By Jeremy C. Nagel
JASPER TOWNSHIP, MIDLAND COUNTY — Every year more county Farm Bureaus are teaming up to combine their annual meetings into joint events that are proving effective at attracting bigger turnouts while conserving resources. This year’s county-annual calendar featured four such events.
More than 180 members attended a tri-county event that combined the annual meetings of the Gratiot, Isabella and Midland County Farm Bureaus. The event took place Aug. 20 at the McCune dairy farm, conveniently located near where all three counties come together.
Gratiot County Farm Bureau President Erin Humm was enthusiastic about the event.
“I thought it went well—everything I’ve heard has been very positive,” Humm said. “I was really pleased with the venue and attendance.
“There’s some improvement that can be made with our policy development process. Perhaps we could have done more joint policies; that would’ve made things much simpler,” she said, instead of all three counties separately adopting similar resolutions. More pre-meeting communication between county presidents, she said, would likely have ironed out that wrinkle.
“Every time we do something like this we learn something new.”
Humm expects her county will continue partnering with its neighbors in the years to come, with the inevitable tweaks and fine-tuning once the board has heard members’ feedback.
“I’ve heard a couple people mention joint annuals are nice because they get a crowd, but sometimes they feel like we’re taking some of the grass roots away,” Humm said. “I think we’re open to doing it either way. We’ve got some fresh faces on our board this year; that may bring some change.”
Appropriately, Humm credited the three county administrative managers with shouldering—and sharing—the heavy lifting.
“Our CAMs did a ton of work and really stepped up,” she said. “Kudos to them pulling things together!”
Other multi-county annuals this year include the Mecosta-Montcalm joint meeting Aug. 26 and what will be the third annual District 9 Agricultural Summit, Sept. 11 at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville.
Several years ago a caucus of leaders from the Benzie-Manistee, Missaukee, Northwest Michigan and Wexford county Farm Bureaus hatched the idea of their relatively small organizations pooling resources.
“We were talking about working together more collaboratively on a lot of projects, and found strong buy-in from all our counties,” recalled Ben LaCross, the Leelanau County cherry grower who represents those counties on the MFB Board of Directors. “They were all willing to try something new and different, and it snowballed from there.
“They took ownership and created their own steering committee of county presidents to help us navigate toward what we all wanted. Over the years since then, they’ve expanded and experimented… Now we’re doing districtwide policy development meetings.”
Each county Farm Bureau maintains its own policy development committee, and sends a representative to a couple summertime districtwide policy meetings to share what they’re working on.
“It’s truly become a robust policy discussion throughout our whole district,” LaCross said.
Combining four separate county annuals into one has paid off in other ways as well, including stronger relations with the Farm Bureau Insurance presence across District 9 and involvement from the area’s farm suppliers and equipment vendors.
“Our partners with Farm Bureau Insurance have stepped up to help defray the cost of the event,” LaCross said. “They see it as a big win when they can bring all their agents in to see so many clients together on one night, and for those members it’s a great networking opportunity.”
LaCross credited his county-level leaders for their resourcefulness and a focus on serving members better by pooling resources.
“It’s really become more than just a traditional county annual meeting,” he said. “It’s become a celebration of agriculture and a great policy discussion.
“It’s almost like one-stop shopping. We have an aggressive agenda and pack a lot in to show as much value back to members as we can. And it works for us; we want to stay relevant for our membership.”
The third annual District 9 Agriculture Summit takes place next Tuesday, Sept. 11, at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville. Regular members of the Benzie-Manistee, Missaukee, Northwest Michigan and Wexford County Farm Bureaus interested in attending the Dist. 9 Ag Summit are asked to RSVP by Sept. 5 to their county office. The family-friendly event will include a kids’ area.