I know this post is really old news, but this was such an amazing opportunity for Tom and I that I had to take the time to record it here, even if just for our own sake.
Last fall Tom and I took our final trip with the Farmers Union Young Ag Leadership Couples group. (That's a mouthful). For background information about our involvement in this group, revisit this post about our first trip, this post, and this post.
Twice a year, Farmer's Union holds a Fly-in, which is an opportunity for all Farmer's Union states to send representation to D.C. to meet with Congressman and advocate (or lobby) for our positions regarding current Agricultural policies. As part of our Leadership training, we were invited to join the Montana contingency on this trip.
Since neither of us had ever been to D.C., we couldn't miss the chance to do a bit of sight-seeing, so we flew in a day early.
I decided to leave my big camera at home in favor of traveling light. My photo quality suffered but my back appreciated the sacrifice.
Our first stop was the National Air & Space Museum. We also spent time in the Holocaust Museum (my favorite and the most impactful) and the American History Museum. You could spend days just touring the museums, of course.
We met up with some of our group and toured the mall. I like this photo of me with our friend Cassandra—here are two farm moms from Western Montana, playing tourists in D.C. Nothing remarkable about that. But we were looking forward to being inside those government buildings the next day, meeting face to face with the people who run our country. That is an opportunity not everyone gets to experience.
North Dakota Farmer's Union actually owns two very popular restaurants in D.C. that serve farm to table food. We enjoyed eating at each of them (one of them twice) and they ARE all they are cracked up to be! So if you are ever in the area, be sure to try Farmers, Fishers & Bakers, and Founding Farmers.
Tom and I noticed there were several Segway tour options in the area, and since we had done this once before in Salt Lake, we talked some of our group into going on a Segway Tour with us. Here we are suited up and a little nervous about navigating Segways through busy D.C. traffic.
Once we got comfortable (it is very intuitive and fun), we all agreed this was the way to see a lot of sights in a short time. We each wore a headset so we could hear our tour guide, who was very funny and full of information.
Our group in front of the White House:
We saw many of the sights on the Mall and parked our Segways for a tour of the Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials.
When we stopped in front of the Capitol, our tour guide told us about the dome scaffolding. The restoration isn't scheduled to be complete until after the new president takes office in 2017, so they actually have a multi-million dollar contract in place to remove the scaffolding for the inauguration, and then put it back up to complete the renovation. Government waste at it's finest.
That night back in our hotel we were watching TV and caught a speech Trump was making to a group of college students. He happened to be mentioning this particular Capitol project. He said "If I were in charge of this project, I would just say 'work faster!' But since I'm not in charge, this is the first money I will save our country if you elect me President. We can have the Inauguration with the scaffolding in place!" Ha ha.
On a recommendation from our Segway tour guide, we capped off the tour with lunch at D.C.'s oldest restaurant, the Old Ebbit Grill. The atmosphere and food was most excellent. I am getting hungry thinking about those crab cakes...
The next day we spent time at the National Farmer's Union offices visiting with staff and preparing our talking points for the visits with the Legislators. We were each assigned to a small group and assigned appointments to visit various congressmen/women. Some appointments were drop-offs only (we left information regarding our position on certain issues), some were meetings with secretaries or Ag Advisors, and others were with the Senators or Reps themselves.
This is our group (minus one of the ladies who wasn't able to attend):
While most of our group attended a press briefing at the Dept of Ag the next morning, our Montana group was invited to a muffins and coffee social with our Montana delegation.
And here we are, hobnobbing with our Senators and Representative: Senator Steve Daines, Representative Ryan Zinke, and Senator John Tester. (Yes, there are only 3 of them. With just over a million in population, the 4th largest state in our union has only 1 Representative.)
I should have prepared better for this event by eating breakfast before, but naturally I assumed that breakfast with our delegation meant we would be eating there. Moments before this photo was taken with Senator Daines (left), I was unsuccessfully juggling my coffee and muffin on a plate, and managed to drop my muffin on the floor right at the Senator's feet. Classy. Without missing a beat he bent down and picked up for me and set it aside. Yes.
After that, we joined the others at the USDA in time to catch lunch at their giant cafeteria. I should have a photo of this. If anyone can have an impressive cafeteria the USDA should, yes? I think I wandered around for about 25 minutes completely unable to make a decision about what to eat. I settled on the salad bar, which wasn't a sacrifice.
In the afternoon we were invited to a Press Briefing at the White House, for which we had to submit our information for clearance several weeks in advance. We were told what time to show up at the gates to go through security, and we spent a warm afternoon standing in line outside the White House gates. The process was not without entertainment.
The security in Washington is eye-opening. They say it has ramped up considerably while Obama has been in office. We had seen a number of motorcades traveling through town already, usually including a police escort or two with sirens blaring. You always wonder who is riding by through the dark glass of the vehicles. This time we didn't wonder. It was obvious it was the president. As we walked toward the White House, we noticed there were suddenly police everywhere. Then as we approached a street corner there were police stopping traffic and yelling at any pedestrians who dared approach the curb. We found a safe place away from the street to stop and watch. After awhile, the President's motorcade drove by, heading toward the White House gates. The video below isn't the best view, but I think I counted at least 15 vehicles including multiple SUVs, an ambulance, police, etc.
After that little event we needed to cross north of the White House to the gates where we were to check in. Normally you can cross just beyond the White House lawn, but security personnel kept pushing us north away from the area, so we had to take a long detour around as they were preparing for a helicopter to land.
After some time we saw the helicopter take off again. We were told the President was leaving for a meeting across the river in Virginia. Whenever the President travels by helicopter, three helicopters take off at the same time and immediate scramble in the air so you don't know which one contains the president.
When we were finally allowed in the gates we went through several stages of security. We were in fact not going into the actual White House—only the Eisenhower Office building next to it. Very few people are actually allowed in the White House anymore, as I understand it.
This is the room where our briefing was held. Some of our group snuck a photo of themselves behind the official White House podium. I just remember sitting in very comfortable chairs and having a terrible time trying to stay awake while we listened for 2 hours to various members of President and First Lady's staff.
That night we were treated to a nighttime tour of many of the monuments and war memorials. They were almost more impactful at night, especially the Korean War Memorial (the last photo).
Finally, our last two days of the actual Fly-in arrived, and we dressed in our business best and pounded the pavement between the Senate and Representative office buildings.
This is me doing one of our drop-off visits.
And this is the group of us that met with Senator Tester in his office.
I really like each one of our Montana Delegates and found them all to be very personable. I was impressed that they each took the time to visit with us. They even took the time to discuss some very personal issues with some in our Montana group. Farmer's Union definitely played a roll in opening doors for us, and it was clear to me that the National Farmer's Union president, Roger Johnson, has a great rapport with those in power in Washington. They listen to what he has to say.
If you are interested at all in being involved with an organization where you can make an impact and have a voice in the politics affecting Agriculture and small family farms, Farmer's Union is the place to do it. Other organizations might be larger, but this one will give you the platform to have a direct voice.
Farmer's Union chooses a new couple from Montana each year to participate in this Leadership program, so if you are a young (-ish) couple (or even a young single) in Agriculture and are interested in an amazing experience, I would invite you to let us know. Opportunities abound!