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 recognition is determined from member-involvement data logged and tracked in MFB’s membership database. This year’s Involvement winners were Berrien, Lenawee, Oakland, Barry, Shiawassee, Huron, Oceana, Bay, Mason, Huron Shores, Emmet and Iron Range.
The first five Grassroots winners were profiled in our last issue. Here’s a close look at our remaining Champions for 2023.
District 6: Sanilac
Sanilac County Farm Bureau’s Freeze Out Hunger program identified a weak link in the local food-charity network, zeroed in and welded it fast, decisively strengthening that network for decades to come.
In reviewing their established practice of purchasing fair animals and donating the resulting meat to local food pantries, board members saw a glitch: Few of those distributors had the freezer capacity to accommodate a substantial donation and store it long enough for it to be distributed before spoiling.
Directors reached out to and visited with each pantry to assess their needs — and their ability to accommodate a substantial new appliance on site. Members of the board’s executive committee contacted local Farm Bureau Insurance agents to assess their interest in collaboration, particularly in the form of Agent Charitable Fund grants.
Once all the pieces were in place, Farm Bureau leaders pulled the trigger and had efficient, high-capacity freezers installed in every Sanilac County food pantry that could squeeze one into its floor plan, helping everyone involved better serve hundreds of food-insecure families.
The final scorecard tallied substantial gains in member involvement, stakeholder cooperation, policy development, community relations and general awareness of the county Farm Bureau outside the agricultural community.
Freeze Out Hunger also broadened the county Farm Bureau’s network of partners, starting with the local food pantries helping more than 1,000 families from Minden City to Lexington, Port Sanilac to Marlette, and every community in between.
District 7: Mecosta
Looking to cultivate a more substantial connection with lawmakers, Mecosta County Farm Bureau arranged a farm tour for lawmakers representing local voters — including the farmers — in Lansing.
Hosting visits were member farms including a potato operation, dairy and winery. Leaders at each operation summarized what sorts of legislative support would help their businesses prosper — and what issues are making that prosperity more challenging than it needs to be.
Land availability was a recurring theme, with farmers anxious about mounting competition for viable — and increasingly scarce — farmland on which to expand. Solar and wind energy projects are eating up productive agricultural acres, and new manufacturing uses are raising concerns about pollution.
Beyond an earful of new to-do list items, legislators left with some real-world products of the farms they visited, including Great Lakes Potato Chips, MMPA cheese and locally produced fruit jam.
Already the underlying premise of MFB’s Lansing and Washington Legislative Seminars, face-to-face contact with lawmakers is well understood to be an essential component of Farm Bureau’s success in advocating for its members’ priorities.
Between lawmakers and members, more than 30 people took part in the event — a clear win from a member-involvement perspective. Board members arranged the tours and accompanied the elected officials along the way, offering additional insights between stops.
At the bottom of the agenda came the winery stop, where all Mecosta County regular members were encouraged to gather and take advantage of the opportunity for face time with legislators. Several farmers there took time to share their experiences, stories and opinions to help lawmakers better understand their priorities and concerns.
District 8: Isabella
Isabella County Farm Bureau’s inaugural What’s Poppin’ event was an innovative outreach event aimed at reconnecting with existing members and meeting prospective new ones. Member volunteers distributed free popcorn and bottled water to attendees at the county fair livestock auction, raised funds for Harvest for All and gave gift baskets to anyone who entered.
The compact campaign helped the county Farm Bureau interact with members, boost involvement, raise its profile outside the immediate farm community and get the attention of several new prospects.
Acknowledging the fair’s vitality to Isabella County’s agricultural community, organizers chose it as a fitting venue for member and prospective new-member outreach.
Farm Bureau involvement at the fair had faded over previous years, despite its crucial role hosting the youth livestock auction and high degree of visibility to the greater, non-farm community. Stepping in to take over water distribution at the auction carried with it the additional benefit of alleviating the youth livestock committee from a costly obligation that had been burdening its finances.
4-H and FFA members were engaged to help, reminding them of Farm Bureau’s position as the primary local ag organization for adults — ideally one they’ll join when the time comes.
Member volunteers passed out copies of Michigan Farm News, membership information and applications to prospects, and signed up auction attendees in a drawing to win a basket of Michigan-made food products.
