Farmers are no strangers to taking something small and growing it into something that yields tremendous value – for themselves and the communities around them.
So it’s not surprising that Iowa Farm Bureau – Iowa’s largest grassroots farm organization, with more than 159,000 member families and county Farm Bureaus in all 99 Iowa counties – has a natural interest in growing things, especially when those things help better the communities that Farm Bureau has been “living” in since the early 1900s.
It’s actually more than an interest – it’s a commitment backed by community work and dollars, including more than $500,000 in annual scholarships for Iowa’s next generation of leaders and more than $125 million for rural entrepreneurs and communities over the past decade through Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa program, something to celebrate during National Small Business Week (April 30 – May 6).
Farm Bureau knows that you can’t just plant something and forget about it, which is why Renew Rural Iowa mentors entrepreneurs, with more than 3,000 Iowans served over the past decade. It’s an investment that has gained national acclaim and is a source of pride for entrepreneurs themselves.
“Renew Rural Iowa leads the country in providing rural entrepreneurs with education and investment,” said American Farm Bureau’s Director of Rural Development Dr. Lisa Benson. “Their work has been an inspiration and model for American Farm Bureau’s Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative.”
“I think what we have is unique,” said Casey Niemann, president of Dallas County-based AgriSync. “I think there’s a lot more coordination of effort in Iowa across organizational lines to say ‘how can we band these resources together for the benefit of entrepreneurs.’ That takes collaboration, and that takes a lot of organizations being willing to work together. I tell people all the time, if you’re going to do an ag startup, and you’re trying to find a place to do that where you’re going to have support, where you’re going to have resources in an ongoing way, Iowa’s a great place to build that business.”
“The culture and ecosystem in Iowa over the last five to seven years has just exploded,” said Michael Koenig, president of ScoutPro, founded in Lone Tree, Iowa. “The resources that are available today, versus what was there five years ago is just a testament to how important entrepreneurship, especially in agriculture, is to the state of Iowa and in the Midwest, so that’s been a great opportunity for us. Iowa Farm Bureau has been a key part in helping some of the relationships that we’ve had with our customers and opportunities.”
How did a farm organization like Farm Bureau find itself in this position, a leader in assisting entrepreneurs and rural communities?
The answer lies in our history, something I’ve been researching a lot lately, in preparation for Iowa Farm Bureau’s centennial celebration next year.
Charter members in most of Iowa's county Farm Bureaus (formed as early as 1912) included many non-farmers – chambers of commerce, teachers, bankers, lawyers, merchants, real estate brokers, coal operators, and editors.
They understood that they were stronger working together, with leadership from those who had a vested interest in seeing agriculture and their rural communities thrive.
And who better than folks with a natural ability to grow things?
By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.