Have you ever wondered what it means that Farm Bureau is a “grassroots organization?” This is the time of year to be reminded of the organization’s grassroots policy development process and to get involved in it.
Grassroots means ideas are started from the local community and move up. In Farm Bureau, ideas start with members in each county, and right now county Farm Bureaus are beginning to discuss issues with community members, Farm Bureau members and elected officials. These local ideas will then move up to the Ohio Farm Bureau level and eventually American Farm Bureau.
It all starts in the counties
Farm bureau grassroots policy development starts with members like Steve Bartels who serves as Butler County Farm Bureau’s public policy action team leader. Along with 14 other team members, Bartels organizes meetings for members to learn about and discuss the local, state and national policies impacting their communities.
Butler County Farm Bureau’s Annual Legislative Public Policy Issues Meeting was held March 22. Bartels said this meeting was a little different from past years because elected officials at the meeting were asked to do something new.
“We are not just going to them and saying this is what we want; we are also asking what we can help with,” he said. “We emphasized at this meeting that they bring topics they wanted to talk about, not just a general update.”
The action team now will use information gathered from the meeting to write policies they support and vote on them at their county Farm Bureau annual meeting this summer. State and federal policies approved there will be sent to Ohio Farm Bureau’s policy development committee to be considered and voted on at Ohio Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in December. Any national policies approved at the state annual meeting are considered as potential American Farm Bureau policies.
It doesn’t stop with a policy on paper
It would be easy for counties to approve policies and just let them sit, but Bartels and his action team doesn’t let that happen.
“We started in November, after the (county) annual meeting, assigning local policies to team members responsible for trying to make sure something happens out of them, rather than just being an issue on a piece of paper that we never look at again until the next annual meeting,” he said. “Those team members that are responsible for policy issues know that they don’t have to do all that work alone. Hopefully what they do is go out and get more Farm Bureau members involved in helping them get that policy issue put forth.”
The action team’s work has paid off. Members worked with county commissioners to change a local policy on the solid waste district’s contingency fund, aligning with policy that county Farm Bureau members supported. Other work to get a policy to increase the maximum cost of projects county engineers can construct with force account funds saw fruition when the policy was accepted into Ohio Farm Bureau’s policy at its annual meeting and is now being discussed by state officials.
“The fact that we are actually able to get some things done I think is making it more exciting for the policy team, and I’m hoping also for members in the county to see that Farm Bureau is actually doing something,” said Bartels. “That’s two years in a row where I feel like we have been able to accomplish something.”
The strength of the relationships Butler County Farm Bureau has developed is evident in the number of officials who attended their issues meeting. Officials from all levels of government were in attendance including a staff member from Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office, state Reps. Wes Rutherford, Margaret Conditt, Tim Derrickson and Sen. Bill Coley. Derrickson also serves on the county Farm Bureau’s policy action team. County officials including all three commissioners, plus the auditor, prosecutor and sheriff attended. Many community organizations also were represented at the meeting.
“Farm Bureau has had a long-term, personal relationship with our elected officials in this county,” he said. “They are open to us when we have suggestions of what we want to see done, but it’s only because of that personal relationship and staying in contact with them, asking their opinions and not just saying ‘Well this is what we want.’”
Get engaged with your county
Butler County Farm Bureau public policy action team’s story is just one of the 87 county Farm Bureaus in Ohio. If there is a policy issue you think would benefit your community, contact your county Farm Bureau to find out how to get involved in its policy development process. You can also learn more about the full Farm Bureau policy development process, and understand further what it means when someone describes Farm Bureau as a grassroots organization.