To continue the discussion about what sustainability is for you, me, and all of the people who produce AND eat our food, we are going straight to the top. I talked about the S-word (aka sustainability) with Dr. Jewel H. Bronaugh, the United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Dr. Bronaugh obtained a broad list of natural accomplishments on the road to her current role at USDA that include being the 16th Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia State Executive Director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University and time spent as a 4-H Extension Specialist. I was HONORED to discuss such an important topic with such an accomplished woman who naturally has fallen into her roles.
From the moment I first listened to Dr. Bronaugh talk several years ago at an event and learned about all of the roles she has very intentionally taken on over the years, I am so happy she is in the current seat she is in now. From a standpoint of diversity and inclusion, she is the right voice to have at the table for sustainability in agriculture.
A Natural Fit
Growing up in a family focused on education, learning was a part of her heritage. And with family members in agriculture, her current role (and every role in between) was a natural combination of the two. However, the United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture was not initially on her radar.
She began her career as a high school teacher with the dream of becoming a college professor one day. After her father’s passing, she wanted to move back home. In her job search, she found an opening in 4-H Extension. Initially, this is what sparked her love for the agriculture industry. From there, everything else was a natural fit.
Sustainability From Every Angle
With every role she has stepped into, sustainability is a hot topic. Whether that is personally in her everyday life, her career as United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture at the USDA, or investing in the future of agriculture, she understands sustainability at every level.
Personally, she compares sustainability to the airplane emergency landing instructions flight attendants share: put your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs.
The “oxygen mask” we need for ourselves is the key to helping others for Dr. Bronaugh.
Investing in her own health through proper exercise and nutrition is her personal sustainability. And within her household, sustainability conversations happen all the time. From food waste to not letting the water run, sustainability can be worked in every day naturally for each of us, just like Dr. Bronaugh’s family.
She also has USDA sustainability practices conversations every day too.
In her experience, all producers WANT to be sustainable and already are taking part in best practices. Regardless of the size of the farm, each producer matters and is important in sustainability.
Investing in the Future of Agriculture
Last but certainly not least, she knows young farmers are the future of agriculture and investing in them is essential to sustaining our food supply. At the USDA , they strive to instill an appreciation of agriculture at a young age through their programs. This is key to keeping agriculture alive and well for generations to come.
Dr. Bronaugh is the definition of preparation meets opportunities for those who keep their head down and work hard. Her advice to others is to always focus on your character and the rest will fall into place. We don’t all make perfect decisions, but your character will always show who you are. Get prepared and you will land in the seat to steer the ship. And be ready to take full advantage of your opportunities and make a change!