Sunnyside farmer Rick Herndon will be headed to China next week as part of the Washington Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation's leadership program. He spoke to members of the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club Thursday morning about the leadership program, which he has been a member of since the fall of 2003.
A member of the 26th class, the leadership group was started in the late 1970s by the Kellogg Foundation. The 18-month program is designed to train those working in the natural resource field or related industries to hone their leadership skills and take them back to their communities, becoming leaders in their field.
The cost for each student is $10,000, of which about $3,500 the participant actually has to come up with, said Herndon.
There are 21 participants in Herndon's class, of which 60 percent are agriculture and forestry producers. The balance of his classmates are members of government, natural resource workers, county extension employees, environmental lawyers and those working in other related industries.
"The group is made up geographically to represent all of the state," said Herndon, who added that politically, the group is also diverse.
During one of his seminars, Herndon heard from a reporter from the Capitol Press, who is an alumnus of the program. Going into the program the reporter was a self-proclaimed liberal, whom most working in natural resources would call a "tree hugger," said Herndon. The program brought him back to the center and maybe a little to the right because he learned that most people working in natural resources are really just trying to be stewards of the land.
The media seminar was one of 12, three-day seminars Herndon attended as part of the 18-month program. He also attended seminars on urban and rural relationships, which took him to a school in Seattle where half of the school's parking lot was ripped up and turned into a garden and greenhouse.
When learning about the school's gardening program, the members of Herndon's group were questioning whether the school was using pesticides or growing organic foods and the teacher said, "It's really about getting the kids to understand that their food comes from the soil."
Herndon added that many living in urban settings don't know were their food comes from.
Topics of other seminars include social issues, state government, federal government, which includes a trip to Washington D.C., forestry, agriculture, Columbia River issues and crime and corrections.
The Provider Pals program is a special program when a class in another state adopts a farmer, miner or logger, said Herndon. Over time the students, many of whom live in urban areas, relate to their adopted natural resource producer, learning about farming, mining and logging. As part of the program the adopted farmer, logger or miner travels to the classroom to relate to the class and, if funds are available, a group of students will spend a week away from home learning about the natural resource field first hand.
The goal of the whole program is to see those who are potential leaders, and nurture those skills, said Herndon.
He said that these leaders need to be involved in their community and, if called, their government. One of the alumnus of the program is Rep. Dan Newhouse.
Herndon's class will be the fifth to make their international trip to China. Originally, the class was scheduled to travel to the Republic of Georgia, but when the trip was being planned last summer the country was on the brink of a civil war.
Traveling to China, he will be able to see how fast and far the country has advanced. One of the industries China has grown in is apples. The country now exports 1.2 billion boxes of apples annually.
One valley in China produces 400 million boxes of apples alone, which is well over the annual production for the state of Washington.