A who’s-who roster of Michigan’s county Farm Bureaus have earned 2023 Champions of Excellence Awards. Designed to acknowledge county Farm Bureaus’ efforts in advocating for agriculture and engaging members, Michigan Farm Bureau’s annual Champions of Excellence recognition is awarded annually in two categories, Involvement and Grassroots.
Involvement-category recognition is determined from member-involvement data logged and tracked in MFB’s membership database. This year’s Involvement winners are:
- District 1 — Berrien
- District 2 — Lenawee
- District 3 — Oakland
- District 4 — Barry
- District 5 — Shiawassee
- District 6 — Huron
- District 7 — Oceana
- District 8 — Bay
- District 9 — Mason
- District 10 — Huron Shores
- District 11 — Emmet
- District 12 — Iron Range
Here are the winners in this year’s Grassroots category, recognizing achievement in innovative member-involvement activities:
- District 1 — Van Buren
- District 2 — Branch
- District 3 — Washtenaw
- District 4 — Barry
- District 5 — Clinton
- District 6 — Sanilac
- District 7 — Mecosta
- District 8 — Isabella
- District 9 — (no winner)
- District 10 — Clare
- District 11 — (no winner)
- District 12 — Iron Range
Here’s a closer look at the first five of those winners; look for more in the Oct. 17 Farm Gate.
Van Buren Promotion & Education conducted Farmer for a Day events last spring at two local elementary schools, answering the schools’ direct requests for an agricultural learning experience.
Outside each school, volunteers set up five education stations: farm equipment (tractors, combines, etc.); livestock (cows, poultry, ponies, etc.); pollinators (bees); blueberries; and a make-n-take station where students made farm charms to take home.
Altogether some 900 students, grades K-5, and 50 teachers rotated through the stations, learning about Michigan agriculture from real-life farmers manning them. At day’s end teachers got gift bags including topical Ag Mags for follow-up classroom lessons.
Farmer for a Day was innovative in that Farm Bureau went to the school, eliminating the need for the bussing traditional Projects RED require. Time outside the classroom was spent directly engaged in learning, not traveling to a remote facility. The on-site model was beneficial for all and made it possible to keep the program concise and efficient for educators, students and volunteers alike.
Van Buren engaged almost 20 volunteers between the two events, including eight uninvolved or non-members who took home their own lesson in the value of the organization and membership in it.
Farmer for a Day educated both students and their teachers about where food comes from, advancing Farm Bureau’s goal of connecting with consumers and spreading the good word about Michigan agriculture.
In November 2022 Branch County Farm Bureau learned of Michigan DNR’s plan to reclassify the Prairie River from a warm to cold-water stream. Local Farm Bureau leaders suspected the change was based on insufficient data, and that it could lead to reduced water-withdrawal limits.
From early phone calls and group gatherings, members took grassroots action appealing to the Water Use Advisory Committee, Natural Resource Commission and local decision-makers, resulting in the NRC postponing the reclassification until more accurate data could be collected.
The course of events set a new precedent for requiring the NRC/DNR to do things right the first time, especially with respect to temperature reclassifications that could be detrimental to farmers and other community sectors. Reclassification must meet a higher standard of data collection, analysis and public input.
County leaders’ original target audience — Branch County farmers in the Prairie River basin, especially those irrigating — was broadened when the full scope of the reclassification came to light. That led to including neighbors in St. Joseph County so all potentially affected farmers knew what was afoot.
Locally more than 40 members and almost 20 non-members got directly involved. Opening the effort to non-members was an intentional move to expose them to the benefit of Farm Bureau’s ability to unify and amplify farmers’ voices.
Board members rallied attendance at NRC meetings, encouraged participation in the statewide action request, and spurred county commissioners to oppose the reclassification — unanimously.
Requesting a standard procedure for future moves will ensure that only the rivers meeting certain criteria will be considered for reclassification. It also encouraged the formation of water-use groups so local farmers can be better informed about potential changes.
Washtenaw County Farm Bureau hosted a fun afternoon of educational stations relating to safety and hazard awareness in rural communities.
Attendees took part in several interactive stations including a safety-themed trivia wheel, hearing protection and common farm sound levels, deadly look-alikes, farm hazard hunt, zoonotic diseases and other topics.
