The Heart of Leadership - Lessons from Farm Bureau

Viewpoints / Focus on Agriculture November 21, 2019

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By Robin Kinney

At this time of Thanksgiving, I pause to reflect on the past year and the blessings that have come my way. This year it includes some wonderful memories of Farm Bureau members I have known through nearly 25 years with state Farm Bureaus and the national organization, which just celebrated the start of its second century of service. As a member and Farm Bureau staffer I have met members on their farms, in their homes, at their county offices or during any number of agricultural meetings. I have optimism, dedication, volunteerism and passion, and I find friends on both sides of the political spectrum.

Last week I found myself reflecting on the founders of Farm Bureau who provided our grassroots policy organization with such a solid foundation.

I have optimism, dedication, volunteerism and passion, and I find friends on both sides of the political spectrum.

One of my favorite stories was about a county Farm Bureau board member who had been born in February 1912 and began farming at the age of 12 after the death of his father. He would often share memories of early Farm Bureau township meetings that were a social occasion for the entire section or neighborhood and involved the entire family. Meetings were hosted in the home of a member. Children would head upstairs or outside to play, the women would gather in the kitchen or dining room in the “homemakers circle” to share recipes and visit about family matters, and the men would talk farming and politics in the living room with the local Extension agent. This member recalled that the only way to purchase dynamite for clearing fields of trees and stumps was through an organized county Farm Bureau. He recalled interviewing agriculture school graduates for the important position of Extension director and how the county Farm Bureau paid the salary and travel expenses for this position.

Just last week during the resolution session in one of the New England states I heard the same conversation about the need for those with experience and understanding of agriculture to be involved in positions serving today’s farming needs. The Farm Bureau director who led this discussion was active in other leadership roles in his community, as so many are. He was a “can-do” director that we depend on and an eternal optimist in his view of our world and life itself. 

Another longtime leader of a different county Farm Bureau taught me more about the corn plant that I thought I would ever need to know.

Who knew that every continent grows corn except Antarctica, that an ear of corn has 16 rows and about 800 kernels, that one pound of corn has 1,300 kernels and one bushel has about 72,800 kernels? Or that a bushel of corn can sweeten 400 cans of soda? One bushel of corn can also provide 33 pounds of sweetener or 32 pounds of starch for batteries, cardboard, crayons, antibiotics and chewing gum, or 1.6 pounds of corn oil or 2.7 gallons of ethanol along with 18 pounds of animal feed. This member was as passionate about corn as he was his county fair. No doubt he shared much of his corn knowledge as he spent hours visiting with anyone and everyone about it.  

Both of these county leaders also served their country proudly and were active in the local veteran community. They looked at “problems” as opportunities – and Farm Bureau as the solution seeker. They knew through years of experience that working together and finding a united voice would make them stronger. These two dedicated volunteer leaders followed in the footsteps of our forefathers and they believed in the future. They followed their beliefs through challenges and adversity. They lived through the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Dust Bowl and a society without many of the comforts and conveniences we have today.

Our farm and ranch families today are facing adversity and challenges as they purse their vocation. I am hopeful that as we gather at the Thanksgiving table with family and friends, we will take a moment to consider all who play a part in getting the bounty of wholesome food to our tables.

We have much to be thankful for, and we’re grateful that those who are called to agriculture – whether through their heritage, vocation or entrepreneurial spirit – are pursuing the American dream of nurturing a crop and caring for their livestock for a greater purpose. It is a marvelous thing when one feels called. It is a matter of doing something you believe you are meant to do. It is finding satisfaction in providing for others when you follow your calling, your passion and your beliefs.

One day each of us runs out of the time we have been given. That is why at this Thanksgiving, I hope you will join me in a sense of wonder and gratitude for those who serve agriculture and volunteer in positions of leadership. And let me say thank you – because we don’t say it often enough. Thank you to those who farm the land, till the soil and care for the livestock. You are heroes to be celebrated for feeding and fueling the world!

Robin Kinney is senior director of member engagement at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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