By Jeremy C. Nagel
With every New Year comes turnover among Farm Bureau leadership. Upwards of 20 county Farm Bureaus see new presidents elected and commodity advisory committee rosters are reshuffled. Likewise state-level program steering committees see members step down when their terms expire and newcomers take their places.
This January we bid a fond farewell to four outgoing leaders following their service on the state-level Young Farmer and Promotion & Education committees.
From potato country in the western Upper Peninsula, Marsha Wainio brought her experience in education to bear on galvanizing Farm Bureau outreach efforts through the state Promotion & Education committee.
“I was able to use the knowledge and skills from my career as an educational administrator to help bring the FARM Science Lab to the Upper Peninsula,” she said. “All my years of working to bring high-quality professional development to teachers is embodied in the lab.”
Her ability to persuade educators in their own language paid off handsomely for Farm Bureau and, ultimately, students across the U.P.
“I was able to convince three principals who had never met me to apply for the lab to come to their school after only 15 minutes of hearing about what the program could offer to their teachers and students.”
Wainio applauded P&E staff for their professionalism, planning standards-based curricula and handling the logistics of FARM Science Lab visits.
“Whether in-person or virtual, Farm Bureau meetings are always well organized and the staff is prepared to lead us through the agenda. Getting to know the other committee members and touring businesses was the best part.
“I learned so much about the farming industry. Meeting and talking with other farmers and farm-related professionals kept us up to date with the latest trends and issues.”
Ottawa County fruit grower Adam Dietrich’s time on the state Young Farmer committee locked him into a statewide network of professional peers, like-minded in their ambition and passion for agriculture.
"I’m quite certain four years ago I did not imagine how much I would value my time on the committee,” he said. “Being part of the state Young Farmer committee puts you in the mix of some of our brightest and most engaged young members. The relationships fostered were the most valuable part of my experience.”
Dietrich said among the most memorable highlights of his tenure was traveling to AFBF Annual Meetings in New Orleans and Austin in support of Michigan’s contestants in the Young Farmer and Rancher Awards and Discussion Meet. It’s that kind of support, he added, that’s indicative of the Farm Bureau experience and pervasive throughout the organization.
“One noticeable thing that happens as you become involved with the organization is how much it, in turn, becomes involved in you,” Dietrich said. “You develop into a better version of yourself to benefit your family, profession and the organization.
“The service you put in pays off in friendly conversations, new connections, conferences across America and experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have had.”
Bay County stalwart Terry Histed echoes similar sentiments in the wake of his service on the state P&E committee.
“I enjoyed meeting new people from around our great state, learning about their different farm operations, the projects they were involved with and the unique ways they found to reach out and educate their communities about agriculture,” he said.
“With every generation becoming further removed from life on the farm or a connection to the farm, it’s more important than ever for us to reach out to our non-farm friends with information about how and where their food is produced.”
Histed cited his involvement in helping create the mobile FARM Science Lab as a high point of his tenure.
“Seeing it go from a thought to a very well-working and widely appreciated program is an honor in itself,” he said, adding that helping develop the Growing Together was also especially rewarding.
“Informing non-farmers is one of Farm Bureau’s most important efforts. For anyone who hasn’t been involved with doing so, I would greatly encourage them to join in,” Histed said. “It’s really pretty simple: Just tell them what you do on your farm and the conversation will grow from there.”
Barry County’s Mike McKeown leaves the state Young Farmer committee with a deeper understanding of what goes into the opportunities Farm Bureau provides its members.
“Serving on the state committee has given me a new appreciation for all that goes into programs like the Young Farmer conference or state annual,” he said.
“Serving has helped me develop leadership skills, learn more about how to get involved and make a difference, and helped me build lasting relationships with farmers across the state,” he added. “I’ve gained a lot of respect for all that MFB is able to accomplish through its staff and engaged farmer members.
“I’ve gotten much more out of my service than value I’ve provided.”
Wainio and Dietrich had sound advice for county Farm Bureau program leaders looking to better leverage their state-committee resources.
“The most important thing county leaders can do is build strong communication and working relationships with state committee representatives,” Dietrich said. “When you reach out for help with challenges, you’re reaching out to a statewide network of people who have dealt with some of the very same issues. Lean on them.”
He also encouraged counties to reach out and be neighborly.
“Share your ideas with them and your neighboring county chairs to see if there are ways to overcome challenges with a district effort.”
Turning the table, Wainio challenged her successors on the state committees to take the initiative in serving their districts’ county Farm Bureaus.
“State committee members need to reach out to county chairs on a regular basis,” she said. “They need to participate in county P&E activities and show an interest — listen to what county chairs need and assist them.”
In upcoming Farm Gate issues we’ll meet the ambitious newcomers succeeding these veterans on the state Young Farmer and P&E committees.