Taking long road to the farm

Andrew Bowman of Oneida (seen here during crop planting duties), will begin short-term with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. this summer. A 2004 ROWVA graduate, Bowman will work in food and nutrition services for the USDA, and be involved in policy-making efforts.

"Being from a family farm, my ultimate goal has always been and continues to be to make it back," notes Andrew Bowman, a 2004 ROWVA graduate and May 11 graduate of the University of Illinois.

His route back to the farm is having some twists and turns. This summer, he will work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.

Bowman, son of Lynn and Sally Bowman of Oneida, went to D.C. on a family vacation at age 12, and returned over spring break last year as part of a class, meeting the former Ag Secretary, corporate lobbyists, Illinois Congressmen and leaders of other special interest groups.

"A very, very amazing experience," he reflects.

Bowman had been accepted for the USDA job for weeks, and on April 28 he got a call telling him what his job will be. He is to work in food and nutrition services, the largest part of the USDA that includes food stamps and food aid programs.

His USDA employers have told him his commodity trading and production experience will contribute a lot, because most others don't have that background. (He had also worked for Tate & Lyle Food Ingredients Americas in Decatur, formerly Staley's Grain).

Bowman said he will be working in the policy-making process within the executive branch, and his work will be shipped to the president's cabinet.

The USDA just last month announced the Stocks-for-Food Initiative, a solution to today's economy in which high commodity costs and high transportation costs have severely limited the food aid under limited food assistance program budgets.

Administered by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA), the initiative uses government-owned commodities, such as corn, cotton, peanuts, rice, soybeans and wheat acquired through forfeitures. Held as collateral for FSA loans, commodities are sometimes signed over to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), as payment. At that point they can be traded with American food processors for everything from canned vegetables to meat - minimizing transportation costs the programs have had in the past.

Bowman will help hammer out the details.

"I'll get to really see policy developed from the executive perspective," he said.

A friend from his high school years was instrumental in helping him get the summer job he always wanted, he said. He first met Janice Tolley through FFA and public speaking when they competed from different high schools. She has since become one of the top people in the USDA's communications department. He recently told her he'd like to work there, and she passed his resume along.

Then there is his "regular" job - he has also been hired by Monsanto in St. Louis as a customer operations specialist, working on logistics for dealers and Monsanto reps.

Bowman said he will miss some training with other new hires, but the firm did seem to recognize some benefit of his experience in Washington.

"I'm very happy they did," he said.

He said some advisors and the dean of the College of Agriculture warned him - if it's really his goal to come home - not to get caught up in the excitement of working in Washington.

"They said otherwise you'll wake up at 35 and only be making $30,000 and wonder what opportunities you will have missed," he said.

"I am truly blessed to have this opportunity," he continued. "At the end of the day, men are measured not by their wealth, but by their contributions. While my advisers warned me about D.C., I can see the higher purpose in working for a cause like this - who wouldn't want to help feed the hungry and increase their quality of life?"

Bowman also plans to be married in August 2009, the summer after his fiancee, Karlie Elliott of Rankin, Ill., graduates from the University of Illinois. An ag communications major, she will also work for the USDA this summer, in the Department of Communications with Tolley. That happened virtually by coincidence; she applied separately from Bowman.

Bowman has been named among the Senior 100 Honorary at the University of Illinois as well as a Bronze Tablet Scholar, which recognizes the top three percent of the university's graduates.

He stresses that each experience will make him a better person to return to this area in the long run.

"You can't put a premium on experience you get, both in agriculture and away from agriculture," he said.