How I Lead: Leah Miller Tackles Policy Questions That Impact Rural Communities

LeahCupolaLeah Miller grew up in rural Minnesota, and is currently a law student in the Twin Cities studying agricultural law topics. We asked her to tell us how she leads in the healthy food and farming movement, and why. (Interested in more information on women's leadership in healthy food and farming? Visit our Plate to Politics page.)

1.  What triggered your interest in healthy food and farming?

Growing up on a small farm in west-central Minnesota allowed me to fall in love with rural living and fall into an interest in agriculture generally. I joined FFA at my school, Kerkhoven Murdock Sunburg High School, and gained accolades and awards for my participation in agricultural leadership competitions like Agricultural Issues, Parliamentary Procedure, and Agriculture Communications.

Soon after that I went to the Twin Cities for college and I witnessed a massive decrease in pragmatic agricultural knowledge and food system competency amongst my peers at my university. My classmates, with good intention, would pitch lofty agricultural ideals with little thought for real policy-based change or the farmers in this world who are of good will. I would take food system and food sustainability seminars to learn more about the social justice aspect of food systems, while also correcting common misnomers that my peers held about farming and farmers. Now I am a law student at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and I aspire to learn more and more about the property law, sales, and intellectual property challenges that arise in the agriculture industry.

2.  How are you engaged in the healthy food and farming movement now?

Currently, my advocacy for healthy food and farming is illustrated not only through my informed consumerism, but also my policy-based online presence, and my elected position in Access to Justice, which is my law school's organization for students who desire to return to rural living to practice law and provide justice to small-town areas with few attorneys.

3.  What are one or two of your top priority issues, and why?

In Minnesota, we have an economy that is rooted in agriculture; however, the policies, regulations, and governance of the Twin Cities rarely, if ever, reflect that. My two top priority issues for agriculture in Minnesota are:

  1. have policies reflect the agricultural backbone of this state by
  2. informing legislators, potential legislators, and the general public of data-driven answers to popular, yet volatile, food questions.

I gain insight and action on these two priorities through the Minnesota Center for Rural Policy Development and other greater-Minnesota focused resources.

More specifically, my two priorities for rural Minnesota and the further development of agriculture and growth of small towns are internet availability and the general infrastructure concerns of a growing small town.

4.  What are your plans for the future, as they relate to sustainable agriculture?

I aspire to live in small-town Minnesota and work on developing policy that is beneficial to the entire state. In that way, I plan on representing farmers, urban dwellers, and your average taxpayer Jill on agricultural issues relevant to them, whether or not they fully appreciate how they may be affected. Moving forward, I hope to spread awareness and a mentality of respect when discussing food systems and their importance.

5.  Who is your primary mentor and why?

Senator Michele Benson, who currently represents a section of the northwest Twin Cities metro area, is my primary mentor. I admire her for an array of reasons, but primarily because we have a similar rural upbringing paired with a similar passion for good public policy. She has been gracious in sharing her wisdom on all things like agriculture, faith, how to tolerate Twin Cities traffic, and, of course, public policy in Minnesota.

6.  What advice to you have for other women who want to become more effective leaders in healthy food and farming?

Listen. Listen. Listen.

True change comes through relationships, not a blog or an angry tweet. The reality of our food system requires patience and kindness, fueled by purpose. So listen, converse, build community, learn, and eat good food.

7.  Any additional comments to share?

Thanks for all the good work that gets done because of networks like WFAN!