By Jeremy C. Nagel
JACKSON — Quickly delegating responsibilities and zeroing in on how they want their local history celebration to look, Jackson County Farm Bureau’s Local History Team leapt hot out of the gates last week at their very first meeting.
Horton farmer Jim Spink chairs the committee, joined by Janet Day of Clear Lake, Tom Betz of Springport, Loraine Adams of Grass Lake and County President Luke Thorne of Hanover. After walking members through the recently distributed Tool Kit and Resource Guide, Spink turned the conversation over to his committee members for their initial thoughts.
“One of our goals is to involve as many members statewide as we can, not just MFB at the state level, but to have each county in their own way celebrate their history,” Spink explained, adding his expectation that their initial conversations should result in a recommendation to the county board.
“There’s a lot of knowledge just around this table—just among us—but I’d like to begin developing a framework of what everyone would like to see done.”
A preliminary overview of resources from the county office basement turned up a small quantity of vintage photos, documents and memorabilia from previous decades. Among those treasures was an already-written history of the county Farm Bureau, dating from 1969 to coincide with the organization’s 50th anniversary.
It reveals, however, that the group’s roots stretch even deeper—at least to farmer meetings at the public library in Jackson as early as March 1916.
“The group then became the Jackson County Farm Bureau in 1919, when it received a charter from the state organization,” it reads.
Intrigued, Thorne volunteered to inquire into the public library’s resources.
Subsequent conversation about the group’s origins inevitably led to its roots in Extension. Betz offered to investigate this path, down which a pair of well-regarded Extension directors with deep roots may be of particular assistance in shedding light on the century-old dynamics that led to the Extension/Farm Bureau schism.
Choosing a direction to take for a county-level member event began with incorporating an historical theme to their 2019 county annual. But their interest in reaching a wider audience took them to the Jackson County Fair—a big one as county fairs go—which attracts thousands of attendees every year.
“I’d like to see a display at the county fair. This is 100 years of Farm Bureau,” Betts said, emphasizing the once-in-a-lifetime magnitude of commemorating both the organization and the local farming community that originally needed, wanted it, made it happen, and has made it prosper.
Adams offered to reach out to county fair staff to learn more about how much space could be made available for an exhibit, and in which buildings.
Fleshing out their resources for stocking that exhibit—while boosting awareness, interest and participation in their project—led quickly to casting a wider net. To those ends, the group agreed canvassing Jackson County’s 600ish regular members with a direct-mail postcard was warranted, in hopes of unearthing more archival resources and solicit additional member involvement.
President Thorne—cost-conscious himself and cognizant of his board’s budget hawks—was quick to ask how much that postcard would cost. With 2019 budget conversations beginning as soon as June, he noted that there was no time to waste in developing proposals for the board’s consideration.
Other ideas discussed included a photo-identification exhibit similar to the one at the recent state annual meeting, a comprehensive roll-call of all past Jackson County Farm Bureau presidents, and involving the county’s senior and retired Farm Bureau Insurance agents for their insights and contributions.
“I thought we could recognize centennial farms,” Adams suggested, “maybe even go outside our membership. Recognition could lead to some new memberships.”
Another Farm Bureau-to-the-core suggestion was to focus on advocacy achievements over time, from legislative measures to recognizing the long list of local people who’ve served in the state legislature and other high-level positions, to the benefit of agriculture statewide.
Spink closed the session with a cautionary tale for his local team, rooted in his experience as a member of MFB’s state-level Centennial Task Force.
“Memories abound and we at the state level spent perhaps more time than we should have at our initial meeting—almost three years ago in Clare—but there was too much to discuss.
“If you want to spend weeks, there’s a warehouse in Lansing…” he added, trailing off his own sentence as if to illustrate how easy it is to get lost and disappear down the countless tangents history provides—even more so when it’s local, and therefore personal.
They planned their next meeting for June 5, hoping to hit a sweet spot between the end of planting and their county’s next board meeting.
Jackson County Farm Bureau members interested in joining their Local History Team should contact Spink at 517-740-4541.