By Jeremy C. Nagel
With more than 100 years of collective Farm Bureau experience between them, a trio of members contributed some sage insights to Hillsdale County Farm Bureau’s recent annual meeting. Mark Kies (45 years), Mark Kline (38 years) and Ned Bever (25 years) each took a few minutes to share their thoughts on the value of involvement.
Mark Kies’ Farm Bureau membership began as an insurance customer in 1974. Years later he was paid a visit by an influential — and persuasive — member of the county board of directors.
“Roger Lewis came to the house and asked, well, he kinda directed me,” Kies recalls. “He said, ‘You’re at an age where you need to start serving.’
“And he was right. There comes a time you step to the plate, and it was time,” Kies said. “I was of an age — probably about 40 years old — and I thought I had enough leadership quality to help, and I’m glad I did.”
Mark Kline’s introduction to Farm Bureau was hastened by economic pressures.
“I think it was in the early ‘80s — Keith Brown signed me up,” Kline remembered. “There were a lot of ag-related issues starting up at the time. The economy wasn’t real good then for farmers and Keith said Farm Bureau works on a lot of legislative issues on the farmer’s behalf, so I thought well I’ll sign up.
“I’ve been a member ever since.”
Signing up is one thing; staying on is quite another. Longtime Farm Bureau members don’t write their annual dues checks for the fun of it — they’re getting something in return for their $50. That ‘something’ varies from one member to the next.
For Kline that value comes from the representation members see in the political arena.
“We have to have some form of a voice, and Congressmen and legislators do hear us speak — especially when we speak loudly enough,” he said. “They know where their votes come from.”
A relative newcomer at the 25-year mark, cash crop and cattleman Ned Bever appreciates the reliable pipeline of pertinent information Farm Bureau membership provides.
“It’s all about the information that’s coming in, keeping us informed.”
As a member of MFB’s state-level livestock advisory committee and policy development committee, Bever’s not only kept current on the issues, but he often hears it firsthand, meeting face-to-face with industry leaders.
“We meet with the state veterinarian,” he cites as an example. “I’d never have a chance to hear that kind of information unless I was in those meetings. I mean you could read all this stuff, but I don’t have time to read everything so it’s a lot quicker for someone to tell me in person.
“Spend a day in the state committee and you find out what’s really going on, and things you don’t even think about.”
An auxiliary benefit for Kline is the organization’s not-always-subtle nudge toward civic engagement. He’s quick to confess his county Farm Bureau involvement hasn’t stretched much further than candidate evaluation, but there still an undercurrent of leadership he’s applied in other directions.
“I’ve been on the school board and local planning commissions,” he said, emphasizing how vital it is for farmers to flex their common sense beyond agriculture. “On the planning commission, ag voices really are huge. We had zoning issues there and people who didn’t know about Right to Farm.
“I think everybody should serve regardless of what your persuasion or occupation or whatever is. It’s a civic duty that people serve.”
Another Farm Bureau experience that left a permanent impression on Bever was an ag study tour to Australia — a trip that permanently widened his perspective on the global nature of modern food production.
“The value of an overseas trip to a farmer… You realize this country isn’t the only country producing food. You meet people who do the same thing a little differently, in a little different environment, and you realize food production is a worldwide thing.
“You learn we’re not the only game in town and there’s very, very intelligent people there, too.”
So how would these veterans pitch the value of that Farm Bureau membership to a prospective newcomer? Like masters.
“Everyone should go to the state annual,” Bever said. “That’s an eye-opening experience, meeting quality people” and finding consensus when their priorities clash with your own, like during the contentious delegate-floor debate on a baiting and feeding ban.
“One of my very first experiences was back when TB was really hot, and I was sitting beside a guy who raised 600 acres of carrots just for feeding deer,” Bever recalled. “So we’re sitting here voting on his livelihood to say ‘hey you shouldn’t do this’ — but that’s his livelihood.”
Kies’ emphasis is on motivating younger generations to claim their stake in the direction of Michigan agriculture.
“It’s a good opportunity for young people, especially,” he said. “It’s tough — they’re the ones taking over the farm — they’re working hard and don’t feel they have enough time.
“But young people need to become more involved in the political side of things. We don’t have enough young voices, but Farm Bureau offers the opportunity to get you there.”
Bever echoes the fundamental involvement point.
“One of the things you’re going to realize is what you put into it is what you’re going to get back out of it. If you don’t volunteer to do things and you don’t get involved, you’re not going to get much out.
“You’ve got to step up. You’ll get out of it what you put in.”