Altogether the day embodied Farm Bureau’s grassroots ethic, as each station was hosted by a member or community group, including a local equipment dealer, elevator owner and first responders. The innovative angle came from making rural safety issues personal, with neighbors from the community deliver their messages to attendees.
Organizers strove to expand the usual farm-safety themes to include the greater rural community. Learning stations included first aid, fire safety, animal safety, grain safety, tractor/implement safety and stress management. Each emphasized its simple message concisely, focusing on simple take-home messages.
The event was innovative for its level of interactivity. For grain safety, kids stood in an empty garbage bin that was filled with corn up to their waist as they tried to wiggle their legs. Participants got firsthand contact with actual firefighting equipment, and a life-size straw dummy met its dramatic end by getting entangled in a spinning PTO shaft.
The animal safety station featured live animals and the first aid station had kids making simulated 911 calls. The farm-sound matching game demonstrated how a squealing pig can be louder than a hand drill. And the stress management station saw participants practicing breathing techniques to calm their minds and focus without feeling overwhelmed.
Results were resoundingly positive, with survey results showing attendees eager to improve safety practices at home.
Rural Safety Day put friendly faces to serious concerns common across its audience, regardless of their membership status. And to that point, another win was that several stations were led by previously uninvolved members.
Barry County Farm Bureau dramatically revamped its 2022 annual meeting, shifting the focus toward family-friendly fun and away from the traditional business-and-speakers format. Their updated annual took place at MOO-ville, the popular dairy farm and consumer-friendly creamery outside Nashville.
After an expedient 10-minute session checked the required business boxes and member awards, attendees enjoyed a laid-back dinner and unscheduled fun. The meat-n-potatoes of policy development had already taken place at a separate, earlier meeting that allowed for deep discussion on issues and made room for a lighter county annual.
Inspiring the makeover of Barry’s previously “scheduled and stale” annual were years of waning attendance — so bad that bylaw changes were necessary just to achieve quorum.
The new format shifted the focus to a celebration of membership, emphasizing fun at an outdoor facility with activities for grown-ups and youngsters alike. Policy and business shrank to a brief prelude to an evening of ice cream, petting zoo and peeking behind the scenes of one of the county’s most popular agritourism attractions.
More than 80 members attended, almost double the previous year, including previously uninvolved members and reintroducing them to their county Farm Bureau — and the value it provides.
Reconfiguring the biggest activity on Barry’s calendar also bore fruit in engaging and challenging leaders to break out of a dangerous rut and update a key event toward broader member appeal. Energized by the promise of their own plans, board members showed up early to set up, ran registration and welcomed members — roles that previously cluttered the CAM’s already long list of responsibilities.
And the success has proven contagious, with new approaches and updates in the works for other programs. In February of this year they sat down to tackle their first goal-setting process in seven years!
Few issues bring with them the same uncomfortable dread as estate planning. But a new Clinton County Farm Bureau leader’s slightly bonkers idea blazed a smooth path through that thicket — by making it fun — or at least funny.
Alongside awkward family members, estate planning conversations usually involve lawyers and accountants. Not fun! Clinton pushed the bean-counter aside and subbed in, naturally, a comedian!
And with great results: Nearly 50 members and several non-members showed up at the county’s Estate Essentials comedy night, which equipped members for the notoriously challenging conversation by focusing on the hilarity of family drama — and mellowing that drama with laughter.
Turns out the unlikely combination was a big hit, with attendees engaging in a surprisingly painless think session focused on smartly planning for the future of their farms.
Backing up the comedian was estate-savvy attorney to address the technical questions that inevitably arise in farm-succession conversations, and several attendees made appointments for more in-depth follow-up conversations.
The creative blend of fun and function resulted in an event that was as enjoyable as it was informative, and which vividly demonstrated the value of Farm Bureau membership. Attendees went home with valuable, practical insights about succession planning and preserving the value of assets built on the hard work of previous generations.
Beyond advancing members’ understanding of a vital but challenging topic, several prospective members left with a better appreciation for the value of Farm Bureau — and membership applications.
Don’t miss the Oct. 17 Farm Gate to learn about more of this year’s Champions of Excellence winners: Sanilac, Mecosta, Isabella, Clare and Iron Range.