Missaukee County MAEAP tech Jodi DeHate is now Michigan’s second graduate of the Women’s Communication Boot Camp, an intensive three-day workshop in Washington, D.C. Focused on stretching, flexing and strengthening the communications skills of American agricultural women, the program takes participants outside their comfort zone from the very start—and doesn’t let up until it’s time to go home.
“They don’t call it a ‘boot camp’ for nothing!” DeHate said. “I loved it—it was really intense and really made you stretch what you thought you could do, and think differently about how you communicate with others.
“In my case, a big part of it was learning how to speak in front of a crowd of people without feeling like a dork!”
Indeed, it was nobody’s favorite activity—public speaking—that took center stage throughout the program, and the more fundamental grunt work that contributes to effectively communicating a message to an audience.
Participants compiled and presented speeches about the federal-level farm bill, then had their content and delivery of those presentations dissected by AFBF staffers.
Elise Stoddard, AFBF’s director of organizational development, offered guidance on gestures, inflection, body language and other learnable tactics for improving verbal presentations.
Johnna Miller, director of media and advocacy training, loaded Boot Camp participants with tips about social media advocacy and media training, which came in handy as DeHate and her 14 peers from across the country took part in realistic mock media interviews.
AFBF Director of Learning & Development Lindsay Calvert addressed the finer points of public speaking, and offered coaching on preparing a topic for discussion and readying for interest from the press.
“What did I really learn?” DeHate said. “I can answer tough questions. I can turn a negative into a positive. I can boil down jargon into something a consumer would understand.”
DeHate is looking forward to incorporating these learnings into a new blog she’s begun, and applying her boot-camp lessons into her work life as well.
“I know I write better with less industry jargon,” she said. “Being a MAEAP tech, I do articles sometimes and get interviewed by the paper every so often. I honestly think this will help me serve our farmers better.”
For six years now, DeHate has served the farms and farmers of Missaukee, Wexford, Kalkaska and Crawford counties, helping them achieve verification in MAEAP—the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program.
Beyond the day job, she and her husband Kevin run a popular vegetable farm near Marion, and its farm-market outlet in town. It’s there, in the face-to-face marketing of their fresh produce, where DeHate expects her Boot Camp training to pay off the most.
In addition to better engaging the occasional skeptic, she’s looking forward to striking a better balance between her technical knowledge and her deep-rooted passion for working the land, informed by a lifetime in farming.
“I’m an advocate and it matters that I have passion for what I speak about,” DeHate said. “Being authentic isn’t a marketing strategy, it’s truly who I am and I can now translate that into what I do.”
DeHate was one of 15 participants in the 2017 Boot Camp, Oct. 24-27, and the second graduate from Michigan. Ottawa County apple grower Helen Dietrich graduated from the same program in 2015.
Her fellow participants included a mix of women involved directly in production agriculture and in agribusiness.
“Best of all, I made 20 new friends,” DeHate said. “We laughed at ourselves throughout the week, groaned when Johnna really went after someone— trying to break them down—and cheered for our improvements.
“Without these ladies and spending time getting to know each other, this experience wouldn’t have been so rich.”
Visit De Ha Ven Farm’s Facebook page for the latest news from their vegetable business, and check out AFBF’s website for more information about the Women’s Communication Boot Camp.