Two north central Washington high school students got their first lobbying experience when they participated in the annual Tree Fruit Day at the Washington State legislature in Olympia.

The two Cashmere High School students, Danielle Morrison and Heather Powell, both in the eleventh grade, attended Tree Fruit Day as part of their projects for Future Farmers of America. It was Powell’s first visit to the state capitol.

Tree Fruit Day, sponsored by the Washington State Horticultural Association, is held each January to bring industry members face to face with legislators to highlight the value of the tree fruit industry and share industry concerns. More than 30 growers, shippers, and allied industry representatives attended this year’s event in January and visited more than 30 legislators and their staff. The group ­delivered some 300 gift packs filled with fresh apples, pears, and fruit products to legislators and government officials.

The Hort Association’s Stephanie Chance says this was the first time students participated in the industry’s Tree Fruit Day. “They wore their FFA uniforms, which helped bring attention to the future of farming,” she said. “The two had great insight into tree fruit industry issues, spoke with poise and intelligence, and were a great addition to the ­legislator visits. We hope to get more students involved in the future.”

Morrison and Powell are not from farming backgrounds, but they both are members of Cashmere FFA’s apple judging team and active in other FFA projects and judging teams, from food science, to soils, to agricultural mechanics. Morrison is vice president of the chapter.

Voice for agriculture

The two are competing in an upcoming FFA public speaking contest and have chosen subjects that touch the tree fruit industry. Powell is speaking about immigration reform and the need for agricultural workers; Morrison is discussing the need for farm subsidies to be better directed to smaller farms and will highlight the many taxes that farmers pay. Speeches must be six to eight minutes long, and contestants must answer questions from the judges after their talk. This is the first year Morrison and Powell are entered in the speaking contest.

“I love politics and leadership,” Morrison said to Good Fruit Grower, “and I’m interested in doing something in ­agriculture for my career.”

Morrison says she learned more about the issues facing the tree fruit industry during the Olympia visit, including topics that were discussed that day—immigration reform, water issues, mandatory labeling for genetically modified ­organisms, and tax ­policies.

Powell was nervous about her first visit with legislators, but says the topics were very interesting. “I chose immigration reform for my public speech topic because it’s a local problem, and growers need a labor force to pick their fruit. The locals won’t do orchard work because it’s hard work.”

Through research for her speech, she’s learned about the difficulties of using the existing federal guest-worker program.

Powell, like Morrison, wants to be involved in agriculture after high school, perhaps as a vocational agricultural teacher.

Cassidy Weaver is another FFA student entered in the public speaking contest. Weaver, a tenth-grade student at Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee, is speaking on the food safety certification program known as GlobalGAP (Good Agricultural Practices). Many retailers are requiring that their suppliers comply with the voluntary GlobalGAP program, which includes passing a third-party audit on the farm.

Weaver has deep roots in Washington’s tree fruit industry and said she chose ­GlobalGAP because it’s an issue that impacts local tree fruit growers, and she wanted to learn all sides of the complex topic. “In my research, I learned even more than I thought I could understand,” she said, adding that she interviewed orchardists and a GlobalGAP auditor.

FFA advisors for Powell and Morrison at Cashmere FFA are Rusty Finch and Jed ­Odenrider. Weaver’s FFA speech advisor is Jeff DeJarnett.