My coworker Matt Kapp got my attention right out of the gates with this opening statement: “Local issues don’t often take center stage, but maybe they should.”
Amen, my brother! He was singin’ my song — preachin’ from the Gospel According to Jeremy.
“Some state Farm Bureaus are moving away from the county Farm Bureau structure,” he added, before launching into a concise refresher course in the many opportunities for county Farm Bureau members to test the involvement waters close to home.
Kapp’s audience was MFB’s 12 Regional Managers — the field staffers whose vital roles include interfacing with county Farm Bureau and rank-n-file members all over the state. Roaming the countryside as the face of the state organization, Regional Managers help county Farm Bureaus facilitate programming and just help make Farm Bureau happen.
Per the nature of his work for you, his theme centered on local government and quasi-governmental entities, so that's what you're about to read about below. But moving forward, Farm Gate's using it as a springboard to examine all the flavors of close-to-home opportunities across the broad spectrum of Farm Bureau involvement.
All Politics are Local
The 1,240 townships where almost all Michigan agriculture happens offer residents a very local, very accessible opportunity to dip their toes into municipal government. Elected offices at the township level (trustee, clerk, treasurer and supervisor) are as grassrootsy as our participatory democracy gets.
Vacancies in township government are commonplace and often go uncontested, so running for office and getting elected are as easy and affordable as it gets. Farm Bureau members curious about running for a local office should check out MFB’s Academy for Political Leadership, a crash course in demystifying public service for prospective office-seekers. It equips participants with all the basic knowledge, insights and encouragement necessary for trying local government service — a key component of Farm Bureau’s goal to see more farmers in elected offices.
Plenty of Farm Bureau members are township supervisors, most recently Greg Whittaker in Cheboygan County. Longtime Menominee County Farm Bureau leader Pete Kleiman is even a past president of the Michigan Townships Association.
A recent survey found Farm Bureau members in hundreds of elected township positions: more than 200 supervisors, almost 100 clerks, 120 treasurers and close to 400 trustees.
Speak Up Locally
Opportunities abound for Farm Bureau members to make a difference locally, even if running for office isn’t your thing. Constituents rarely attend, much less pack, township halls for board meetings, so those who do attend and speak up can really influence local-level decision-making.
General public comment sessions are required by law and are your opportunity for bringing new or overlooked issues to the attention of township leaders. Action taken on active, ongoing issues also hinges on input from residents, so if that issue may affect your farm or family, you owe it to yourself to speak up and contribute to the deliberations.
Few local issues are nearer and dearer to farmers’ hearts than land use, and a lot of those decisions are made at the township and county level. Local zoning boards, commissions and boards of appeal make plans and decisions about what uses are and are not allowed across their jurisdictions.
Many of those plans and decisions can impact farmers and how they farm, so it’s imperative that agriculture’s voice be heard.
The same goes for local planning commissions, charged in part with developing master plans, forward-looking efforts that document the projected intent of future land use and development. Those plans aren’t carved in stone but they do set a tone and priorities for what your local landscape may look like down the road. Again, farmer input is vital.
Wait, There's More
Those (above) are just the high points. There are many, many more opportunities for an active (or potentially active, or active-curious, or itching-to-be-active) Farm Bureau member to get involved in important local decision-making processes without crossing the county line.
Michigan’s system of county road commissions is unlike that in any other state and, much like planning and zoning, make decisions that affect agriculture every month of the year. County drain commissioners are another animal for another day, but they’re in the mix and wield a lot of power over landowners large and small.
Various other quasi-governmental entities can also influence your local farm community: Emergency services authorities, district libraries, water and sewage authorities and school boards all come to mind. And at the top of the local-government hierarchy, the county commission is composed of elected offices, and many of those folks started at the township level.
Got Your Back
Your Farm Bureau membership means you are plugged into a network of experience, insight and assistance at the ready, eager to help you engage at the local level. Even if all you want to do is speak your mind at a township board meeting, your county Farm Bureau leadership, MFB Regional Manager and Home Office staff in Lansing are ready to coach you up with sound guidance.
Your Farm Bureau support system can help you compose an effective letter to the editor or press release, coach you up on public speaking, provide expertise on specific issues, help raise public awareness of your cause on social media or activate the power of your local organization. We work for you!
That’s all for now, but it’s far from everything. Farm Gate is on a mission to provide Farm Bureau members with practical, how-to guidance and encouragement to move you from the ‘uninvolved’ to the ‘involved’ column. Keep tuning us in for more, and let us know if you have specific needs or interests you want to see addressed.