Turn on your TV, listen to the radio, open a social media app, or bring up politics, and chances are you’ll hear about things happening – or not happening – in Washington. And while there are many important issues debated in Congress that the federal government oversees, decisions made at the local, county, and state levels have a significant impact on our lives.
Local officials decide what roads get built and fixed, how to allocate funds in our schools, what types of buildings can be built in certain areas and how to support local businesses and incentivize growth. There is a reason many of the things we rely on most are governed at the local level – those closest know their communities better than anyone else. And in most cases, the people who make these decisions are elected officials – or they report directly to elected officials. That’s why we need to make sure we pay attention to who is running and give our support to candidates who understand the challenges we face.
As I started to get involved in Farm Bureau, someone encouraged me to run for one of these local offices, which led me to serve on my County Commission and my Rural Electric Board in Georgia. I thought it was important to have someone who knew what it was like to live in a rural area and understood the challenges farmers and other rural residents face. Over the years, more people moved into my county from the Atlanta area. After I left the County Commission, new residents with little knowledge of farming raised concerns about the growth of some farms. This led to the Commission passing a new ordinance restricting growth on certain farms and ultimately – unintentionally, I believe – making it more difficult for some farmers to remain economically sustainable.
And as I’ve traveled the country, I hear stories like this everywhere I go. During a recent visit to Washington, I heard farmers describing how county officials built major roads through their farming community, making it much more dangerous to get in and out of their fields and move machinery. I’ve heard about challenges building hog barns in Iowa and using crop protection products in California because of local or county ordinances. In most states I visit, I hear something similar. The common thread is often local officials who don’t understand agriculture and pass laws or ordinances that negatively impact these farm businesses. Too often, it is born of a lack of knowledge, not ill intent.
That’s why it’s so critical to learn about and support candidates for local offices who know rural America and farming. And while they need your vote, they likely also need your help in getting the word out and learning about agriculture’s benefits to the local economy and area. Unlike federal or state candidates, most candidates for local office don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend or have the backing of a political party. They often don’t have a campaign staff, are working or farming full-time, and perhaps raising a family too. These candidates need your help and your involvement. That could be a small donation to help them send mail to voters, it could be sharing their messages on social media or connecting the candidate to your neighbors or friends.
Even the smallest contribution of time, talent, or treasure could be the difference between an elected official who understands the challenges you face and one who doesn’t. Regardless of which candidate wins, they’ll surely be making decisions that affect you.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.