Cass County Farm Bureau hosted a series of virtual legislative townhall meetings May 1, adding to its already strong advocacy game and paving the way for county Farm Bureaus statewide to follow suit.
Demonstrating continued membership value despite the global pandemic, Cass County Farm Bureau hosted Michigan State Senator Kim LaSata, Representative Aaron Miller and Representative Brad Paquette in three separate hourlong conversations utilizing Webex video conferencing platform.
About a dozen farmer members joined each event, beginning with a welcome from Cass County Farm Bureau President Daryl Griner and a brief membership update from membership captain Shane Harris before engaging with the lawmakers.
“We wanted to host these town halls on issues impacting farmers and residents of Michigan,” Harris said, “and show that from educating consumers about agriculture — through events like our annual ice cream social and farm tour — to developing sound Farm Bureau policy on important ag issues and legislative opportunities like this, Farm Bureau is here to serve you each and every day.
“Without volunteers like you, the Cass County Farm Bureau would not be as successful as we are.”
Members spoke with the lawmakers on various issues, including the debate surrounding Governor Whitmer’s executive authorities and how to reopen the state’s economy, commodity-specific issues and supply chain challenges caused by COVID-19, projected state revenue shortfalls and more.
Each discussion contained a strong theme of appreciation, to the legislators for representing agriculture, and to the Farm Bureau members for their outreach and feedback.
“A big thank you for your work to get the greenhouses open — timing was so critical,” said county board member Carl Sparks to Sen. LaSata, referring to the organization’s recent efforts urging state government to allow greenhouses and garden centers to open for the retail sale of plants.
Rep. Aaron Miller thanked the county Farm Bureau for its input on COVID-19’s impact on farm jobs, supply lines, products and customers — a good reminder for county Farm Bureaus statewide.
“So many of you have offered me perspective on what is going on, and so many people preface their conversation with, ‘sorry to bother you’,” Miller said. “I want to make it really clear: that is my job.
“I need to hear those stories, because if I don’t, I don’t know how to do my job effectively. You never have to apologize for giving me a call, ever.”
The statesmanship continuously exhibited by Rep. Miller shows why he’ll be missed by the county Farm Bureau when he’s term-limited out of his House seat at the end of this year.
“You’ve been one of the best representatives we’ve had and that we’ve ever worked with that has been pro-agriculture,” said Cass County Vice President Dennis Wooden. “We appreciate everything you’ve done with us in the farming industry.”
Wrapping up the town halls, Rep. Brad Paquette encouraged members to continue communicating the organization’s priorities with him, especially as the legislature begins grappling extreme revenue shortfalls and resulting budget cuts.
“Governor Whitmer mentioned that we have a $3 billion projected shortfall in our general fund and…we have about $10 billion to work with there,” Paquette said. “A lot of cuts are going to come about from this, that I don’t think people are entirely aware...we’re going to have to tighten the belt extensively.”
Rep. Paquette wrapped up his time with the group underscoring the importance of grassroots engagement.
“I’ve been blessed to have been able to learn a lot of things around the state and having outside perspectives on every issue is so valuable,” he said. “I believe iron sharpens iron and that comes through strong conversation about issues.”