For Sen. Torrey Westrom, being a 'Friend of Ag' is a reflection of his dairy farm upbringing
Minnesota Corn Growers Assocation presented Minnesota state Sen. Torrey Westrom with the Friend of Ag Award.
MANKATO, Minn. — As a kid growing up in west central Minnesota in the '80s, Minnesota state Sen. Torrey Westrom remembers having to wake up early enough to help his dad with milking cows before the school bus arrived.
"I had to go in and shower, and sometimes those showers got pretty fast, especially when you could hear the bus coming closer through the running water," said Westrom in his speech at the Minnesota Corn Growers Assocation's annual meeting on Jan. 18.
MCGA awarded Westrom with the Friend of Ag Award for 2022.
"It means a lot," said Westrom after receiving the award. "I champion the cause of agriculture as much as I can, and really it's an honor to be recognized for all the work we've been able to do for farmers."
Westrom grew up on a dairy farm near Elbow Lake, Minnesota, and lost his eyesight during a farm-related car accident at the age of 14.
"I had other bone breaks as well, but not life-lasting like the loss of eyesight," said Westrom, who walks with the assistance of a cane and staff member.
The accident didn't stop Westrom from continuing to work on the farm through high school, college and even in his first years working in the legislature.
"I still baled hay as a summer occupation," he said of his last work on his family's farm.
In May 2011, as a Minnesota state representative, Westrom stood in as House speaker to become the first blind person to run a state House debate anywhere in the country. His first ever campaign literature was simple and included a short letter which read, "If anything, losing my sight has made me a harder worker and a better listener, the two most important qualities a representative can possess."
Westrom — who graduated from Bemidji State University and became a legislator a year later in 1996 — credits his farm upbringing for influencing his work as a politician.
"In the legislature, your background is where your expertise is," he said. "I know the country way of life because I lived it. That makes you even a better advocate for something you really know."
Both sides of the aisle
Also credited for being able to work on both sides of the aisle, Westrom has gone from serving in the minority to the majority several times.
"It's not something the average constituent or voter understands — nor did I, until you are at the Capitol — that minority and majority means a lot," said Westrom. "But nobody's got the corner on all the good ideas, and that's kind of how I approach it."
He said politics is about working together — which for him, means finding democrats who have similar backgrounds and objectives to accomplish "positive policies" for agriculture and rural economic development.
"That's sort of how you work together, is you find common denominators that work with the other party," he said.
Westrom said that's gotten tougher in the last couple of decades, but he's hopeful for the future of bipartisanship.
"We've got to find new paths, and that's part of the challenge of being a legislator," said Westrom.
In his acceptance speech for the award, Westrom called on members of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association to educate elected officials on their everyday life and work.
Congratulations to Past President Bryan Biegler (@BryanBiegs) for receiving the Gavel Plaque Award and State Senator Torrey Westrom for receiving the Friend of Ag Award. We appreciate everything you do for corn farmers! pic.twitter.com/UThUTtRvaN— MN Corn Growers (@mncorn) January 18, 2023
"They are a critical part of that grassroots educating of legislators, both in their district, as well as party leaders and other leaders and ag committee chairs at the Capitol," he said. "Use those personal stories, because that goes so far with letting policymakers know how legislation will drastically impact their lives. So hopefully, that message was also taken to heart."