It started as a belief without a name.
There was no structure, no programs, no specific policies. It was a simple, but deeply held ideal.
As early Ohio Farm Bureau leader Murray Lincoln would later characterize it, “When people work together to help one another, they discover in the process that each individual improves his own lot.”
The notion was that of a community acting in the community’s interest. It was described as “cooperation.”
“We need not be our brother’s keeper,” Lincoln later assessed. “But we must be his helper.”
A hope grew that freedom, justice and prosperity for the individual farmer could be achieved through the self-control of working as a group – not self-reliance, nor reliance on government, but community reliance.
“Prosperity is like strawberry jam,” Lincoln once wrote. “You can’t spread even a little of it without getting some of it on yourself.”
Individualism was seen as running counter to the interests of the individual – farmers, working in isolation or in division, could not arrive at the solutions needed to affect change necessary for their personal benefit.
“Most of us are born individualists,” author Alice Sturgis said in her 1958 analysis of Farm Bureau. “We have to learn to exercise self-discipline before we can work cooperatively with a group.”
This concept was grounded in belief that governance should be by the many rather than the few, that those in power held a sacred trust of the community and “discussion is good when it throws light on all sides of a question and brings out the truth….vigorous and spirited debate on a question is one way of bringing out the facts.”
When farmers arrived at solutions that harmonized differing viewpoints, they overcame the fact that “no one listens to a babble of conflicting voices.”
A courageous experiment, succesful results
The result, Sturgis believed, is that “there is scarcely a community which does not profit by the hard work and wisdom of citizens who band together to achieve something of value for their neighborhood, their state, or their country.”In Ohio, the passion for the movement grew quickly, which can be seen in this description of a 1935 meeting of the Cooperative League:
Murray Lincoln, spirited executive secretary of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, held the delegates literally spellbound as he reviewed the development of his organization – distributing gasoline, oil and farm supplies, writing cooperative insurance, pushing its educational program into the schools and churches – an amazing story of courageous experiment and successful results. When after an hour and twenty minutes, Mr. Lincoln groped for his watch only to find that it had stopped, the delegates clamored for him to continue.
He ended with a simple statement of conviction and a plea: “I believe we can make this world over through cooperation – that is why I am thrilled to be in the movement. The people are hungry for it – it will succeed. So let’s go out together and preach cooperation.”
Still relevant today
In 2008, more than 2,800 contributors participated in an Envisioned Future project, which re-examined Ohio Farm Bureau’s core purpose: “Working together for Ohio farmers.”
“It is a reason for our existence and a reflection of the importance people attach to their work for the organization,” the report stated. “The core purpose should never change but be the inspiration for necessary change within the organization.”
Consider Lincoln, who never wavered from his core belief that “people have within their own hands the tools and the power to fashion their own social and economic destinies, if they will only organize themselves to use them.” At the same time, he famously advocated the employment of a “vice president in charge of revolution” whose purpose was to challenge the organization’s status quo.
According to OFBF’s Envisioned Future report, “Great organizations recognize the difference between what should never change and what should be open for change.”
Perhaps nobody understands this principle better than farmers. Despite monumental changes in the way agriculture operates, farmers remain driven by core beliefs in why they do what they do.
As Ohio farmers have stated:
“It’s in your blood. I don’t get up in the morning and wish I was a doctor or a lawyer or drove a truck.”
“I love the beauty of nature and the wonder of being in its element.”
“It’s an opportunity to continue a legacy on this land.”
“It is the love of what we do every day; it sure isn’t the money.”
“Not only is it the only life (it is not just a job) that we have known, but it is ingrained in our souls. It is who we are, period.”
“Farming is a fundamental good. I am proud to be a part of this noble profession. Because I, and my fellow farmers, do our jobs well, society has the first building block of peace and prosperity”
“We love what we do. We have a lot of respect for God’s creation, be it animal or land.”
“The peacefulness of it, away from the city hubbub, it’s hard work but we enjoy working.”
“We enjoy good food and we think that all of our neighbors and our friends and the general public deserve to have good food also.
Built on purpose
”Likewise, major societal changes require Ohio Farm Bureau to put above all else its belief that, as Sturgis wrote, “through voluntary cooperation and through voluntary exercise of self-discipline, Farm Bureau has built a power both spiritual and realistic.”
After all, Ohio Farm Bureau was not built on programs; it was built on a purpose. And today, the components of the organization are valuable to the extent that they accomplish that purpose.
This runs much deeper than the issue of the day; it is about a fundamental ideal – that the individual farmer has a role and obligation to better the community, and, in doing so, the community returns the favor.
“Farm Bureau is the opportunity and the challenge to be a part of the greatest cooperating membership group of agriculture,” Sturgis wrote. “It is the opportunity to learn, to enjoy, and to profit. It is the opportunity to work and to give. It is also a real opportunity to share in shaping a future, rich beyond the imagination of man.”
That was a belief that the organization’s founding farmers held close. Frustrated by the inability of divided groups to solve problems, early Ohio Farm Bureau President Perry Green once told fellow leaders, “We keep on trying to satisfy ourselves by fighting against each other. Haven’t we kept that sort of thing up long enough? Our common interest will be found by cooperatively working together.”