Jean Miller knows the value of Farm Bureau’s Advisory Councils goes much deeper than talking about agriculture and other issues. Over the years it has been about friendships and making a difference in the community.
In 1965, she and her family leaned heavily on their Advisory Council friends when their house in Seneca County was hit by the Palm Sunday tornados that killed 256 people in three states.
“When we were wiped out by the Palm Sunday tornado, all the Farm Bureau Advisory Council members came in and literally moved everything out of this huge farmhouse and into three houses,” said Miller, whose 13-month-old daughter survived being blown from the house’s second floor to 40 feet away. “How the Farm Bureau council came to our rescue is just one way of how they have helped others over the years.”
Farm Bureau’s Advisory Councils date back to 1936 when the first four councils organized in Shelby County. Several councils recently celebrated their 50 year mark. Some have been around for much longer such as Miller’s council, Reed #31, which formed in 1941.
“When you think about it, Advisory Councils were a pretty radical idea when they started. Suddenly local farmers were speaking with one voice on issues that affect quality of life for farmers and nonfarmers alike,” said Darrell Rubel, Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of learning delivery.
In 1958, Miller and her husband Richard joined Reed #31, which continues to meet on the second Wednesday of the month at Advisory Council members’ houses except for in July and August.
“What has kept our council going is that we’ve had people of different ages as part of our council,” Miller said.She said that over the years, the council members have had lively discussions about the topics they received from Ohio Farm Bureau, which were sometimes used to set policy or point out problems that weren’t just local but statewide.
“Advisory Councils are the definition of the grassroots movement and have made a huge contribution to Farm Bureau policy,” Rubel said. “When council members are involved by sharing their thoughts about local and state issues and get involved locally, the whole organization from local communities to the entire state benefits.”
Miller said her council “hits on any topic going on in Seneca County” and has been successful in lobbying for changes such as road improvements, reflectors for railroad cars and railroad crossing gates. The council members help out at the county fair and find ways to financially support the local library and food pantry.
Over in Belmont County, Bud Rockwell grew up with his Barnesville 3B Advisory Council because his parents were some of the original members. He and his wife Helen joined in 1976 and said it had almost two dozen members at the time. While that number has shrunk, he said that after 50 years, the group still meets once a month.
“We’ve had some pretty good discussions, and sometimes we didn’t always agree,” he said. “We used to get into the local issues and we made our opinions known sometimes in terms of things that needed to be improved like the county roads or the environment.”
After discussing the topics, his group liked to do the “fun sheets,” which were quizzes and puzzles that councils put together for recreation. The family hosting the meeting always had a dessert for the group. Sometimes the council members would have a picnic in June at a local park.
“The Advisory Council meetings gave us a chance to discuss things and what was happening at both the local, state and national levels,” Rockwell said. “It was an opportunity to help shape legislation.”
Robert Lehmkuhl said his Advisory Council has continued to meet after more than 50 years because “we enjoy the fellowship.”
“Most of the members aren’t current with everything that’s happening in Washington. I try to keep on top of it and do a little bit politically,” he said. “There are still important things that are brought up even if it’s not a formal discussion today.”
Lehmkuhl said he and his wife helped get the Auglaize County #38 group going and had about 16 members. He said the hotly discussed topics tended to be about school issues and political elections. Sometimes the group would go on outings such as to Lake Erie or Cincinnati Reds games.
“We always participated politically whenever we could and put in our two cents worth,” he said.
Miller of the Reed #31 Advisory Council in Seneca County said she has watched the group evolve over the years.
“With women working more and families becoming more involved in sports, it’s sometimes hard for councils to find the time today,” she said.
Some Advisory Councils have been dealing with the time crunch by using social media to communicate and stay current with the issues, Rubel said.
“As our schedules get more and more busy, we need to think about how to use technology to allow people to share ideas and meet together. Farmers are innovative. Now younger members are using social media like Facebook to have Advisory Council meetings where they can share ideas and have discussions any time they want to,” he said. “You don’t even have to be in the same county – friends from different parts of the state can have the freedom and flexibility.”
For Miller, her Advisory Council has been an important part of her family’s life.
“I’ve really appreciated the years we’ve been with Farm Bureau and our Advisory Council,” she said.