By Jeremy C. Nagel
As MFB’s centennial shrinks in the rear-view mirror and we put one foot in front of the other, into a new century, I’m glad to say I’ve recovered from a mild case of “centennial fatigue” after almost five years on the project.
Even longer than that I’ve been on the receiving end of every historical document and logo’d organizational tchotchke unearthed from dusty farm shop lofts and the deep recesses of long neglected filing cabinets. I love that such things keep finding their way to me because, just like finding a long-forgotten family photo, it’s fun, informative and sometimes heartwarming to share them with you.
Today’s example: Before the pandemic happened, I got a call from a Carolyn Farthing from New Hope, Pennsylvania. She’d come across an Antrim County Farm Bureau pamphlet from 1949 that belonged to her grandparents, Ruth and Vernon Vance. We don’t know much about the Vances, but the booklet proves they were very involved in those post-war years.
Ruth chaired Antrim County’s Women’s Committee and therefore was a voting member of the county board. The booklet outlines the Women's accomplishments for the year, followed by this blunt admonishment:
“Remember, a Farm Bureau member who never participates in his community group will never receive the full benefits of his organization, neither will he have the opportunity to help mold the policy of his organization. We want an organization of farmers — one that will work for us, not one that will become OUR BOSS. To keep our organization on this plane, WE, as members must participate actively in our organization.”
Sound advice, that, and it holds up just fine 70 years later.
Vernon’s role is a bit subject to interpretation, but sheds some light on how differently county Farm Bureaus were organized half a century ago (Antrim, at least.) His name first appears atop a list of “county directors” (board members, I assume), most of which are followed by the community group they represent: Vance, Kearney, Ellsworth, Bentley Hill, Torch Lake, Forest Home, Elk Rapids, Atwood, Bay View and Mapleville. (Most of those are Antrim County place names.)
Three additional directors include representatives of the Junior Farm Bureau, Associated Women (that’s Ruth) and finally one “honorary member.”
Again, this is all subject to interpretation, but the interesting thing here is that it appears Antrim County Farm Bureau’s board was composed primarily of representatives of its 10 community Farm Bureaus — what today we know as Community Action Groups.
Near the back of the booklet is a roster of each of those 10 Community Groups, and I’ll be darned if each of those county directors isn’t right there among them.
It’s hard saying how commonplace that kind of organization was among county Farm Bureaus that long ago, but it makes a lot of sense. Back when even small counties like Antrim could boast 10 Community Groups, it’s safe to say the issues that turned up in their monthly discussions must’ve covered most every topic on members’ minds from every corner of the county.
Today, many county Farm Bureaus strive for similarly even representation with board members representing defined districts composed of one or more townships. Now imagine each of them meeting regularly with a group of members within their districts and bringing the meat of those talks to the county board.
If better informing your county Farm Bureau leadership of your grassroots isn’t a good reason for forming a new Community Group, I’m not sure what is.
Mason County native Jeremy C. Nagel (517-323-6585) is MFB’s member communications specialist and historical materials intake clerk.