Every so often, against my better judgement, I peek at the Facebook page of an activist group in my county who is opposed to housing livestock indoors. It’s an interesting way to get a feel for what some people think of modern agriculture, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that they’ve got passion, and they have quite a bit to say about Farm Bureau.
Sometimes I read certain posts from them that absolutely flabbergast me. They’re not controversial or putting down practices or technologies; they’re recommendations on local products from farmers who are doing things they describe as the “right” and “sustainable” way. But, what they don’t realize is many of the farmers they praise are Iowa Farm Bureau members.
I’ve heard it time and time again from critics—“Farm Bureau doesn’t care about the little guy” (or gal). But last week, members from across the state gathered for our 99th annual meeting. Some of them have a thousand acres they farm with multiple family members, while others farm only a couple hundred acres. Some raise a large number of hogs indoors, while others raise a small number of pigs out on pasture. Many swear by biotech crops, but I’ve also met Farm Bureau farmers who have found a niche market raising non-GMO products. I have even talked to Iowa Farm Bureau members who raise potatoes, sweet peas, onions and other vegetables you wouldn’t normally think of when it comes to Iowa agriculture.
And they each have a voice in Farm Bureau.
I can see how from the outside looking in, it may surprise folks to hear that a century-old, successful farm organization like Farm Bureau is not a ‘top-down’ organization. It’s not a handful of people at our headquarters who decide what issues are important to agriculture but the other way around. Every year, our incredibly diverse farmer membership spends a great deal of time submitting their concerns related to agriculture and rural life. And each year, those issues are discussed at our summer policy conference by Iowa Farm Bureau’s 100 voting delegates, who have all been elected by their county Farm Bureau board to carry their county’s voice.
At this year’s policy conference, the first I’ve attended as a new staff member, I witnessed what I can only describe as one of the most respectful, democratic meetings I’ve attended. (Our representatives over in Washington D.C. could probably learn a thing or two from our members). People took turns at the microphone, talking over issues. There was no yelling or interruptions. No name calling or shoving signs in people’s faces. They kept it focused on basic questions: Who does this policy/issue affect? How does it impact farmers? Does this represent the direction we want to go? They diced up the language and broke down the meaning of certain words to get it just right and make sure others were comfortable with it as well. At the end of the day, the policies they create guide our staff to represent the interest of Iowa Farm Bureau members.
I’ve seen this type of collaboration work well among the variety of our members out in our communities, too. Grain farmers banding together with vegetable farmers who sell to farmer’s markets or who belong to CSAs working together to challenge zoning changes proposed by their county’s supervisors. Farmers within a watershed, no matter what they grow or raise or in what quantity, getting together to find water quality practices that will improve our natural resources. And I hear frequently of Farm Bureau farmers from all across the state coming together to help out neighbors and community members in need because they know no matter what our differences, the only thing that matters is recognizing that we are stronger together.
No industry is perfect. No person on earth is perfect. But I’m proud of the many Farm Bureau members who I’ve met, who are doing the right thing for our shared natural resources, the land, their animals and their community. It’s very clear to me that Farm Bureau’s success and legacy comes from the diversity and value our members bring to the organization. So, go ahead and celebrate whatever kind of farming you like! Chances are a Farm Bureau member had something to do with the safe, affordable and sustainably-grown food you put on the table.
By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations specialist.