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Noel Mathison (with beard) makes a point during a Class 32 seminar.

Noel Mathison (with beard) makes a point during a Class 32 seminar.

What does Washington State Senator Linda Evans Parlette have in common with Dain Craver, grower of organic tree fruits? Both are graduates of the Washington State Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation’s Leadership Program. The Ag Forestry Leadership Program, now in its thirty-second year in Washington State, is a leadership development program dedicated to enhancing the natural resource industries.

Evans Parlette, a member of Class II, said she greatly benefited from the Ag Forestry experience. “I may have acquired all of the skills I learned, eventually, but I believe the program speeded up the maturation process. For sure, it piqued my interest in a much wider variety of reading material as a younger person. I often describe my Ag Forestry experience like one of riding a glass elevator. Each time you go up a floor, you see something new, something that perhaps others before you have witnessed, but it is new to you for the first time.”

Each year, a class of 24 participants is selected in a competitive process. Class members must be residents of Washington State and must work in the agriculture, forestry, or fisheries industries. Dave Roseleip, foundation president, said, “We encourage applications from anyone involved in farming, shipping, processing, and marketing, as well as research, extension and government. Every effort is made to ensure that the class is as diverse as possible.”

People choose to participate in the program for many reasons. I applied because I saw people with self-confidence, political savvy, and personal effectiveness, who credited their success to their participation in the Ag Forestry Leadership Program. Noel Mathison of Camp David Enterprises, said, “I enrolled in the Ag Forestry Leadership Program to further my education on politics, natural resources, pressing issues that affect my industry, and most of all to develop my leadership skills.”

Foreign country

The program includes 14 seminars over a period of 18 months. Most seminars are three days long and are held in various parts of Washington State. There are also two longer seminars, one in Washington, D.C., and one in a foreign country.

As a member of Class 32, which began in October 2009, I’ve attended the first three seminars. These were not the boring lectures you may remember from college. These seminars required advance preparation and active participation to help us develop leadership skills. We gave speeches, moderated seminars, and had a practice television interview.

We also learned about negotiation, effective listening, positive psychology, and many other subjects. Specific seminar subjects are continually updated to keep them current. A session on the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media generated great enthusiasm in our class.

My class members and I are looking forward to our future seminars, where we will discuss public policy and its effect on our communities. Topics include poverty and social issues, state government, national government, forestry, agriculture, the Columbia River system, crime and the prison system, urban issues, and international trade.

In addition to the seminars, a public policy project, done in small groups, gives participants a chance to delve into one subject in depth. Each group chooses an important public problem and develops a proposal for its solution. In the process, the individuals learn to analyze public policies and their effect on all segments of society.

Prospective applicants should realize that the program requires a significant time commitment and a fee to participate. There are 59 days of seminars, and additional time is required for collaboration on a public policy project. Many participants are independent farmers, others attend with the support of their employers. Raymon McKee, employed by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, said, “My employer encouraged me to be a part of Ag Forestry. Ste. Michelle has several alumni of the Ag Forestry program. They recognize the benefits that I will bring back to the company.”

For more information on the program in Washington State, see the Web site, If you live outside of Washington State, visit to obtain information on other agricultural leadership programs.

Graduates of the program, such as Dain Craver, agree that this is a tremendous program, and they encourage others to apply. “As a result of this program, I was invited to serve on boards, because I know how to handle myself in a meeting,” Craver said. “I also feel more comfortable giving talks about agriculture at grower’s meetings.”

Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery said, “For me, confidence in myself was of great benefit. Once I had the confidence, I knew that I could do almost anything that I set my mind to do. I still feel that way today, and Ag Forestry is one key reason why!”

Ag Forestry’s goal is to develop leaders who understand the importance of agriculture in Washington State, yet who are broadminded enough to consider the interests of other groups as well. The program has succeeded in giving participants skills, knowledge, and connections with other leaders in natural resource industries. This is what we need to ensure a bright future. I’m proud to be a part of it.

Dr. Pamela Coleman is a researcher with Agriculture Development Group, Inc., an independent research and consulting company based in Eltopia, Washington.