I have an old poster in my shop that reads, ‘Farming. Now that’s a noble profession.’ While I love that poster, every time I see it I can’t help but think how times have changed since I got it about 15 years ago.
Even if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to pick up on the shift in support for agriculture. The days of trusting that farmers are doing the right thing without question are gone. It’s not just the news media or social media, one can pick up the vibe at local government meetings. The change isn’t just perception. It’s taking legs as anti-agriculture policy and sentiment at the grassroots level – in our townships and counties – and it’s moving fast.
This trend is even more reason for us to not only be watching what’s going on locally, but also maintaining and building relationships with our community decisionmakers. We need to be a part of the conversations related to agriculture and rural issues – we can’t count on leadership or staff from state agriculture organizations. Not because they won’t back us, but because these are our local issues and our local voices have the most influence.
Keep it simple.
- Watch what’s happening. Designate someone to scan county board of supervisors meeting agendas and relevant county committees, such as land and water and health and human services agendas. They are often online in advance of meetings. Our county live broadcasts and video archives meetings and has email notifications.
- Establish a Local Affairs Committee. This committee can discuss issues and make recommendations on if and how your county Farm Bureau might respond. Using a committee also helps keep local Farm Bureau board meetings from being drawn out.
- Move from ‘telling’ conversations. No one likes to be told what to do. When addressing concerns about local issues, have conversations and offer solutions from all sides. This approach not only keeps things friendly, but it also increases the potential to have your voice and input valued even more.
- Keep it proactive. Approaching local affairs in a proactive manner versus reacting when there’s a problem keeps farmers and agriculturists at the table and viewed as a trusted resource. For example, when a concern arises locally, an elected official may reach out to get your perspective. Or, a fellow Farm Bureau member might be asked to serve on a local committee.
Strategies to build on.
- If there are issues of concern being discussed at the county board of supervisors meetings, give input by sending an official letter to board members and/or give comments at the meeting during the public comments time (every meeting should have time designated for this).
- Invite representatives from agencies or county departments to Farm Bureau board or general membership meetings to provide updates and have question and answer sessions.
- Invite elected officials (state and county level) to your county Farm Bureau annual meeting.
- Host farm tours for elected officials. Include candidates if it’s close to election season.
- Local newspapers are often in search of local news. Write an editorial column, submit a letter to the editor or pitch an agricultural-related story.
- Look for opportunities to invite decision makers to already organized events, such as farm field days or incorporate a special visit in conjunction, like an elected official tour the day before the local breakfast on the farm.
- Attend listening sessions hosted by elected officials and government agencies to voice concerns or give input on relevant issues.
- Institute real-time communication means with members. Use Facebook closed groups, email or other means to share when issues or concerns arise.
- Run for your township or county board to represent rural and agricultural constituents. At one time it was common to see farmers in these local positions. Now, the presence of farmers on these boards is dwindling.
- Use your resources: other county Farm Bureau members, WFBF Director of Local Affairs, district coordinators, the Promotion and Education Committee’s Playbook.
Farming is a noble profession and now more than ever getting involved in local affairs needs to be in the job description. To contact the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Director of Local Affairs, visit wfbf.com/policy/local-affairs.
This column originally appeared in the 2018 October-November issue of Rural Route.
Leslie Svacina owns Cylon Rolling Acres, raising pastured meat goats in Western Wisconsin. Leslie has a degree in agricultural marketing communications from UW-River Falls, a master’s degree in agribusiness from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in education from UW-La Crosse. She is a past state FFA officer. She lives with her husband and son near Deer Park.