at the camp will help make her more prepared for future interviews.

"I learned things to help me approach the media about a story, not just waiting for a story to react to something," she said. "I also learned some of the pitfalls to beware of when dealing with the media. I know now how important it is to collect your thoughts before you do an interview."

The camp helped Leavelle hone her skills in other areas as well. As the wife of a retired Army colonel, she's given many speeches over the years, mainly when troops were being deployed, offering support for the families. But the speeches she was asked to make at the boot camp were a bit more challenging.

"At the boot camp, we were given several topics with information based on Farm Bureau's policy," Leavelle said. "We chose a subject and had to prepare a 2-3 minute speech. My topic was climate change. We were videotaped and then we had a one-on-one critique by the Farm Bureau staff. That made it very personal."

Similar training sessions were held with print and radio media settings, she said. " I would highly recommend the boot camp to anyone interested in agriculture," she said. "We've got to do a better job of telling our story."

Leavelle said she plans to put the training she received to good use.

Tuscaloosa County Farmers Federation Women's Leadership Committee Chairman Peggy Walker said her entire county is pleased Leavelle was chosen to participate in the program. "I know this will benefit all of us as she shares what's she learned," Walker said.

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