Connecting with a field of candidates

This week I attended a candidate forum featuring six candidates for state-level offices here in North Carolina discussing issues related to farms, food, and hunger.

“Listened” would be a better description because the forum was held virtually due to COVID-19, but I think that was an advantage. There aren’t many opportunities to participate in a nonpartisan candidate event, especially with candidates running for some of the highest offices in the state. Zoom provided that opportunity. Even better, I could listen to the forum through my earbuds while giving my kids dinner and a bath. 

Participants were asked to submit questions for the candidates when we registered.  Five questions were chosen, and each candidate gave their response to the same question. Both candidates for commissioner of agriculture and labor commissioner participated. Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor and superintendent of public education also participated. 

The forum made me realize that agriculture needs to be connecting with candidates for all offices, even if they don’t have an obvious connection to agriculture. It’s natural for farmers to have discussions with candidates for the commissioner of agriculture. For those of us who have H2A laborers, connecting the commissioner of labor candidates is obvious.

I’m not sure if I would have thought about connecting with candidates for superintendent of public education before this forum. As a mom of school-aged children, including one exceptional learner, I’ve been following the candidates. As a farmer, I haven’t given them a thought. After listening to one of the candidates talk about agriculture education, school gardens, and school nutrition programs, I realized the farmer-side also needs to be talking to candidates and working with whoever is elected.

The same can be said for lieutenant governor. While the position doesn’t have a direct connection to agriculture, in North Carolina they sit on the State Economic Development Board. Since agriculture is the top industry in our state, we should be interested in what decisions that board makes. 

Unlike a debate, where candidates go back and forth, this was a conversation where a question was asked, and each candidate shared their response. In a time where many candidates focus on putting down their opponent, it was refreshing to hear candidates focus on themselves and share why we should support them. Absent the back-and-forth of a debate, the 370 attendees could focus on the candidates themselves and their message. I hope it becomes a regular event during elections because all candidates need to have farms, food, and hunger as priorities if they are going to hold an elected office in this state.

(Full disclosure – I work for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is overseen by the Commissioner of Agriculture. Both candidates for this office participated in the forum. I did not submit a question when I registered for the forum.)

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