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David VanderHaagen receives MFB’s highest honor

Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski (right) presented David VanderHaagen, retired MFB general counsel, with the 2022 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award during the organization’s 103rd annual meeting in Grand Rapids on Nov. 30. Image credit: Jeremy C. Nagel, Michigan Farm Bureau
Date Posted: December 6, 2022

Retired Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) General Counsel David VanderHaagen received MFB’s Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award — the organization’s highest honor — during its 103rd annual meeting in Grand Rapids.

VanderHaagen joined MFB in 1996 after working in the ag industry for two decades. He quickly became a pillar of the the organization, covering a vast array of issues and challenges. His advice and counsel covered boards, governance assistance, mergers and acquisitions, and many other complex processes.

“David was instrumental in advancing the Michigan agriculture industry through his legal expertise,” said MFB President Carl Bendarski.

“We still go to David for issues that we need his expertise on. Even in his retirement David is still Farm Bureau right to the core.”

VanderHaagen was also legal counsel to several of the largest agriculture organizations in the state and helped formed 15 agricultural co-ops and and their entities, including the United Dairy Industries of Michigan, Michigan Sugar, Michigan Agritouism Association, Michigan Asparagus Growers, Michigan Foundation for Agriculture, Michigan Turkey Producers Cooperative.

“If you don't have somebody there giving you the right legal advice, your intentions might be good but you might go in the wrong direction,” said Ray Van Driessche, retired director of government relations for Michigan Sugar.

“He was just a great guy all the way around but most importantly, a great professional and a great guide for Michigan agricultural commodities.”

VanderHaagen thanked his family for their support throughout his career, and reflected on his decades of experience working with farmers and ag groups across the state.

“It’s been really a very great ride,” VanderHaagen told the crowd of more than 800 farmers during MFB’s annual banquet. “Working for organizations that farmers owned has been interesting, it's been challenging, it's been rewarding.”

Described by ag industry leaders as humble, professional and courteous, VanderHaagen was commended for his ability to use his humor to put people at ease and describe things in a way that everyone could understand.

“I've learned a great deal in those interactions with farmers and the organizations that they own and the people who they've hired to manage them,” VanderHaagen added.

“One of the things I've learned that I that I still try hard to do is to listen carefully, listen patiently, and listen respectfully. The other is when it's time to speak to speak simply to speak courageously and to speak with integrity.”