Champion of Excellence Awards recognizes county Farm Bureaus for their outstanding efforts to implement member-developed policy, advocate organizational positions and educate and promote Michigan agriculture.
Grassroots activities are evaluated based on the innovation and effectiveness of programs executed over the preceding program year. Successful programs are then shared with other counties so great ideas can spread and multiply, enriching the greater organization and Michigan agriculture overall.
Following are the first three of Michigan’s 12 district-level winners; look for more in the weeks to come. One state-level winner will be announced at next year’s Council of Presidents Conference.
Last November the Berrien County Farm Bureau partnered with 4-H clubs and the Southwest Michigan Collegiate Farm Bureau in “Thanks-4-Giving,” providing bushel baskets full of seasonal edibles to local families in need. Volunteers collaborated to collect and package food, then deliver finished baskets to underprivileged families across southwest Michigan, helping neighbors in need.
By filling gaps left by local agencies, Farm Bureau members led by example, demonstrating it’s better to give than receive. Each participating group contributed, experiencing the rewards of helping the less fortunate while sharing the abundance of southwestern Michigan agriculture.
The project was innovative for its multi-organization collaboration. On packing day, the youth building at the county fairgrounds resembled a food distribution warehouse: rows of food, stacks of baskets, coolers filled with frozen turkeys and a human assembly line circling the room.
From Clover Buds to senior Farm Bureau leaders, everyone worked side-by-side to fill the baskets to overflowing. Excited chatter about fat turkeys and the aroma of fresh-baked rolls filled the air — plus a warm camaraderie knowing their efforts meant giving local families more to be thankful for.
There’d never been a local drive in which those donating the food also delivered it, but by noon that day all 110 baskets (4,400 pounds of food!) were in the appreciative hands of local families — some delivered, some picked up from the fairgrounds.
Another benefit was closer relations between the county Farm Bureau, Collegiate Farm Bureau, and more than a dozen local 4-H clubs. Local agribusinesses (including some previously uninvolved members) and a Farm Bureau Insurance agent also donated.
Finally, many of the recipient families met Farm Bureau and 4-H members as a result, tying the local farm community closer to those whose food they raise.
With in-person events off limits but still eager to make a good first impression, the Barry County Farm Bureau coordinated a remote new-member-welcome meeting via WebEx. They introduced the board, outlined county Farm Bureau structure and summarized the benefits of membership. Embodying the organization’s grassroots ethic and reaching many new members at once, the experiment proved a successful means of welcoming newcomers while respecting everyone’s health and safety — just like the good Farm Bureau family members they are.
Even through the abstract format of a computer screen, everyone involved was able to find common ground and start building the relationships at the core of the Farm Bureau experience. One newcomer interested in the Young Farmer program was connected with the county chair; others asked general questions about the policy process and member benefits.
While the focus was on new members, any regular member was encouraged to join in. Those who did helped drive home the value of membership and the extensive networking opportunities Farm Bureau offers. The first-of-its-kind event met membership-campaign requirements, spurred leaders to lead and offered practical new skills for everyone involved.
A Calhoun County Farm Bureau event combined intergenerational networking and policy chatter — plus a touch of stress management — in its Float Down the River. Even Mother Nature cooperated to make the family-friendly excursion a success, including lunch on an island for the 25 participants.
The Float achieved two key goals: member networking and policy discussion. It attracted several Farm Bureau newcomers and brought some long-uninvolved members out of the woodwork. Everyone found common ground quickly and enjoyed discussing shared issues and challenges, learning from each other and reaping value from their membership.
Everyone chipped in with loading and unloading the boats and helping others board their vessels, labeled with the names and farms of each participant.
The Young Farmer committee took the lead organizing and promoting the event, reserving canoes, buying food, arranging signage and transporting vessels — all within budget.
Board members heard about other farmers’ concerns, younger farmers connected with their elders and active members shared which Farm Bureau activities they most enjoy and find most effective.
Many participants appreciated the fresh new approach, the opportunity to leave farm stresses behind for a day and forge new relationships with like-minded peers.
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Look for another batch of Champions of Excellence district winners in the next Farm Gate, Oct. 6.