My Weekly Column: Involvement Involvement: You Can’t Play From the Sidelines

I’m writing this from Deep in the Heart of Texas, literally two blocks from the Alamo. Over 5,000 members of the American Farm Bureau Federation, including nearly 200 Ohioans, are gathered in San Antonio for the 90th Annual Meeting of the Federation. A celebration of 90 years is quite a milestone in the life of any organization, but rather than resting on the laurels of past successes, the organization has emblazoned their meeting with the theme FORWARD. It is written on every document, program, pamphlet, and banner, and embodies the spirit of engagement each of should have if we are to succeed.


In the case of Farm Bureau, the theme “FORWARD Farm Bureau” hearkens back to the early days of the organization when it’s founding fathers, including Oscar Bradfute of Ohio, sounded the rallying cry to like-minded farm families across the country. The “Farm Bureau Movement,” as it was often known, was obviously successful, with over 235,000 member families in our state alone. This charge is not limited, however, to membership in the nation’s largest farm organization, or to any organization in agriculture, but is applicable to each of us. Imagine waking up and saying to yourself “FORWARD (Insert Your Name Here).” In fact, I challenge you to try it.


Tasking yourself with moving forward is only part of the equation of course. Toward what are you moving? How will you know that you are indeed moving forward, and not backward, sideways, or in circles? Guiding principles are critical in the desire to heed the call issued by those early Farm Bureau leaders. In their case, the mission was one of adding value and security to the business and lifestyle of farming in our great nation. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation states their mission as one of “forging a partnership between producers and consumers,” and that North Star guides every project and program the organization undertakes.


Most of us have a North Star of some sort; we may just not realize what it is that we’re really heading toward. Perhaps you think you’re heading to a happy retirement in Siesta Key, but you’re not actually moving forward toward that goal. Or, perhaps you are heading to a happy retirement in Siesta Key, when what you really want to be doing is growing and expanding your business or becoming a scratch golfer. The destination will be different for each of us, and will likely change throughout our lives, but the three most important steps are accurately determining where we’d like to be heading, where our course is actually taking us, and then moving forward toward that true guiding mission that will drive us thenceforth.


The thing that has struck me most often during my days with the farmer-leaders here in San Antonio is quite simply that these folks are engaged and involved. Each of them has busy lives back home in Ohio that could have easily kept them from traveling thus far on behalf of their fellow farmers. Take for example Ohio Farm Bureau’s President Brent Porteus: Brent, a farmer from Coshocton County, is extremely involved in a multi-generation family farm that produces grain, forage, and beef cattle. This operation is the livelihood of Brent’s family, and yet Brent feels strongly enough about the mission of his organization that he is willing to spend a week away from that business.


Naturally, as President of an organization like Farm Bureau, Brent spends a great deal of time away from the farm beyond just attending this week’s convention. Naturally, you don’t have to be the leader of such an expansive organization to be involved. Perhaps your passion will lead you to serve as a volunteer for a local County Cattlemen’s function, or as a booster for your local FFA Chapter. Be it Farm Bureau or Farmer’s Union, commodity organization or 4-H club, you have something important to offer. Finding what that talent or passion is, and how you can be engaged to improve your community and your own happiness is vitally important.


People often comment to Lindsay and I on the hectic nature of our travel schedule, or the demands of our business in radio and television. I almost always remind them of how involved they are themselves, helping them remember their involvement in the lives of their children, in their own farming operations or family businesses, civic organization membership, or their own work-related endeavors. We don’t have a monopoly on having a busy schedule, I tell them, our schedule is just more visible because we talk about it on the radio or on our website.


Sometimes folks will comment that they don’t know how we get everything done. I remind them that we have the same 24 hours a day as everyone else, but that because we keep moving forward with our guiding principles, and because we have great people on our team, we’re able to accomplish quite a lot. While we don’t get everything done we might like, we generally look back at the end of the day with satisfaction about at least something that has gone right. Furthermore, I tell people that while the many obligations and opportunities in our day-to-day might seem overwhelming, we do what we do because we enjoy it, and we feel passionate about the industry and lifestyle of farming and agriculture.


My challenge to you is to determine what for you is that passion, that driving force. With that North Star, I encourage you to stay off the sidelines and get on the field. It’s a lot of fun in here, and while there are always challenges, setbacks, disappointments, and failures, you can’t accomplish anything worthwhile if you don’t have any skin in the game. As a friend and reader of this column told me more than once this past year, we’ll never reach our destination if we never try.


Forward. Always forward.