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Serving: MN
grain bins, corn field and U.S. flag Paula Mohr
STEPPING FORWARD: It’s often said farmers need to be at the table when local and state policy discussions and decisions take place. After organizing in the early 1900s, farmers have worked together to enlighten policymakers and nonfarming residents. Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation recently celebrated its accomplishments over the last century.

Minnesota Farm Bureau helped shape state’s ag history

From supporting co-ops to paying dues for service members, MFB’s county and state organizations impact economic and social structures.

Scanning the online version of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation’s centennial book, “100 years and growing… The People of the Minnesota Farm Bureau,” stirred my interest in the state’s agricultural history.

It was enlightening to learn what happened and when. Here are some items that caught my eye:

Farm Bureau first. Traverse County organized the first county Farm Bureau in 1913.

Farmers’ club founding. The oldest farmers’ club in Blue Earth County, the Watonwan Farmers Club, was organized by Lake Crystal High School ag teacher and county Farm Bureau agent L. E. McMillon in 1913.

Farm Bureau boom. With World War I, the federal government demanded faster agricultural production. That helped spur the organization of county Farm Bureaus. From 1917-1918, there were Farm Bureau groups in every county across Minnesota. By 1919, every county had an Extension agent, too. The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation became official Nov. 8, 1919.

Organization. At a 1919 American Farm Bureau Federation meeting in Chicago, a delegate declared: “We shall organize, not to fight or to antagonize, but to cooperate and construct, and to arrange our affairs and the business of agriculture in a broad, business-minded manner.”

Moving picture machine. Several Farm Bureau units in Carlton County in 1922 decided to purchase a $250 moving-picture machine that ran on electricity generated by a “Tin Lizzie.” Each community unit was asked to pay $10 to the county agent to help pay for it.

Land O’Lakes loan. In 1921, MFBF loaned $1,000 to help the Land O’Lakes dairy cooperative become established. By 1922, the co-op was official and two other co-ops had also formed — the Central Livestock Association and Twin City Milk.

Board of directors bylaw. The original MFBF bylaws stated that a woman should have a seat on its state board of directors.

Student loan fund. A Farm Bureau Student Loan Fund was established in 1934 to assist young people who were enrolling in agriculture schools in St. Paul, Morris, Crookston or Grand Rapids. Loans ranging from $10 to $75 were a big help to deserving students.

Highway safety program. MFBF began a highway safety educational program in 1939. Another motion picture machine was purchased for use in a series of meetings in cooperation with the Minnesota Farm Bureau Insurance director and district agents. The film “Horse Power and Horse Sense” was shown at 134 meetings attended by 15,001 people. It was also shown to 21,661 high school students.

State fair campground. MFBF took over the free Minnesota State Fair campground in 1929. By 1934, more than 10,000 people used the site. The campground provided cooking privileges in the camp kitchen, a reading room and other amenities. All the families had to do was bring their own camping equipment. In 1941, the Minnesota State Fair camp drew 4,170 people, the largest number of farmers camping in the history of the fair.

Song writing contest. Farm Bureau meetings in the 1920s-30s, whether local or state, usually included group singing. Homer Rodeheaver, song leader for the Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, approached AFBF about conducting a song writing contest for a song to include in his songbook so popular with Farm Bureau groups. He offered to pay $2,500 for the winning entry. MFBF promoted the contest and two Blue Earth residents, Lillian Atcherson and Catherine Wilson, contributed several verses. An Indiana woman also submitted a song. Rodeheaver liked them all, declared all three women winners, and published the music and words to create “The American Farm Bureau Spirit,” which he added to his songbook.

Supporting farmer soldiers. In 1943, Mower County Farm Bureau voted to pay dues of farmers fighting in the war.

School bus training. Recognizing the importance of student safety on school busses, state delegates in 1952 passed a safety resolution requiring training for all school bus drivers.

Ethanol outreach. MFBF launched its first ethanol information campaign in the fall of 1986. The initial effort was directed toward automobile mechanics, service station owners, petroleum distributors and auto mechanics students. The intent was to convince mechanics and the petroleum industry that "ethanol is tested and approved as a gas blend and has been unfairly blamed for causing damage to carburetors and other car parts."

You can read more historical tidbits from the centennial book that I shared online and at fbmn.org/centennial.

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