CFANS students visit state Capitol

The CFANS students met with legislators and learned about the political process.

Director of the Minnesota Senate Information Office Scott Magnuson explains policy procedures to students from CFANS in the Minnesota State Senate Chambers on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at the State Capitol. A new CFANS policy engagement program allows students to learn about the political process as it relates to agriculture and the environment.

Emily Dunker

Director of the Minnesota Senate Information Office Scott Magnuson explains policy procedures to students from CFANS in the Minnesota State Senate Chambers on Thursday, April 4, 2013, at the State Capitol. A new CFANS policy engagement program allows students to learn about the political process as it relates to agriculture and the environment.

Hailey Colwell

Last year, freshman Olive Martin worked with children in Congo to make their school’s farm profitable so they could buy uniforms.

It inspired her to learn about agricultural policy so she could improve commerce in other developing countries.

Martin and other students from the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences visited the state Capitol on Friday to learn about the political process.

“It really makes me feel like there’s a future for this in my academic career,” Martin said.

The students met with legislators, learned about the history of transportation law at the Senate Chamber and talked with lobbyists about the public misconceptions of lobbying.

Throughout the course of the semester, the students have discussed the tensions and overlap between environment, agriculture and natural resource issues as part of the CFANS Policy Engagement Program, which was launched in February by three University alumni.

Walking the halls of the Capitol and meeting legislators was their chance to see it all in action.

“It kind of seems like [we] saw the guts of the Capitol,” said applied economics junior Andy Engstrom.

Leah Peterson, CFANS alumna and law clerk for the Minnesota Court of Appeals, said she and two other alumni drafted the program because they wanted to use their connections with state government to teach students about the political process.

The students met with members of the House of Representatives to discuss the agricultural and environmental topics on their minds.

“You can’t have one without the other,” said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who told the students about the importance of reaching out to their legislators about the issues they believe in.

“Agriculture and the environment go hand-in-hand,” Hamilton said, “so it’s great when you see people who are interested in both aspects working together.”

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, who talked with the students about water quality issues, said coming at environmental problems from different angles can be the key to solving them.

Matt Wohlman, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and a University alumnus who helped create the program, said he hopes the visit helped students understand how people create relationships in the political process.

“People can be friends and articulate their issues,” Wohlman said, “and still be able to coexist.”

As the program continues throughout this year and beyond, he said students will build on the connections they’ve made with policymakers to stay involved in the issues they care about.

“They have tremendous power to be able to speak their voice,” he said. “They just have to use it.”