Earlier this week I spoke to the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning on the topic “How Boy’s Corn Clubs and Girl’s Tomato Clubs Changed Rural America.” After my presentation, I was approached by a person who had worked for Cooperative Extension for a number of years and never knew that the Extension Service worked out of the Farm Bureau offices at one time (I had mentioned this in the presentation). She stated, “I thought the Farm Bureau was just an insurance company.” In this Footnote, we will look at exactly what the Farm Bureau does. Hint: It is more than an insurance company.
The Farm Bureau is similar to the old poem by John Saxe about the Blind Men and the Elephant. In this poem, six blind men felt of a different part of the elephant (side, leg, ear, tail, tusk, and trunk) and each reached a different conclusion about the elephant. The same is true of the Farm Bureau. Some might view is as an insurance company. An elementary school teacher might think of it as the Agriculture in the Classroom provider of curriculum. One could say it was a lobbying organization for agricultural issues. Others would say it is a place to buy items such as tires, batteries, lubricants, baling twine, etc. Some might say it was a social organization for young farmers and ranchers. Others look to it as a source of agricultural news. All would be correct.
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation web site, the Farm Bureau is:
… an independent, non-governmental, voluntary organization governed by and representing farm and ranch families united for the purpose of analyzing their problems and formulating action to achieve educational improvement, economic opportunity and social advancement and, thereby, to promote the national well-being. Farm Bureau is local, county, state, national and international in its scope and influence and is non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-secret in character. Farm Bureau is the voice of agricultural producers at all levels.
The Farm Bureau is the largest agricultural organization in the United States. It claims to have six million “member families” but this number includes those who primarily join to get Farm Bureau insurance. The Farm Bureau can be found in all states and Puerto Rico. The Farm Bureau claims to be The Voice of Agriculture. However, some of the critics of the Farm Bureau claim it is the Voice for BIG Ag. (Shearn, 2012).
If you are not familiar with the Farm Bureau here are some of the activities of the Farm Bureau at both the state and national levels. They are listed in alphabetical order. Most of the material that follows comes from the American Farm Bureau web site.
Advocacy – The American Farm Bureau Federation and state level Farm Bureaus encourage their members to be proactive in working with legislators and others involved in making policy decisions. The Farm Bureau takes pride in their grassroots efforts to surface policy issues and to then actively advocate their position on these issues. The Farm Bureau at the national and some state levels have substantial staffs of individuals who have expertise in a variety of agricultural issues who work with elected officials and their staffs.
Ag in the Classroom – The Farm Bureau operates an Agriculture in the Classroom program in many states (in some states there is a different model). In December there will be an entire Friday Footnote about Ag in the Classroom. So stay tuned.
If you want to see what we are doing in North Carolina with the Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom program, follow this link – https://www.ncfb.org/ag-in-the-classroom/.
Farm Supplies – The Farm Bureau operates stores in some states where they sell agricultural supplies. In some states they are very visible, but in other states they are a well-kept secret. The photo below is of a very visible Farm Bureau Coop store in Pennsylvania. In South Carolina, there is a Farm Bureau warehouse where you can buy tires, twine, and numerous other products but the average person doesn’t know it exists.
IFAL -In North Carolina, Kentucky and possibly several other states rising high school seniors get to participate in the Farm Bureau sponsored Institute for Future Agricultural Leaders (IFAL). In North Carolina, two students per county are selected to participate. The students spend a week on the campus of North Carolina State University. The students learn about the different majors in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They also tour research farms and explore university laboratories. They visit agribusinesses, participate in leadership development classes, tour the General Assembly, and see the offices of North Carolina Farm Bureau.
The Agriculture Education faculty oversee the NCSU version of IFAL (North Carolina A&T also has an IFAL program). Our faculty work closely with the students and make sure they know of the opportunities in Agricultural and Extension Education (AEE). Our faculty develop a close relationship with the IFAL students. It is a great recruitment tool for AEE. This program started in 1986. For years Dr. Jim Flowers was in charge, but since his retirement, Dr. Joy Morgan Fleming is the program coordinator for NCSU. The photo below shows Dr. Flowers (right) and Larry Wooten (NC Farm Bureau President) with two IFAL students.
Insurance – At the state level most Farm Bureaus have an affiliated insurance company that offer a variety of insurance policies. Since most states have different structures, it is difficult to adequately describe the insurance plans. If interested, you should check out your state’s Farm Bureau.
