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Ohio Farm Bureau members finding ways to use advisory councils online

Published Nov. 17, 2011 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Ohioans interested in agriculture issues are invited to join

Buckeye Farm News

Emily Harsh had been a Carroll County Farm Bureau member for four years before she knew what an advisory council was, or what one did.

When she and a group of other young members in the county learned about the longstanding grassroots program bringing small communities of Ohioans together to discuss agricultural issues and enjoy fellowship, they decided it was time to start their own.

But they soon discovered that trying to schedule the traditional monthly meetings became a challenge for their young, busy families.

“But we were already all on Facebook, so we decided to create a Facebook Group for our advisory council,” said Harsh, who is now rounding out her first year on “The Young Ones Farm Bureau Advisory Council.”

According to Harsh, the original purpose of the group was to plan and organize the advisory council gatherings. “But since it is hard for us to get together every month, we started posting our monthly questions in the Facebook group to carry on the discussion there.”

While she said it can be a challenge to fully participate at times, she’s confident the Facebook Group has enhanced the advisory council experience and brought her council’s members closer together.

Without it, she said her family wouldn’t be able to contribute to Farm Bureau and advisory councils. “We would have dropped it, and it would have gone by the wayside,” she said.

The Biggest Advantage

Carroll County Farm Bureau Organization Director Michele Specht said the biggest advantage to using Facebook and similar online communities are that members can discuss important issues on their own time.

“There are so many more demands for younger generations and young families now,” Specht said. “A commitment to one more extra activity is tremendous. So you have to be able to do things when they work for you.”

She said social media is just another way of communicating, and a way to adjust to changing needs.

“If these members were not experiencing Farm Bureau in this manner, would they be at all? It’s helping them understand what Farm Bureau does on a daily basis through an easily-communicated manner. The world is changing, and we have to change with it,” she said.

But what about traditions and values?

One argument against using Facebook and other online technologies is that it erodes traditions and values associated with face-to-face meetings and communications.

“Technology isn’t replacing our meetings,” said Harsh. “But it’s keeping us together, enhancing and strengthening our relationships so we have better discussions when we do meet face to face. Since we can keep up with each other on a day to day basis, our meetings aren’t idle chit-chat. We have deeper discussions with each other and deeper dialogue about the topics at hand.”

While less frequent, Harsh said her council’s face to face meetings are “more special and valuable.”

“It’s something our kids look forward to and will remember, and there’s more excitement about that time we have together,” she said. “We look forward to developing our own traditions, growing closer together as new farmers sharing similar experiences, and to be with each other along the way.”

Moving forward

Ohio Farm Bureau’s Director of Learning Delivery Darrell Rubel said Facebook and other social media are great new ways to approach the advisory council method of sharing ideas. “And since you don’t have to be a Farm Bureau member to be involved, it’s a great way to bring new people into the fold,” he said.

Harsh said members of her council are considering using Skype to allow them to meet face to face through video chats. And she envisions online communities giving advisory councils the ability to network across the state, and benefit from hearing a wider swath of concerns and viewpoints.

“It is critical to embrace new technology to welcome the next generation,” she said. “Companies have a tough time recruiting new workers without using today’s tools, and the same goes for farming and organizations such as Farm Bureau.”

But still looking back…

“When they were first started, advisory councils were a radical idea,” said Rubel. “The challenge now is to continue their mission in creative new ways relevant to today’s changing lifestyles. It’s about giving us ways to make our living rooms a little bit larger, and having the conversations while helping folks to bring some sanity to their schedules.”

“The bottom line is that we have members excited to continue working together to build and grow communities, and that’s what Ohio Farm Bureau has always been about. What a creative way to make room for them at the table.”

JOIN OHIO'S ADVISORY COUNCIL

Are you interested in contributing to the discussions about the important issues facing Ohio agriculture? Join “Ohio’s Advisory Council” on Facebook. Created and managed by Ohio Farm Bureau members, this closed Facebook Group invites Ohioans to participate in advisory council discussions on their own time, as they are willing and able.

To join the group, go to http://bit.ly/OhiosAdvisoryCouncil and click “Request to Join.”



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