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Michigan Farm Bureau centennial site celebrating 100 years of Michigan Farm Bureau.
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By Jeremy C. Nagel

Just before MFB’s recent annual meeting — our 100th — I spent some time updating a routine internal memo reminding county Farm Bureaus it’s time to update their committee rosters: Young Farmer, P&E, candidate evaluation, etc. It was bittersweet omitting from that roster Local History Teams, the short-term program we designed to encourage county Farm Bureaus to dig into, share and celebrate their unique, local agricultural heritage.

The program was a personal baby of mine with a finite lifespan that whizzed by quickly, and with that lifespan now officially expired, I feel a little empty-nesty, a little misty and a little “Where does the time go?

But no mere memo from Home Office can fully seal the fate of a program that gained such vigor so quickly. Besides, we don’t order counties around; we encourage, support, suggest… MFB sincerely respects county Farm Bureau autonomy more than many realize, and there’s a comfort in knowing that a county’s gonna do what a county’s gonna do.

To that end, I say this: As long as you’ve got members who enjoy digging into the history of your local farm community, I encourage them to keep on keepin’ on. Two big reasons:

  • History really does happen every day, and documenting it is important. Generations yet to come will benefit and treasure your efforts.
  • The more you look, the more you’ll find, because even well-preserved history can stay hidden from view.

Case in Point

Few county Farm Bureaus are more on top of their own history than the one I call home: Mason County. {swoon, sigh} But you never know what else is out there, hidden away, waiting to be discovered.

Local History power couple Ron and Neva Wood earlier this year stumbled across a treasure that had slipped through the cracks so long ago that what it contained was fresh news even to Mason County’s deepest memories. Boxed up in the office basement they found an old scrapbook documenting the earliest decades of their local farm organization, going back 100 years.

In addition to being a veritable who’s-who of Mason County’s farm community 100 years ago, it also documented a remarkable side story that sets the county apart from every other: Mason County Farm Bureau was the first in the state to have its own BAND.

Let that sink in.

Does YOUR county Farm Bureau have a band? Didn’t think so.

Once he’d absorbed the scrapbook’s contents, Ron shared the discovery in a slide show at the county annual meeting. That presentation made use of local newspaper clippings preserved within the scrapbook itself, which summarizes the band story like this:

In 1933 the first Farm Bureau Band was organized in Mason County. In the Ludington Daily News, Oct. 3, 1936, an article titled “Rural School Floats Are Big Feature of Festival,” reads in part: “The line of march was headed by the Farm Bureau Band, which made peppy music under the direction of Wm. Sommerfeldt.

Another article shows a picture of the 18-piece band in their coverall uniforms, and reads: “The Mason County Farm Bureau Band is causing quite a sensation in agricultural circles with its well-rendered concerts. It is the only Farm Bureau band in Michigan. The article goes on to say that the band was started six months ago at a Farm Bureau meeting where Wesley Hawley, president and a fruit grower, said “What we need to make our meetings more enjoyable is a band.” “Right,” said William Sommerfeldt, operator of a 240-acre farm near Custer. Others shouted “Amen!”  And so a band was organized.

The Moral of the Story

My point in sharing this isn’t just to brag up my homeland, or even to spotlight Ron and Neva’s outstanding work (although both reasons are deserving.)

The real point is that you never really know what all’s out there. Even the most experienced authorities (Ron is a crack local historian and Neva is the tenured county administrative manager) will come across materials, resources or stories that contribute fresh detail to the big picture even after being squirreled away for who knows how long.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned managing our Local History program for the past few years, it’s that you can’t swing an old scrapbook without bonking a history buff on the noggin. They’re everywhere, and there’s no reason for them to stop doing fascinating work just because a memo from Lansing forsakes them.

I hope you all keep exploring, keep sharing, and keep taking great pride in the legacy of those farmers and farm families who came before you. Your support person at Home Office (that’s me) is still on board and looks forward to sharing your discoveries with our big Farm Bureau family.

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