The annual Washington Legislative Seminar is a fitting capstone to Farm Bureau’s wintertime meeting season—a summit of the organization’s grass-roots lobbying ethic perched at the tail end of many growers’ availability before the crush of spring planting. After returning home to their farms, attendees from across the state shared their thoughts about the program celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Representing Monroe County at this year’s seminar were Dee Dee and Jerry Heck. Even as longtime members with lengthy track records of Farm Bureau involvement, the Hecks still found fresh value in the experience.
“Even though I have been a longtime member, this trip gave me new enthusiasm for the value of the organization,” Jerry Heck said.
“The time spent with our two Senators was very educational. It was nice being able to ask them questions, and it gave me a different viewpoint of them.”
Gratiot County Young Farmer Marie Zwemmer hadn’t been to D.C. since high school. This time around she got a much better feel for the real workings of the nation’s capital.
“I was on the trade track, which allowed us to meet with both Senators and our Congressman,” said Zwemmer, who attended alongside her husband Frank. “We learned about their thoughts on trade issues and what needs to happen for effective trade to positively impact Michigan farmers.”
She credits her Farm Bureau involvement for making the opportunity more accessible.
“Without my membership, I probably would never have had breakfast with our Senators or sit in our Congressman’s office, sharing concerns about issues impacting agriculture and getting questions answered about what’s being done to solve problems,” Zwemmer said.
“As a Farm Bureau member, I feel my voice matters and I know it’s more likely to be heard. The value of that—being able to influence policy-makers to do what Michigan agriculture needs—I don’t feel like I would have that through any other organization.”
Zwemmer found some valuable lessons in her D.C. experience—lessons she’s eager to implement back home.
“Don’t be afraid to ask policy makers hard questions,” she said. “They represent us, and we have a right to have our questions answered and our voices heard. They don’t know what they don’t know, so it’s up to us to make sure important issues surface and they are getting solved at every level.”
Two of Zwemmer’s neighbors to the south, Johanna and Ronald Balzer of Clinton County, also made the trip to D.C..
“We were very impressed with the opportunity to meet the people making our laws and regulations,” said Johanna Balzer upon returning home. “It was good to see the common humanity that binds us together, putting a face with a name in this echelon of bureaucracy.
“It was a good experience hearing how even experts struggle with making policy decisions. We appreciated meeting others from our U.S. House district—along with Iowa Farm Bureau members—and discussing our common concerns.
“If you have the opportunity to attend the seminar, take it!
Otsego County Farm Bureau President Tim Kauska attended with his wife Pat—their second time lobbying in D.C.
“Our main objective was information gathering and sharing. We take all Farm Bureau events seriously and use the time wisely,” Kauska said.
“Our main concerns are immigration and labor—specifically the H-2A program. That there is still a tremendous amount of work still needed to improve the H-2A Program.”
Beyond those mentioned above, these county Farm Bureau members also attended this year’s Washington Legislative Seminar: