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New Virginia Farm Bureau History Chronicles Three-and-a-Half Decades of Success and Acquisitions

News / FBNews March 1, 2017

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has completed a new comprehensive history book about the organization’s successes and meteoric growth over the past 34 years. “From the Ground Up: Growth of a Modern Farm Bureau” was written by VFBF Vice President of Communications Greg Hicks. It picks up from where the original work, “The Virginia Farm Bureau Story: Growth of a Grassroots Organization” by J. Hiram Zigler, stopped in 1982. That work started with the state organization’s beginnings in 1926.

It was introduced at the organization’s 2016 Annual Convention at The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, last fall. Hicks sold the book himself at the convention exhibition hall where he signed and sold nearly 100 copies. Since that time, several hundred more have been purchased.

"From the Ground Up: Growth of a Modern Farm Bureau” author Greg Hicks with his book.   Credit: Virginia Farm Bureau   

The 168-page coffee table book features colorful photos of employees, members and farms. It includes chapters on the five VFBF presidents since 1982, including a chapter on former American Farm Bureau Federation President Robert B. Delano, who served for nearly two decades as Virginia president before and after his tenure at AFBF.

Hicks also chronicles the organization’s many legislative successes, its major acquisitions like the State Fair of Virginia and the accompanying Meadow Event Park, the birthplace of legendary racehorse Secretariat. It captures year-to-year membership totals, the evolving Women’s and Young Farmers committees as well as the inception of Ag in the Classroom, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in Virginia this year.

There are chapters on the Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and its purchase of Syracuse, New York-based Countryway Insurance Co., the organization’s Health Care Consultants and its affiliates, which include Employee Benefits Corp. of America in McLean, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., and Benefit Design Group in Towson, Maryland.

It talks about the beginning of cost-share dollars for preserving The Chesapeake Bay and other waters, Farm Bureau’s influence in gaining the state’s first-ever Secretary of Agriculture, the state constitutional amendment that tightened eminent domain laws, and many other legislative victories. There are references to Farm Bureau’s work during the end of the tobacco and peanut quota systems and the organization’s effort to create a system for futuristic transgenic tobacco.

It includes county Farm Bureau highlights and contains a pictorial essay of many of the organization’s annual conventions, including numerous photos of producer members and state and national elected officials.

The presidents’ chapters and the purchase of the State Fair are, to me, the most interesting parts of the book. Virginia is the only Farm Bureau in the nation that actually owns a state fair. A lot has gone on there over the past five years. I never imagined that I would’ve been involved in something that massive. It has taken us in a new direction in so many ways. And each president left a legacy of great accomplishments. It was enjoyable to sort those out.
—  Greg Hicks, author of “From the Ground Up: Growth of a Modern Farm Bureau” and VFBF Vice President of Communications

Hicks continued, “I hope this book can be used as a tool for county Farm Bureaus to help interest others in joining, and as a reference and point of pride for county Farm Bureau leaders and staff. It has a beautiful design and has so many interesting photos.”

The book project hatched from an internal resolution by the King George County Farm Bureau in the early 2010s. Hicks volunteered for the project and performed most of his work on weekends. He began his research more than three years ago, primarily by scanning every single page of the organization’s Virginia Farm Bureau News. He started with the January 1982 edition and stopped with a fall edition last year.

He interviewed some of the key retirees who held lengthy tenures with the organization, and interacted with vice presidents in both the Federation and those working for insurance affiliates.

“Having worked here myself since 1987, I had a pretty strong knowledge of the highlights I wanted to cover,” he explained. “Working as a communicator, I was involved in virtually all of these major accomplishments and issues. Those first five years, from 1982 to 1987 were the most challenging. I wasn’t here, and many of the former leaders and one state president were deceased by then. I had to rely a lot on the Farm Bureau News for that period.”

This was his first book. “I’ve always dreamed of writing one and this was a natural for me. My publisher, Wayne Dementi, who owns Dementi Milestone Publishing, helped guide me through the technical steps. We had numerous meetings about how I’d go about this. How to start, placement of articles, and a timeline. It was overwhelming at first. I started with an outline and then created sub-outlines for each chapter. The outline became the table of contents,” Hicks explained.

Hicks' VAFB colleagues Kathy Dixon (left) and Leeanne Ladin helped a great deal with the book.   Credit: Virginia Farm Bureau   

“We decided that it wouldn’t go in chronological order and that it would be as much a celebration of Farm Bureau as a history. I think that helped me focus and to gain a clearer picture of where the book was going. We kept the five presidents’ chapters together near the middle of the book. And we devoted a lot of space to the State Fair acquisition due to the uniqueness and importance of the story and because of all the great photos my team captured over the past several years.”

“This book was a team effort from staff throughout the organization, including some retirees. It wouldn’t have been possible without their knowledge and guidance,” he said. Three employees worked closely with Hicks on the project: VFBF Communications Graphic Design Supervisor Maria LaLima, Communications Assistant Editor and Staff Writer Kathy Dixon, and Leeanne Ladin, The Meadow Event Park’s Secretariat tourism manager.

“These ladies were amazing to work with. They made this book shine.”

“From the Ground Up: Growth of a Modern Farm Bureau” can be purchased online through dementimilestonepublishing.com and at amazon.com. For signed copies, please contact Hicks at ghick@vafb.com. The book sells for $30.

Article provided by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

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