A Conversation with the Governor and First Lady of Wyoming
Gordons talk hunger, legislation and the future of agriculture
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture sat down with Governor Mark Gordon and First Lady Jennie Gordon to talk about the importance of agriculture, their work in the ag sector, and Ag Day.
WDA: First Lady, the Wyoming Hunger Initiative has been a major focus of yours. Can you tell us a little about the program?
First Lady Gordon: Wyoming Hunger Initiative [WHI] was launched in October 2019 with a very specific goal: do whatever we could to support anti-hunger organizations working throughout the state. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we wanted to identify long-term, sustainable solutions to reduce hunger in our state.
Agriculture is one of the top three industries in Wyoming and there is no reason our families should go hungry with the amount of resources available. We responded by launching Food from the Farm + Ranch in cooperation with WDA, Stock Growers, and Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies this past year.
WDA: Food from the Farm + Ranch is part of WHI. What makes it different?
First Lady Gordon: Food from the Farm + Ranch was created to utilize Wyoming agricultural products to combat food insecurity. Fresh food and sources of high-quality protein are notoriously expensive and difficult to procure. In 2020, 54 total animals were donated to Food from the Farm + Ranch by Wyoming ranchers and those who donated their county fair purchases. Even in a year when the backlog in meat processing dates presented challenges statewide, innovative thinking and flexibility saved the day.
WDA: Are there any other new pieces of WHI coming soon, or already in the works?
First Lady Gordon: “Grow a Little Extra” is the newest component of Food from the Farm + Ranch that will launch for the first time this spring. University of Wyoming Extension and the Cent$ible Nutrition program are already doing good work around the state with the Master Gardener program, sharing horticulture resources, promoting food gardens, and helping people learn how to cook and eat more vegetables. The “Grow a Little Extra” program will leverage existing efforts and help increase access to local produce for a wide range of people in Wyoming.
WDA: Governor, the Legislature is in town. What are you keeping your eye on this session for Wyoming ag?
Governor Gordon: There are some very important bills this year, and many that I am happy to see introduced. During 2020 WDA ran a program to support meat processing facilities. The success of that program led to continued interest and a bill to do more in that arena; there is a bill to help get Wyoming protein into our schools, which fits nicely with the First Lady’s [Hunger] Initiative and would be a great way to ensure our kids are getting quality nutrition. I do have to pause here and say how proud I am of Jennie and her work, it’s been amazing to watch come together. Other important bills address issues we’ve seen in the industry, including potential antitrust problems and price manipulation. Boxed beef margins and consolidation of processors are increasingly concerning. Senator Nethercott’s bill [Senate File 124] would help us protect ag producers and citizens when potential antitrust issues arise. I was also pleased to sign into law changes that help us with invasive species, which has been a major focus of mine.
WDA: You mentioned two bills that have been priorities for you – antitrust and invasive species. Why are these so important?
Governor Gordon: The anti-trust bill really came out of an issue that was significant for our sheep producers. Last year we lost a processing facility that was owned in large part by Wyoming producers. It removed access to an 800,000 animals-per-year piece of infrastructure and sent a shockwave through the West. When we started looking into what Wyoming could do to help, it became clear we didn’t have the necessary investigative authority. Senate File 124 would expand that authority and put us in a better place to stop major corporations from concentrating market power in a way that harms our Wyoming businesses and consumers – whether that’s within the ag industry or another sector. The invasive species bill, now law, was based on recommendations included in my Invasive Species Initiative’s final report. Mainly, changes give Weed and Pest Districts flexibility within their second mill, if they levy one. For our producers, this means we can maintain quality forage and reduce the impacts of invasive species on multiple aspects of their operations.
WDA: What do you see as the major challenges moving forward for Wyoming agriculture?
Governor Gordon: Our biggest challenge continues to be getting younger producers into the game. It isn’t easy starting out, even with programs that exist at the state and federal level. I want to make sure our future producers have the education and tools they need to succeed in the modern world. I also worry about what the future may hold with a new administration in DC and some of the rhetoric in Congress. There are places we may be able to get things done – conservation credits, wildlife habitat, carbon capture, etc. – but the water is still murky and we can’t tell if we agree on things like a definition for “conservation.” Clearly we have some disagreement on fossil fuels and “emissions” from livestock! My hope is that DC will listen to those of us on the ground who actually know what agriculture means and how much it can benefit our country, our wildlife, and our ecosystems.
To both FLOW and GOV: Why is Ag Day important to you?
Wyoming agriculture is a cornerstone of this state. From our territorial beginnings and open range to the modern era, agriculture has consistently been an underpinning part of our culture and economy. Sustainability is so important to us and we are blessed to still have our family place that Crow [Governor Gordon’s father] purchased in 1947. We want to make sure all ag families have the opportunity to stay and work the land they love and also introduce this industry to a new generation to agriculture, like we were fortunate enough to do with our kids. Ag folks are humble people and we don’t often brag about the wonderful things we do so today is for all of our producers and it’s a little chance to celebrate everything wonderful about agriculture, a little chance to be proud of how special our producers really are.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News