Spencer Tuma grew up in Schell City, Missouri, a small town in southwest part of the state with no stoplights and one paved road.
“In rural communities, you learn that everybody has a part to play, and you learn that very intimately because you know everybody around you,” Tuma said.
Although her parents were not directly involved in production agriculture, Tuma understood the industry and the impact that it had on her small community. Her father worked for the Missouri Rural Water Association, and Tuma made numerous trips to Washington, D.C., on business trips throughout her childhood.
“I have this photo from 2001,” said Tuma. “I think I was six, it’s super grainy and I’m wearing a fanny pack. I was just a tiny kid sitting in Sen. Bond’s office chair with him.”
Seventeen years later, Tuma now works as the director of national legislative affairs at Missouri Farm Bureau where she visits with farmers and ranchers and analyzes policy. Missouri Farm Bureau has offices in every county in the state. Each county has its own president and board of directors elected by county members. Not only does Tuma provide support to the state as a whole, but she also works to establish relationships and listen to farmers’ stories at the county level, too.
“My job is to tell the story of someone who does not have the time or ability to tell it for themselves,” Tuma said. “These are our farmers. Those local producers who work so hard each day to produce the food, fiber, and fuel we all need.”
She never imagined working in agricultural policy, even after she left her hometown to pursue a degree at the University of Missouri in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Tuma’s most valuable CAFNR memories include working at Tiger Garden, a student-run floral shop on campus, and participating in Collegiate Farm Bureau. Networking opportunities directly connected Tuma to Missouri Farm Bureau. At her first CFB meeting, Tuma heard from Missouri Farm Bureau’s former director of national affairs. Afterward, Tuma applied for a departmental summer internship, and credits that experience for her current position within the grassroots organization.
Because of Tuma’s firsthand experience and passion for preserving the rural lifestyle, she works each day to connect producers from the grassroots to their representatives on Capitol Hill.
“Spencer has a way of making intricate policies seem simple, translating those specifics into examples that include the commodities I market and even fluctuations in prices that consumers might see at the grocery store,” said Vince Buck, Saline County Farm Bureau President. “She makes policy make sense, and I’m grateful she’s fighting for us in Washington.”
When she’s not working in Washington or traveling to engage Missouri Farm Bureau members on the local level, Tuma takes time to give back to the National FFA Organization. She credits her agriculture adviser at North Vernon County High School for investing in her personal development and igniting her passion for agriculture. Tuma shares stories of her experiences advocating for agriculture with FFA members from across the state, and gives them the tools they need to tell their own agriculture stories.
“Spencer was so excited, and you could tell she really cares about what she does,” said Tyler Schuster, a Boonville FFA member who met Spencer at the 2018 Missouri FFA Helping Youth Prepare for Excellence Academy. “Her enthusiasm just sticks out and she is super relatable, that just made me feel like she cared. When people really care about you and the information they’re trying to share, it’s so much easier to learn and build on that enthusiasm.”
Throughout her time in CAFNR, Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri FFA, Tuma has made it her goal to highlight community. Currently, Tuma plans to keep tackling issues like the farm bill, rural broadband and healthcare that will affect rural towns like the one she grew up in.