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Broadening my view of the world with the Society of Environmental Journalists

PITTSBURGH — Regular readers of this column (all three or four of you) know that I often harp on the importance of broadening our perspectives. We all need to read and listen to viewpoints outside our normal circle and temporarily escape "the echo chamber" that reinforces what we already think and believe.

Well, I practice what I preach. I spent Oct. 4-6 here in Pittsburgh at the annual convention of the Society of Environmental Journalists, which has about 1,500 members nationwide.(I'm not one of them.) The event includes sessions on conservation, the 2018 farm bill, urban agriculture and climate change, among other issues.

Because of the ag component, SEJ wanted to bring in some ag journalists, and I received a fellowship — a fancy word which means my expenses were paid — to attend.

Why was I selected? Well, I'm national vice president of North American Agricultural Journalists, the professional group for ag journalists in the United States and Canada; no doubt that was a factor. And though the environmental journalists were too polite to say so, it probably helped that I offer a viewpoint from the hinterlands. (The word refers to a rural region far from urban areas, usually well inland — and Grand Forks, N.D., where I'm based, surely fits that definition.)

My time at the environmental journalists' event will contribute directly to several stories.

I'm tentatively planning a future Agweek cover on climate change, based in part on what I learn here. I'll include other viewpoints not mentioned here, as well.

Another story, among others, will be on urban agriculture. I've thought about doing such a story for several years, but never really had good subject matter close at hand. (Hey, I live in the hinterlands.) Now, my stint in Pittsburgh allowed me to spend time with three passionate supporters of urban ag.

Yes, I know, some Agweek readers shrug or roll their eyes when they hear "urban ag." But the concept continues to gain traction outside Agweek Country, and Upper Midwest aggies would be well advised to learn a little about it. We complain that many people outside mainstream ag don't understand it. But how well do we understand them? Do all of us, or even most of us, even try to?

Picking up story content isn't the only reason to be here, of course.

Many Agweek readers — scientists and salespeople, elevator managers and equipment dealers, among a wide range of occupations — attend professional development events. Those who do realize that rubbing elbows with your peers generates ideas and inspiration. That's true for journalists, too, regardless of whether we cover ag or the environment.

Even more important in being here, I think, is developing a fuller, wider view of agriculture and the world.

Some Agweek readers will complain I'm consorting with the enemy. Others may smile approvingly and say I'm hanging out with the good guys. But the way I see it, I'm broadening my perspective. That's a good thing — for an ag journalist or anyone else.

Finally, I previously invited readers to send me questions that they wanted me to ask the environmental journalists. A number of you — you know who you are, and thanks again to each of you — emailed me pertinent, well-considered questions.

My next column will paraphrase the questions (without identifying where they came from) and the answers that I came up with here in Pittsburgh. I hope that might help some readers broaden their perspective a bit, too. After all, that's a good thing for all of us.