Rachel Demaree was pursuing a degree in agricultural education when a Capitol Hill internship led to a new career. This Senate staffer now takes classes online to complete a Purdue Agriculture degree. (Photo courtesy Rachel Demaree)
Rachel Demaree has politics in her blood. Her parents worked on "The Hill," and a grandmother was active in state-level politics.
Agriculture is in her blood, too, though it took her a bit longer to appreciate it.
When she was 10, her family moved from Alexandria, Va., to her dad's family farm near Arcadia, Ind. Demaree went from a suburban kid who never lacked for playmates to the new—and only—kid on her road.
"I hated the farm at first," Demaree said. This was one of her first life lessons in adaptability, a characteristic she relied on as she went from transplanted Virginian to fifth-generation Hoosier farmer, from state FFA officer to Purdue University student and from Washington, D.C. intern to Capitol Hill staffer.
Through it all, she's kept a Purdue Agriculture degree in her sights.
In June 2007, she planned for two scenarios: if elected FFA officer, she would defer college for a year to promote agriculture statewide; if not, she would join thousands of freshmen at Purdue.
Right after high school graduation, she was elected state Northern Region vice president of Indiana FFA. It was the first hiccup in a traditional four-year college career.
After a successful FFA year, she arrived at Purdue for fall semester 2008. She jumped into campus life and community service for the next two years. In summer 2011, she landed a nationally competitive internship with the National Association of Agricultural Educators.
"I was on my own on The Hill, meeting with aides about ag education funding," Demaree said. "I visited 85 House and Senate offices." One visit was with Richard Lugar, Indiana's senior senator and Senate Agricultural Committee member.
Demaree returned to Indiana in August, just days before her anticipated move back to Purdue. She learned about a farm bill internship in Lugar's office and quickly applied. Again, she faced two scenarios: return to Purdue or postpone. She was back in the district in less than a month.
Demaree was involved in Lugar's farm policy from start to finish, following the bill from printing to walking it from the Republican Cloakroom to the Senate floor. "I have a lot of passion for this bill," she said.
Demaree also reconsidered her career path. She changed her major to interdisciplinary agriculture and enrolled in online classes. She'll graduate in December.
"Last fall I applied for every job I could to stay in D.C." She didn't have to look far. In January, Demaree landed a full-time position as a staff assistant in Lugar's office.
"I'm hoping to stay in D.C and work in the industry. But on The Hill, one election can change everything," she said.
It was a prophetic statement. Lugar was defeated in Indiana's primary election, ending his bid for a seventh term.
"My plans are to stay in Washington for the foreseeable future," Demaree said about the experience that combined her political and agricultural heritage and returned her to her hometown. "I'm not job hunting; the senator has pledged to work vigorously for his remaining months in office, including passing a farm bill. I'd like to be a part of that."
By Olivia Maddox