Agricultural News – If you want to keep up with current news and issues in agriculture, you could sign up for the Farm Bureau Newsline. Whenever there is breaking news concerning agriculture, it will show up in your inbox. Go to the online Farm Bureau Newsroom to sign up to receive the agricultural news.
PAL – Partners in Advocacy Leadership – The PAL program focuses on taking young farmers and ranchers, ages 30 to 45, who have already begun their personal development journey and moving them to the next level. The two-year program offers a high-level, executive-type curriculum that provides participants with unique opportunities to represent agriculture in the media, on speaking circuits or in testimonial arenas. Program graduates are prepared to step forward and promote issues important to those in the farm-to-consumer food chain.
Some states have established a state-level version of this activity. In North Carolina, the Farm Bureau has a leadership development program (L.E.A.D.). Its purpose is to develop, foster, and enhance the skills of individuals and couples (ages 36-52) actively engaged in production agriculture. This type of program is found in several other states.
Patriot Project – The Farm Bureau Patriot Project is a mentorship program that connects military veteran beginning farmers and ranchers with experienced Farm Bureau member farmers and ranchers. The American Farm Bureau Federation works with state Farm Bureaus to identify military veterans and Farm Bureau mentors and facilitate long-term mentorship relationships. This 3-minute video tells about the project.
Young Farmers and Ranchers Program – This program involves both men and women between the ages of 18 -35. The objective of the program is to develop future leaders, but it also provides for social activities, education, and competitive activities. There is a national convention and most states have annual state meetings with a plethora of speakers, tours, and social activities.
One of the highly competitive events is the Discussion Meet. This event simulates a committee meeting where discussion and active participation are expected from each participant. The topics that could be discussed at the 2020 national YF&R meeting are available here. In some states, there are high school and collegiate competitions in the Farm Bureau Discussion Meet. This is something you might want to check out in your state. A search of YouTube will reveal a number of videos of this event.
Some of the other competitions include the Achievement Award for excellence in production agriculture and the Excellence in Agriculture Award for those who do not earn their living through production agriculture.
Harvest for All is a community service project conducted by YF&R members. In 2019, YF&R programs across the country donated a total of32.4 million pounds of food, spent 22,530 hours volunteering, and donated over $362,000 to their local food banks.
Women’s Leadership Programs – At the national and state level there are a variety of programs for women. The various programs focusing on leadership development, improving communication skills, and providing opportunities for networking.
One program is the Women’s Communication Boot Camp. The Boot Camp is an intensive week-long program to develop passionate and persuasive advocates for agriculture. The Boot Camp is conducted in Washington, DC. You can download a brochure about the Boot Camp at https://www.fb.org/files/2019_Womens_Communications_Boot_Camp_Flyer.pdf.
Women are also involved in the Food Link program This is a year-round program that focuses on educating consumers about their food, shelter, and energy. Educational outreach activities are conducted at farmers’ markets, supermarkets, community events, schools, etc. There is a toolkit with numerous suggested activities. Teachers and extension agents could easily join forces with the Farm Bureau to conduct some of the activities.
It should be apparent that the Farm Bureau is very much like the elephant in the poem. There are many activities and programs. There are many other things I could write about the Farm Bureau such as discounts, credit cards, magazines, and banking services provided by the Farm Bureau. However, it is time to wrap up this Footnote.
Since November 19, 2019, marks the 100th Anniversary of the American Farm Bureau Federation you might want to do something special for your local Farm Bureau office (I realize some state Farm Bureaus predate 1919 and some were formed later but don’t let that stop you). Take them a cake, send a birthday card, take your officers for a visit, etc. If you have not created a relationship with your local Farm Bureau, you should. They have historically been a strong supporter of agricultural education programs. Most county Farm Bureaus will provide financial support for special projects if you just ask them. The past two times North Carolina was the host for the Southern Agricultural Education Conference, the NC Farm Bureau donated $5,000 to support the conferences.
In the future, there will be Friday Footnotes about other agricultural organizations including the Grange, the Farmers Union and some you may have never heard of (such as The Agricultural Wheel and The Ancient Order of Gleaners).
American Farm Bureau web site. https://www.fb.org/
Shearn, Ian (2012, July 16). Whose Side is the American Farm Bureau On? The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/whose-side-american-farm-bureau/