What’s on the minds of Minnesota’s rural residents?
For three years now, Minnesota Farmers Union has held a series of Rural Voices Discussions in locations around Minnesota. These events have been popular not just among our members, but among family farmers, rural residents, media and advocates in general. All members and the general public are welcomed at these free, open sessions.
If you’ve never been to a Rural Voices Discussion, here’s what you can expect: The focus is on listening to you, not having someone talk at you. MFU puts together a listening panel, often consisting of President Gary Wertish; state agency commissioners or assistant commissioners; and a representative from National Farmers Union. The panelists have no agenda for the discussion rather than to hear from you. MFU Membership and Outreach Director Bruce Miller is the moderator.
If you’d like to speak up, raise your hand and you’ll likely be called on. Stand up, state your name and where you’re from, and say what’s on your mind. Sometimes a panelist will respond if you have a specific question they can help with; otherwise they just listen.
Once all who desired to speak have had their turn, each panelist will share their reflections on what they heard and any actions they can take as a result. You will have time following to talk with them if you have further questions.
Also in attendance are staff from Minnesota’s members of Congress. They sit among the rest of the attendees, but also share their thoughts at the end about what they’ll bring back to our representatives. Occasionally, state legislators attend as well. We make a point to invite other groups who share our advocacy interests and who can provide resources that could benefit you.
The Rural Voices Discussions are your chance to be heard. It may feel sometimes like you’re not being heard, especially if you can’t make it to St. Paul or Washington, D.C. often. But your voice matters. We’re making it easy to speak up. Not to mention, there are refreshments such as coffee, milk and pastries.
Even if you can’t attend a discussion in person, we livestream each of them on our Facebook page and live-tweet them on Twitter, with the hashtag #RuralVoices, so you can still share your thoughts with us. MFU staff take detailed notes of the discussion, which are compiled into a report that’s presented to media and legislators later on.