Jack Fisher

A Place at the Table

Farm Bureau will always be an organization of honesty and integrity. We’ll always be driven by our volunteer members. And we will always be about making life better for Ohio’s farmers. We also know that our future will combine our best and most important traditions with an exciting evolution.

Our evolution may be about to lead us on an exciting new course.

As you read this, Farm Bureau leaders across Ohio are discussing one of our organization’s most fundamental concepts: the rights and responsibilities of membership.

Some background: The essence of what Farm Bureau members believe and their plans for acting on those beliefs is described in detail through our process of writing policy positions. It’s an annual activity that provides guidance for every decision we make and every action we take. Since our formation in 1919, the right to determine these policies has belonged exclusively to farmers. A few years short of our 100th anniversary that foundational principle is being rethought.

What’s being discussed is the wisdom of making our policy process more inclusive. Of giving voice to members who may not farm but who agree with farmers that there are some things worth fighting for: Responsibility toward family and neighbors. The importance of community. Restrained, mindful government. Vibrant, principled neighborhood businesses. Wise use of natural resources. Respect for property rights. A diverse, viable food system. A hundred other consequential issues that hold sway over the quality of our lives.

These are Farm Bureau’s issues, but they aren’t exclusive to farmers. Nor is the desire to act on them. So, the question is, should Farm Bureau’s democracy be more open to like minded folks who don’t happen to farm?

One argument in favor is that this evolution allows our organization to thrive. Broadened thinking. Additional resources. An enhanced ability to carry through on Farm Bureau’s founding principle – that people working together have the power to solve their problems.

There’s plenty of problems to tackle. Taxes, health care, education, water quality and others. And as always, Farm Bureau will lead the discussion and shape the conclusions. But for me, our most pressing problem, and a huge reason for having more people at the decision making table, is the challenge of preserving agriculture’s social license.
The reality is this: Farmers need the public’s permission to farm. Society has countless, legitimate concerns about what we grow, how and where we grow it, its safety, affordability and its impact on the economy and environment. If farmers, or consumers, by themselves attempt to resolve those concerns, we’ll experience an avalanche of unintended consequences. But a more inclusive Farm Bureau, where all parts of the food chain are engaged, moves us closer to a food system that’s sustainable for everyone.

Will this new Farm Bureau come to be? That’s not up to me. It’s in the hands of our volunteer leaders. But if it happens, I’ll welcome your involvement. The fact that you’ve read this far and haven’t skipped ahead to the beautiful pictures and interesting stories suggests that your interest in Farm Bureau isn’t only about what’s in it for you. It’s about what Farm Bureau can do for us all.

John C. (Jack) Fisher
Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president