How I Lead: Erica Roth

by Ash Bruxvoort Women, food and agriculture have at least one thing in common: They’re underrepresented in politics. WFAN’s Plate to Politics program works to encourage women in food and agriculture to run for office at all levels of government. Erica Roth never imagined herself involved in politics until she moved to a tiny farm in rural Green County three years ago and became involved in stewardship and grassroots activism. We are thrilled to have her speak at our Plate to Politics Wisconsin Workshop. Erica shares her experiences and insights about leadership in this Q&A.

What inspired you to run?

Quite simply, I was asked to run. The thought of running for office, any office, had never crossed my mind until I was asked. I live in a rural area and a CAFO announced plans to move in. Many in the community, including myself, started pulling together to work for the safety of our water, local economy and health. As the issue grew more controversial and vocal it became evident that there were elected officials who were not representing their constituents accurately; my county board supervisor was one of them. I was asked to challenge his seat. My first response was that I don’t have a political bone in my body, I don’t have the time because I homeschool my children, and I am so new to the area having moved just over a year previously. Plus, I have no idea what it involves. But then I started really thinking about it: why couldn’t I do it? A county board position is nonpartisan; I have ideas and opinions, I listen to people and want the best for everyone; my kids are old enough to understand government and public service, my service would be a wonderful lesson and example to them; it is important work and I want to make a difference. So, I decided to say yes, I would run. Really, what did I have to lose? Nothing, but I had so much for my community to gain.

What are the issues you feel most passionate about in your community?

Really, there are so many I don’t think I could pin it down to one or two. I am passionate about the issues, that’s for sure! Water quality, local control, family farms, rural schools, rural broadband, and roads and just to name a few.

What is a resource you would recommend to women who are interested in running for a leadership position?

I would recommend Vote Run Lead (WFAN's partner on Plate to Politics!). I attended an evening workshop with them and found it quite helpful and inspirational. Recently I was going through some of the paperwork I had from my campaign and came across a worksheet I had filled out as part of that workshop. There were so many helpful exercises on that worksheet, but what stood out to me was the prompt and subsequent blank to be filled in that said, “By the end of 2016, my ambition is to…”. I had filled in the blank that evening with something I wanted to do in office if I won the seat but had no idea how to go about fulfilling that ambition; I achieved that ambition within a couple months of the election. I also attended training hosted by Wisconsin Progress and We Are Wisconsin, which helped immensely with the nuts and bolts of campaigning and the general “how to”. I would highly recommend those resources as well.

What barriers have you faced as a woman leading? How have you overcome them?

So far, I feel that I have not experienced any significant barriers. As one of very few women on a male dominated board, I was prepared to be treated differently. Thus far I am pleased to say that I have been welcomed and treated with respect, as I would expect anyone on the board would be.

Do you have a mentor who has been particularly influential in your life? Tell us about them.

I can’t name just one person who has been influential in my life. I am lucky enough to have a myriad of people, especially women, in my life who continually inspire and motivate me. I am part of a group of women in sustainable agriculture, and every one of those women has inspired me in some way. The same with the Soil Sisters, and Wisconsin Farmers Union, and the grassroots activism group I am involved with. Almost everyone I come in contact with is inspirational and influential in some way. It is humbling and motivating, to be surrounded by such encouragement and support. It makes you want to do good in the world.