Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development.
Tell us about your background. What sparked your interest in agriculture?
I am originally from Indiana and grew up in Indianapolis, which is not a rural area, but at a very young age I got involved in 4-H and began showing livestock. We would buy animals in the spring, spend all summer preparing them for show, and then take them to the county and state fairs to compete. I loved the animals, the people, and each of the small towns that I got to visit along the way in those adventures. Rural America and the people who call them home have been my life and my passion ever since.
What is a typical day for you at USDA?
Right now my days are filled with meeting people and learning.
I’m spending a lot of time learning about our programs, our structure and operations. I am also learning more about the many challenges and opportunities that we have in rural America. Lastly, I am spending time with the Secretary to learn more about his priorities and his style of governing.
How would you like a typical day to be?
I enjoy listening and learning from other people. Over the course of my career, I have learned that good leaders sit down and meet with constituents, partners and their staff to learn what their needs are. You can often find solutions to challenges by first carefully listening to people who are on the front lines of addressing an issue.
I have also learned that it is critical to be in the field and learn from people who are on the ground. Otherwise, you may be pursuing a solution that looks good on paper but will not be effective when put into practice.
What are your goals for rural development?
First and foremost, I want to assist Secretary Perdue in executing his vision for creating an environment where rural communities can prosper. In that, I am specifically focused on taking action to improve the quality of life in rural America– from greater access to broadband connectivity and medical care to distance learning. Two issues that I am particularly passionate about are leadership and capacity development in small towns and assisting rural communities in responding to the growing nightmare of opioid misuse and the many underlying challenges that have contributed to this issue.
Beyond these external goals, I would like to foster greater synergy between Rural Development and the other mission areas in USDA as well as other partners focused on rural programs within the federal family. For example, how can Rural Development work more closely with other agencies to address challenges like food insecurity and child summer hunger.
Who are your role models?
1) Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman of Indiana. She was the first female elected Lieutenant Governor in my home state. Lt. Gov. Skillman is my role model for a couple of reasons. First, rural communities are her lifelong passion and were her primary focus during her time in office. Becky taught me the value of listening first and bringing people together to listen to each other in order to find a solution. Another reason I admire Lt. Gov. Skillman is that she is a strong believer in investing time and effort into mentoring future generations of women. No matter the position she has held, Becky has been tireless in giving young women opportunity and then mentoring them along the way. From 4-H to Girl Scouts and random constituents just stopping by the Statehouse to say hello, Becky went out of her way to make time for girls and young women– and in doing, would inspire them that they too can do great things. I remember one time she moved her schedule around to meet with a family and their young daughters, and years later the constituent said to me: “You know, that 15 minutes and the photo she took with my daughters really changed their life. They won’t ever forget that.” I was lucky to work for her− she changed my life too.
2) Former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln. Senator Lincoln was the first woman to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee. Similar to Lt. Governor Skillman, Senator Lincoln had a gift for bringing people together– particularly during difficult legislative battles. Senator Lincoln was very good at rising above differing viewpoints and bringing people together around the needs of rural America, regardless of their political alignment or philosophy. Senator Lincoln often made time to visit with staff and encourage young women, no matter how busy her schedule. She is a tireless worker and anyone who has that energy and fighting spirit leaves an impression on you.
What advice do you have for fellow women in ag, both here at USDA and all across the world?
- Find something you love and give it all that you have each day. Each of us were gifted with different talents and abilities. Take what you have and pour it into that one thing that is your calling.
- Invest in relationships and invest in people. We often get so focused on what we’re doing that we forget about how we are treating the people who are walking along side us. At the end of it all, people will remember how you made them feel and not necessarily what you’ve accomplished. It’s easy to get caught up in the “how can I make this happen” rather than how you’re treating and helping other people succeed on your own way to success.
To learn more and connect with other women leaders in agriculture across the country, we encourage you to visit https://newfarmers.usda.gov/women-in-ag. If there is a leading woman in agriculture you’d like to see featured on this blog, please send your suggestions to AgWomenLead@osec.usda.gov.