Vice Admiral James Stockdale was held as a prisoner in Hanoi during the Vietnam War for over seven years repeatedly tortured and kept in solitary confinement.  In one instance he cut and disfigured his own face so that he could not be used for propaganda.  When discussing why he was able to survive the harsh conditions when many of his prison mates did not, he accredited his survival to how he chose to approach the situation.  His approach has become what is known as the Stockdale Paradox: “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” 

It is not a secret that the challenges facing agriculture are brutal, and while many look at the future of agriculture with trepidation I see this as an incredible opportunity to prevail.   Albeit intense, the potential for the Voices of Agriculture in Arizona to be an authority that the rest of our country can look to, take seriously, and follow when it comes to sustainability in farming, ranching, and food production in the U.S. isn’t just possible, it’s incredibly vital to our survival.   

I, like Stockdale, am not naïve. As the Director of the newly established Grassroots Engagement, I feel the weight and responsibility to advocate for our ag producers in a meaningful way, AND I am here for it.   

If you were able to make it to an annual meeting this year where our Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse spoke, I imagine you were as inspired as I was.  In Yavapai County she made the following statement: “…you’re talking about an issue, and they say, ‘we’ve been dealing with that for years, there’s nothing you can do… that’s just the way it is.’  I hate that! There’s always something that you can do…and I just refuse to accept that.”  I refuse to accept that too, even though there is much to be done.   

Generation gaps, value differences, sustainability and how that will be defined, conservation, natural resources, weather, politics, social systems, and culture, are only a few of the overwhelming influences that are knocking on the door of ag production, some of which we will never be able to control.   We will have to elevate the work we do with grit, determination, realism, as well as unwavering faith and discipline. 

The Arizona Farm Bureau Federation is in a unique position to collaborate with, provide resources to, and advocate for the county board and its members by developing programs and processes from the ground up. I am intently listening to the needs and voices in Arizona counties and working to provide opportunities for county programs of work and voice engagement. As of now, we plan to:

  • Offer updated and relevant training to county Farm Bureau leaders at annual meetings and beyond. 
  • Create a member onboarding experience for member growth and retention. 
  • Create a library of online resources for leadership to utilize in a way that makes sense to them and their busy time frames. 
  • Create a series of mental health training, support, and community resources across Arizona. 


We are here to help you continually develop the resources, programs, and networks to grow your brand, business, and voice in Arizona agriculture. We also invite you to reach out and make suggestions on topics you believe would be helpful in your grassroots leadership role.

Our field managers will be utilizing the most up-to-date resources, governance, and effective procedural operations used by our county farm bureaus.  We are collaborating as a state staff to increase county media presence through specific branding, media, and marketing education.  We are assessing ways to broaden and strengthen our membership and business networks for our producers, assisting them in their desires for success.

The sustainability of agriculture in Arizona begins with strong, effective county stewardship, and a desire to leave our organization better than we found it for the benefit of our members and successors.   

Assessing strengths and areas for improvement in each county and addressing those areas with brutal reality as well as unwavering faith and discipline that we are going to prevail is both intimidating and exhilarating.  I do believe we are going to look back on this specific time in Arizona Agriculture history and be thankful for the experience that has given the Arizona Farm Bureau this opportunity to remain the authority as the Voice of Arizona Agriculture.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Arizona Agriculture.