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Ohio Farm Bureau chief hitting every county on listening tour

SOMERVILLE, Ohio — When Adam Sharp became Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) executive vice president about a year ago, he decided he wanted to visit every county Farm Bureau for a listening session.

His recent meeting with Butler County members at Andy and Rita Beiser’s home was 50th out of 88 planned meetings.

“There was a strong interest in the tour from our board to make sure we are doing everything as a staff and a board to learn what members wanted out of their organization, what things they care about and value about the organization,” Sharp noted.

Listening to members all over the state, he has gotten a look at the depth of the grassroots membership, Sharp said. There are many different opinions, but at the same time, there are unifying themes as to what members want from Farm Bureau.

One theme is members’ appreciation of the OFBF’s grassroots network of advocacy at the local, the state and national levels. A Seneca County member told Sharp, “You’re my voice when I’m on the tractor.”

Another farmer remarked that when members go to Washington, D.C., or Columbus for Ag Day and meet with the legislators, that opens doors in ways that an individual could never do.

That’s something people value about Farm Bureau, but beyond that, as OFBF approaches its 100-year anniversary, Sharp wants to know: What do people want from the organization?

In addition to his tour, OFBF has surveyed members to learn their concerns and interests. Thousands took that opportunity to speak out. The organization rewrote its mission statement. That mission evolves, but stays true to the heart of what Farm Bureau is.

“We are farmers,” Sharp said. “We are a farm organization; but in the state of Ohio, as I go to these meetings, the diversity of what that means has changed over time.”

Almost any county Farm Bureau is made up both full- and part-time farmers, or their livelihood depends on the agriculture industry. Many farming members are not even in rural Ohio, Sharp said. They’re in suburban or urban areas.

More members than ever are doing direct sales, interacting with the public and changing the way their farm operates to market to the public, whether through “agritainment” or direct sales.

“When you talk to these groups, they are all just as passionate about the industry,” Sharp said. “That is an important thing that we talk about ag unity, because there are not enough of us to be fighting amongst ourselves – all of us need each other if we are going to be effective.”

After a homemade lunch and a few words by Sharp at the Beisers’ home, the members spoke up. Russ Beckner said he valued what Farm Bureau had accomplished with Current Agricultural Use Value and inheritance taxes, but was disappointed it didn’t talk more about farm safety.

Gail Lierer said the organization needs to get youths age 8-16 more involved. “I’ve got grandkids who have nothing to do with Farm Bureau except for Farm Day at the fair,” she said.

Steve Bartels wondered if farmers know what Farm Bureau had done for them in the past year. “That tells me we are not communicating with farmers,” he said.

Meeting over, chores still to be done beckoned and pickup trucks pulled out of the driveway, while Sharp turned his car toward home, then on to the next meeting – No. 51.