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Michigan Farm Bureau Family of Companies

ProFILE gets a lesson in local government engagement

Start conversations, ask questions, share your testimony, run for office — just don’t sit back and wait for someone else to do it.
Date Posted: February 28, 2024

Farm Bureau members are familiar with the organization’s efforts to affect legislation on the state and federal levels, but the organization’s ability to influence local matters — at the county and township levels — is sometimes overlooked.

This was the subject of MFB Government Relations Specialist Matt Kapp’s presentation to the current ProFILE cohort at their February gathering.

Michigan Farm Bureau’s mission is to “represent, protect and enhance the business, economic, social and educational interests of its members” — in part by making sure the farmer’s voice is heard from all angles: local, state and federal. 

While higher-profile state and federal issues may seem to take center stage, members also need to fulfill this same mission in our local jurisdictions. Kapp cited several examples of county Farm Bureaus organizing to change or ward off local ordinances that negatively impacted farms in those communities.

One example was Ogemaw County in 2018. A member engaged with local issues notified the county Farm Bureau that his township had proposed an ordinance that would have severely restricted livestock agriculture. After consulting with MFB staff, the county Farm Bureau organized meetings where local members could discuss the issue and unify their efforts. This led to a large number of farmers attending a township zoning meeting — an assertive response that contributed to the proposal’s eventual defeat.

The Ogemaw example showcases the influence county Farm Bureaus can have on local governments, ensuring that farmers’ voices are heard loud and clear.

“Your county Farm Bureau is the largest ag organization in your county,” Kapp said. “What other county-level organization has as many farmers backing the collective effort to preserve the interests of agriculture?”

“As Farm Bureau members, we have a responsibility to be the voice for our industry, as well as a friendly resource for our elected officials,” said Drew Bordner, a ProFILE participant from St. Joseph County.

What can your county Farm Bureau do to assert its local stature? Kapp offered several suggestions:

  • Notify members about issues. Whether it’s by email, text, social media, phone call or face-to-face conversation, it’s vital to inform your fellow county Farm Bureau members about ongoing discussions, proposals and votes that could adversely affect local farms.
  • Attend meetings. County commissions and township board meetings are open to the public. Attending in person is far and away the best way to learn about issues firsthand. They’re also prime opportunities for members to voice their opinions directly to local officials.
  • Write letters. It’s becoming rare for elected officials to understand farming’s role in the communities they serve. A letter from the county Farm Bureau, or individual members, can help inform officials how farmers may be impacted by proposed changes.
  • Meet one-on-one. Letters and phone calls have their place, but there’s no replacement for face-to-face interaction. Meeting in person puts a face to the issue at hand and helps decision-makers relate to those impacted on a personal level. Establishing such links also give officials someone to consult when future ag-related issues arise.
  • Host tours. Good relations with local officials is key to ensuring farmers’ interests are respected. Welcoming them onto farms to see firsthand the challenges their agricultural constituents face can have a huge impact and prevent the need to ward off ill-informed municipal actions.

Better yet? The ultimate way of making sure agriculture’s voice is heard — and that farmers have a seat at the decision-making table — is to literally sit at that table by running for office yourself. 

“Most farmers can’t spend three days a week in Lansing as a state legislator,” Kapp said, “but most could give up two or three nights a month to county or township meetings.”

In my own few years of service as a township trustee, I’ve seen for myself the lack of public interest in local government. I’m fortunate that our township board is ag-friendly, but in some areas nearby I’ve seen strife between municipalities and their residents because of the disconnect between the public and their local government. 

Most people don’t care what’s going on in their community until something happens they don’t like. Many disagreements could be avoided if residents were more engaged with local government and were proactive, not reactive, regarding local ordinances.

Concluding his presentation, Kapp challenged ProFILE participants to engage with local government, and to encourage their farming neighbors to follow suit: Start conversations, ask questions, share your testimony, run for office — just don’t sit back and wait for someone else to do it.

2024-25 ProFILE participant Chris Fox raises corn, soybeans, wheat and beef cattle in Ionia County’s Orange Township.

Rebecca Gulliver headshot

Rebecca Gulliver

Member Engagement & Field Training Specialist
[email protected]
Emily Reinart headshot

Emily Reinart

Grassroots Policy Outreach Specialist
517-679-5337 [email protected]