Three years ago while working for a large corporation, Megan Vaith learned that finding crop insurance agents who specialize in organic operations was not easy.
Looking to help two of her clients—organic farmers who were not getting the best care because the bulk of her business and focus was conventional farmers growing corn and soybeans—Megan set out to find an agent who could better serve them.
“I couldn’t find anybody,” she said.
Disappointed but not ready to give up, Megan continued her research before “taking the leap” and opening her own agency based in Scotland, South Dakota, where she and her husband Jason also have a crop and cattle operation.
She quickly saw the need among organic farmers for more information on crop insurance options, which differ from those of a conventional farmer. With a passion for education, she set out with a goal to be a resource, whether they purchase crop insurance from her or not.
“A lot of what I do is read through handbooks to try and navigate what crop insurance looks like for organic farmers,” she said. “They don’t train agents on organic crop insurance yet.”
But she believes training methods are changing, thanks to recent opportunities bringing attention to the need for additional resources for agents and farmers.
Megan has been a key player in that effort.
In 2020, she was featured in an educational guide published by the Center for Rural Affairs. She has since joined Kate Hansen, senior policy associate at the Center, as a co-presenter at several educational events and farmer meetings, including a Center-sponsored webinar. Additionally, she has joined Center staff for multiple discussions with leaders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, relaying feedback from the ground about how programs and initiatives are working.
For her work to advance public policies that strengthen family farms, ranches, and rural communities, the Center recently awarded Megan its 2022 Citizenship Award.
“Megan has become a critical partner in the Center’s crop insurance work,” Kate said. “She is generous with her knowledge on these topics, and works diligently to support producers navigating crop insurance, especially for beginning, diversified, and organic farmers.”
While she’s always had a passion for education, Megan said the advocacy work she did during meetings with decision-makers was a new experience.
“Crop insurance agents aren’t typically involved in that process,” she said. “So, it’s really cool to be in that position, to have your voice heard. It was an honor to even have a seat at the table for a lot of these meetings.”
During one such meeting a year ago, Megan and Kate joined other agents in advocating for changes to the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program. A few months later, the new handbook was released, and it included the changes they suggested.
“I think Kate and I called each other right away,” Megan said. “It makes you feel good knowing that you are doing the right things for farmers.
While they aren’t the norm for most crop insurance agents, Megan finds her educational and advocacy efforts fulfilling.
“Before this, I probably would have considered myself someone who was shy and not really wanting to get in front of a group of people and give a presentation,” she said. “But in starting your own business, you don’t really have a choice. So, that's really cool to see how far I’ve come over the last couple of years and gotten more comfortable with being in that role.”
For others looking to take on an advocacy role, Megan’s advice is to never close the door.
“If I wouldn't have taken an educational role, I would have never met Kate and we would have never traveled to all these places and done great work both for crop insurance and for the Center,” she said. “It never hurts to take a chance. Just try it and if it doesn't work out for you and you are not made to do that avenue of things, that’s fine. But you don’t know until you try.”
Megan said she’s enjoyed working with Kate and the Center.
“I think the Center is a great resource for farmers to get an unbiased opinion,” she said.
Megan, who grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa, said she was surprised and honored when she was notified about the Citizenship Award.
“I had no idea I was nominated or would even qualify,” she said. “So, it was a complete shock.”
Feature photos: Top, Kate Hansen, senior policy associate for the Center, presents Megan Vaith with the 2022 Citizenship Award. Bottom: Megan is joined by her husband Jason in accepting the award.