Out of My Comfort Zone
In this week’s blog, USF in DC Fellow, Kallie Barrie, shares her experience as an intern at Monument Advocacy. Read how she used her time on the Hill to gain confidence and insight into pursuing a career in food and agriculture policy.
In my semester in D.C., I was a Food and Agriculture Legislative Fellow at Monument Advocacy. I had the glamorous and enviable role of attending excruciatingly long Congressional hearings discussing what legislation will likely be proposed. Suddenly, my background in food access work catapulted me to a career in which conversations surrounding monopolies in meat packing, conservation versus climate debates in agriculture, and the start of the renewal process of the Farm Bill were the highlight of my day. And shockingly for the most part, I loved it!
As I made further progress in my fellowship, attending these Congressional hearings then morphed into attending client meetings. I then found myself in zoom meetings with Feeding America and congressional staffers to aid in the request of increased appropriations for food and nutrition security programming. I found myself writing memos for clients regarding my opinion on what will likely get passed- or not- in the upcoming Farm Bill. I had opportunities to set meeting agendas with people who had congressional power, which doesn’t mean much nowadays, but allowed me to advocate for policies that increased accessibility to food, rural mental healthcare, and climate smart practices. Suddenly, I felt like I had an educated voice to share, and an insight that people valued.
My days were filled with writing, research, and talking to people. My three favorite things! I loved the fast pace, I loved the legislative analysis, and I surprisingly loved agriculture. I mean, in what other career field do you get to hear in real time a witness on the House Floor in an official congressional hearing say “God made the sun, God made water, and God made grass. So of course, God created cows” The comedy alone is enough to keep you interested.
But it wasn’t all great. I was able to experience all these amazing opportunities and I was able to hone in on my writing and further skills I didn’t even know I had. Throughout the whole experience I had a voice in the back of my head growing louder and louder asking, “How did I even get here?”
Before the pandemic I was a nursing major. This was my first semester fully in-person in the major I was going to graduate with honors and I was working on policy in the United States capitol. I felt like I was thrown in the deep end without a life vest having only ever taken swim lessons remotely on zoom without access to a pool. With every new opportunity at work, the voice grew louder and I struggled more to come up for air.
I was so fortunate to have mentors at my workplace and through USF, and building those relationships threw me a life preserver. I was still in the deep end, and even as my fellowship has concluded and resulted in a full-time job offer to keep doing what I am doing, the voice is still there. The comforting thing is I realized pretty much everyone has that voice, and there are some days where it’s screaming at me and some days where I can’t even hear it.
For better or worse, this experience pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I was forced to grow into myself and my confidence in my work. I have the privilege of continuing to advocate for better food access, mental health access in rural communities, and easier access to promotion of climate smart agriculture, all issues I really care about. My experience in D.C. has helped me figure out what I like, and what I don’t, and start to build my career while hopefully hearing more ridiculous “cow” quotes at drastically inappropriate times.