On opening day for the 131st Ohio General Assembly, Farm Bureau and 18 other farm and food groups hosted lawmakers of all persuasions in the Statehouse for a celebratory Inaugural Luncheon. The bipartisan buffet of Ohio-grown meats, vegetables, dairy, fruits and grains scored a unanimous vote of approval. The legislators left fully fed and fully reminded of Ohio’s agricultural abundance. Hopefully, they also left reminded of their role in preserving that bounty.
For our more rural guests, an appreciation of agriculture is a prerequisite to getting elected. You don’t win in farm country without the backing of farmers. But for lawmakers who represent cities and suburbs, that link between the broader ag industry and their constituents can be less obvious. Events like the Inaugural Luncheon aim to develop a greater level of awareness.
I recall a visit with the former House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard on Farm Bureau’s radio show Town Hall Ohio. Her Columbus-area district contained not a single farm, and yet she related to farm issues well enough to earn our organization’s coveted “Friend of Agriculture” designation. Heard, whose district included lots of unused manufacturing capacity, connected our support of renewable energy with the potential to bring jobs into her community. The farm agenda, said Heard, “is an economic development conversation for me.”
That is precisely the depth of understanding we’d like every one of your elected officials to have, because your neighbors, family, friends and perhaps you are impacted by the part of Ohio’s economy that’s inextricably linked to agriculture. Your lawmakers, in cities such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and others represent the employees of companies like Anheuser-Busch, Bob Evans, General Mills, Cheryl’s, Hickory Farms, Hostess, Jeni’s, John Morrell, Keebler, Kellogg’s, Kroger, Marzetti, Nestle, Pepsi, Pillsbury, P&G and Velvet. And these are just the big names; there are literally thousands of other small and mid-sized businesses that make up Ohio’s $100 billion-plus food and farm sector. The folks you send to the Statehouse will do their best work on your behalf when their decisions are informed about how agriculture is ingrained in your communities.
Your urban and suburban lawmakers take on even greater importance when you do the math. Consider that in Ohio’s top five urban counties, there are 37 state representatives. In Ohio’s top five farm counties, there are five. Clearly, Farm Bureau and its members need to be accessible to the entire legislature.
Which brings me back to the lunch we hosted. What I heard from our guests, many times over, was an appreciation for how Farm Bureau members and staff go about our advocacy work. Whether the topic is tax policy, water quality, animal care, crime, energy or any of the dozens of important matters Farm Bureau weighs in on, lawmakers are impressed by our thoughtfulness, civility and open-mindedness. We may not always agree on the issues, but we always operate from a position of mutual respect.
While we couldn’t ask all 201,000 of you to our Statehouse event, I encourage you to look for opportunities to visit with your lawmakers back home. If you’d like help making a connection, let your county Farm Bureau know. While we enjoy the special events, Farm Bureau members are in touch with your legislators regularly and consistently, serving as trusted resources on the issues that matter to you and your community. Why not step up to the plate?
John C. (Jack) Fisher
Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president