What’s Poppin’ gave Isabella County Farm Bureau a lot of high-profile exposure. Set up near the auction ring itself, member volunteers made the most of their up-front visibility, with each bag of popcorn promoting the organization and its impact. Future iterations may add a QR code to link people with information about membership and what Farm Bureau has to offer.
All leftover popcorn, oil and water was repurposed as a Harvest for All donation, translating to 30 pounds of food for a local soup kitchen.
The Farm Bureau’s involvement also helped out the fair board by filling a volunteer gap and boosting engagement with a key target audience: the buyers engaged there to support livestock sellers involved in 4-H and FFA.
District 10: Clare
Clare County Farm Bureau’s meet-n-greet legislative breakfast transcended the usual routine of such events, drawing in more than 60 member attendees from Clare and surrounding counties. Eager to stump on their own behalf were seven candidates — primary winners vying to represent U.S. House District 2, State Senate District 34, and the 99th and 100th districts in the State House of Representatives.
That was seven candidates altogether — all of whom attended in hopes of winning over the hearts and minds of 60 Farm Bureau members from Clare and surrounding counties, many of whom hadn’t darkened the door of an organization function in years.
What they got for showing up was direct, personal interaction with candidates who’d brought their best ag-specific messaging to share, beginning with eight minutes of dedicated time before recharging their batteries with a hearty breakfast. After that came a wide-open forum and ample Q&A time directly with Farm Bureau members.
Candidates lingered afterwards for even more detailed one-on-one conversations about Farm Bureau policy and current ag issues Michigan’s farms wrestle with every day. Attendees who liked what they heard took home yard signs and election materials from the candidates of their choice.
Altogether the event embodied classic Farm Bureau relationship building — a vital component of the organization’s approach to member advocacy, based on close contact and honest exchange with elected officials.
Members enjoyed the direct, face-to-face opportunity to meet candidates hoping to represent them in Lansing and D.C., including several designated Friends of Agriculture.
Co-hosting were the District 10 AgriPAC Committee member and Clare County’s Candidate Evaluation Chair. Behind the scenes, member volunteers arranged the venue and meal; distributed invitations and promotional materials throughout the community; solicited sponsorship support; engaged on social media; and shared information on township and public library websites.
District 12: Iron Range
A local children’s museum eager to expand its offerings approached the Iron Range Farm Bureau about coordinating on an exhibit and lessons for both children and the general public, year-round. Iron Range embraced the challenge to engage community audiences with informative, fun and farm-friendly messages, outfitting museum space with content and activities rooted in the gospel of Michigan agriculture.
The Farm Bureau members closest to the museum project quickly realized the original target audience — pre-Kindergarten through fourth grade — was too narrow. They saw need for next-level content as well, from late-elementary all the way up through their parents.
Involved members testify to the value and effectiveness of their work, having seen directly how it’s helped area residents learn about local agriculture. Firsthand experience with hands-on lessons are particularly effective, with Iron Range Farm Bureau members walking community members through planting strawberries, green beans and other staple edibles.
Along similar lines, a swap meet event centered on redistributing local garden surpluses has proven especially popular, offering access to fresh produce not everyone in the community always enjoys.
Iron Range’s museum involvement is now part of the county Farm Bureau’s P&E budget, where it covers items lost over time. That approach also makes it possible for the museum director to contribute to a “wish list” for long-term improvements and upgrades to the exhibit as it evolves.
When funding became an issue, organizers approached some of the region’s farm-equipment dealers. Reisterer & Schnell (across the border in Pound, Wisconsin) jumped at the opportunity. They brought toys, puzzles, books and joined in on lessons for kids and parents alike.
Collaborating with the museum has drawn interest from uninvolved and “lapsed” members — a real win for a small-membership Farm Bureau like Iron Range. Three new and uninvolved members have contributed to the cause, including a retired teacher who’d been absent from the organization over a year.
Also hopping on board were two Young Farmers just getting their feet wet in the organization — and seeing quickly for themselves just how much impact they can have when working together under the Farm Bureau banner.
Note: There were no Champions of Excellence winners this year in Districts 9 or 11.