Marion County Farm Bureau at the forefront of a new urban county Farm Bureau project

“To sleep, perchance to dream,” is an oft-quoted line from Hamlet. But when you can’t sleep, can your thoughts turn into real-life dreams?

That’s what happened to Marion County Farm Bureau President Jack Haefling one night as he struggled to sleep.

His thoughts turned to Farm Bureau. He wondered if other urban county Farm Bureaus were experiencing similar challenges:

  • Building awareness and growing membership where agriculture is not top of mind.
  • Developing programs that would appeal to and benefit urban populations.
  • Reaching out to urban legislators who serve on committees addressing rural issues.

The answer, he decided, is a coalition of urban county Farm Bureaus, which would allow its members to create a network for sharing ideas and solutions, enhance urban partnerships and engage urban members and increase membership in all county Farm Bureaus.

A look at the numbers demonstrates that there’s plenty of potential. There are 71 county Farm Bureaus in cities with a population base of 500,000 or more, according to Haefling. If you include cities encompassing multiple counties, there are 101 true metro areas that would qualify for membership in an urban county Farm Bureau coalition.

Tapping this potential at the county, state and AFBF level would enable Farm Bureau to reach areas not within the traditional ag structure. It also could grow and diversify membership, increase engagement in all FB programs all while aligning with strategic plans at every level of the organization.

Haefling and INFB regional manager Greg Bohlander went to Washington, D.C., last September to present the concept to Dale Moore, American Farm Bureau vice president of public affairs.

Once given the green light, the team launched the concept at the AFBF 2018 convention in Nashville, which resulted in commitments of support from 28 states.

With further encouragement from AFBF and support from AFBF President Zippy Duvall, Haefling again traveled to Washington in July to host an Urban County Farm Bureau Summit with Farm Bureau presidents and staff from Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Virginia. Haefling also presented the idea to the AFBF Council of Presidents.

There are a lot of next steps. First up is a webinar scheduled for September. Second is an RFD-TV interview. Then a “TED talk,” workshop and booth at the AFBF 2019 convention in New Orleans.

When asked about a five-year plan, Haefling said he envisions a structure with a steering committee; an online resource center; and bundling of program packages – from hosting black-tie fundraising events to replicating local community partnerships with colleges, community centers, and convention and visitors bureaus.

“Ultimately, it’s about strengthening the FB brand and increasing the trust and quality of life. As more rural issues are being determined by urban voters and the farm bill is almost 75 percent about food access, it’s imperative that Farm Bureau have an interest in the urban areas,” said Haefling. “If we don’t, someone else will.”