Staff Spotlight: Meet Cody Smith, our newest rural advocate

“Rural advocate.” This term took much too long for me to discover. I joined the Center for Rural Affairs team last month, and since then, the phrase has really caught my eye – I’ve seen it around the office, on the Center’s website, and all over Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It took a while to figure out why I found the slogan so intriguing, but I think I’ve finally found the answer.

The term, “rural advocate,” describes something I’ve attempted to put into words for years. Rural areas deserve fierce advocates; and this all-too-often overlooked group of nearly 60 million Americans needs warriors who understand the diverse and complex challenges that impact their communities. I hope that I can continue to develop a reputation for being a “rural advocate” through my role at the Center.

Raised on a sheep and cattle farm outside Crawfordsville, Indiana, I developed a deep, unwavering passion for rural communities and an appetite for working collaboratively to solve the challenges they face. This came through many years of involvement in my county’s 4-H program, serving as an active leader of my high school FFA chapter, and belonging to an involved and passionate farm family. I learned at a young age what it meant to work tirelessly for the benefit of others.

As the youngest of three, I was always given the seemingly mundane tasks of throwing a fresh bale of hay down from the loft, carrying a five-gallon bucket of water across the barn lot, and scooping you-know-what out of the livestock pens. However, I realize now these aspects of growing up on a family farm have instilled a diligent work ethic within me and created my strong desire for tackling the difficult and complex challenges that face rural Americans every day.

When I faced the decision of what was next after high school, I was hopelessly conflicted. I had to make the difficult decision about whether to leave the community I loved and had always called home, or to expand my horizons, move away and, in turn, jumpstart my career. Although it took me quite a while, I decided to move to Iowa, a place I had never been, to attend Iowa State University.

This life-altering decision is repeated by young people throughout America’s Heartland each year as they walk across the stage on their high school graduation day. No matter their choice, these young adults are a crucial part of America’s rural communities. When I left, I made an internal pledge to never lose my connection to rural America and promised myself to one day do everything I could to help communities like mine; a community which had given me so much.

When I arrived on the Iowa State University campus, I fully intended to honor that pledge and promise. There are many challenges that impact rural America, and, to make meaningful change, I knew I would need to choose an academic program that combined my passion for rural issues, connecting with people, and making tangible, measurable differences in people’s lives. This reason led me to declare a double-major in agricultural communications and political science; I have never doubted that I made the right choice.

Throughout my time as a college student, I was fortunate to partake in several internships and serve in various leadership roles. I was deeply involved in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences through several agriculture-oriented student organizations and Iowa State University Student Government. Ultimately, I was elected to serve the 36,000 plus students as vice president of the student body. In addition to this humbling opportunity, I completed internships in Des Moines, Iowa, Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis, Indiana. These experiences ranged from work in government agencies, such as the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, trade associations such as the Agricultural Retailers Association, and nonprofits like the Indiana FFA Foundation.

Now that I have graduated college and began work at the Center for Rural Affairs, I have found time to reflect on my journey, and I could not be more grateful for the experiences I have had. Each new opportunity formed crucial pieces of my understanding of rural issues and has helped me further develop my rural advocacy skills.

I have begun to realize that being a “rural advocate” is so much more than advocating for policies, talking with rural leaders, or working at a certain firm. It’s about connecting with rural people about the things that matter in their lives; it’s about putting an ear to the ground and listening to what I can do to help my neighbors. At its core, being a “rural advocate” is about humbling yourself to understand the struggles of rural America and doing all that you can, with all that you have, for as many as you can.

For these many reasons, I am ecstatic to join the team at the Center for Rural Affairs as a policy assistant, and I look forward to meeting many of you. If you would like to contact me, my phone number is 402.687.2100 ext. 1016, and my email is codys@cfra.org.