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New focus for advisory councils

Published Dec. 11, 2012 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Farm Bureau members discuss how Community Councils could impact local issues.

Buckeye Farm News

About Advisory Councils

Since 1936, advisory councils are groups of families and friends that meet on a regular basis to discuss topics of interest to farmers, rural residents and friends of agriculture. Advisory councils are action groups whose purpose is to surface and review current community needs and issues, to arrive at a resolution and then carry out their own solutions to local problems. They assist in implementing the Farm Bureau policies they helped to develop. Advisory councils are an outstanding example of the power of people at work.

The challenge

The number of members participating in the traditional council program had been declining for several decades. A recent survey showed 80 percent of council members were more than 60 years old; 40 percent were more than 80 years old. A disconnect had also grown between some councils and their county Farm Bureau, an important link in the organization’s grassroots process.

At the same time, new technology such as online surveys, email, digital publications and social media changed the scale and pace of communication as well as the way Farm Bureau receives grassroots input.

While Farm Bureau provides numerous forums to identify and address statewide issues, it recognizes there is no one-size-fits-all solution to address local concerns.

The opportunity

Local, face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced by technology, young people are still looking for meaningful connections to their community and county Farm Bureaus depend on community input to develop relevant policies and programs. That’s why Ohio Farm Bureau is taking steps to rejuvenate the council program, starting with a name change to Community Councils.

Community Councils

The name change to Community Councils is symbolic of the reason advisory councils were started: To make a difference in the community by identifying and helping to solve problems. The success of councils is largely based on the fact that group discussion is the method and problem solving is the goal.

Farm Bureau is proud of its pioneers who had the insight to find a pattern that succeeds in getting people to participate. People naturally like to mingle with those they respect; they like to share ideas; they like to be an influence in their community and in their organization.

The new format

In January, councils will receive a workbook that outlines several areas of discussion.

This workbook is designed so council members can choose the topic they would like to talk about when they meet. It will cover areas that offer opportunities for councils to get engaged at the community level. These include: 1) local issues; 2) agricultural education; 3) economic development; 4) governance and political engagement; 5) farm family needs; and 6) OFBF philosophy. Of course councils are free to discuss any issue that is relevant to their community.

Feedback

Responses from the councils will now be sent to the county Farm Bureau which is in the best position to help coordinate local action or forward comments to the state office.

In addition to reporting on council conversations through its communications channels, Ohio Farm Bureau will regularly publicize councils’ local activities.

More information about these changes will be provided in the January mailing.

Through the more than 392 councils currently active in Ohio today, we look forward to their participation and community engagement.

We want each and every council to think about how to become more engaged in their community and with their local Farm Bureau.

Community Discussion

A member-led Facebook group called Ohio's Advisory Council is providing a statewide discussion forum for advisory councils and Farm Bureau members. The group recently discussed the future of the council program and grassroots engagement. Below are some excerpts from the conversation.

Quotes:

“It will be interesting to see how it pans out. I would really like to hear what is being said in the advisory councils around the state…also, as a board member I would really like to see what is being said by the other councils, it would be a great help for policy development.”

“Liked the old format better. Had the opportunity to review information provided about a specific topic, answered 4-6 questions, sent our answers to the state and received a summary of state responses a month later. It was a 'grassroots response'.”

“It seems there are some people who would like to see a more electronic way to do it and other people like the stuff mailed to them. I am not so sure they are going to be able to please everyone with the new way but that is the same with any changes.”

“Councils and county Farm Bureaus need to do two things: (1) grow new councils and (2) let the state office know how this new format is working. Things work in cycles, so hopefully we can get some new young folks who will take the time to get together with their friends and neighbors again and discuss the agricultural issues in a grassroots sort of way as our organization is intended. Councils aren’t the only means for our continued grassroots efforts but they can play an important part in seeing that Ohio Farm Bureau remains grassroots focused by being involved in county events and discussions.”

“I personally really like the idea of sending the workbooks back to the county. If these are community councils I think someone in the community should be the first to evaluate them. I think the county boards will have a better handle on what is happening in their communities this way!”

To read the full comments and give your input on issues, request to join the group at

http://bit.ly/ohiosadvisorycouncil.

Photo by Galen Harris



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