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State News

Rebecca Gulliver

Last year was tough and we’re all eager for 2021. Even if the New Year isn’t magical it still gives us a sense of light at the end of the tunnel and a new beginning. With that new beginning, one thing remains the same: We’re still all in this together — and we’re always stronger together.

American Farm Bureau Federation’s Virtual Convention concluded this week with that theme: Stronger Together. Over the course of five days convention sessions were held, Young Farmers competed, awards and recognitions were given, and live sessions were facilitated.

One of these sessions, Farm State of Mind – Responding to the Challenges of Rural Mental Health, reminded us to lean on one another for support and check in on our friends, even the strong ones.

This workshop was a farmer panel (pictured above) led by Colorado Farm Bureau member Chad Vorthmann. Each panelist shared their own personal stories about how mental health, stress and suicide touched their lives and communities: Robin Kinney from American Farm Bureau Federation; Randy Roecker of Rolling Acres, LLC; Marshall Sewell, Bayer Crop Science; and Meredith Bernard from This Farm Wife Inc. all helped break down barriers in a real conversation on a tough topic.

A consistent need for adequate mental health care in rural America — and professionals who know how to work with farmers and their unique challenges — was made very clear throughout.

Bernard mentioned how farmers are all big-time gamblers without ever hitting the casino or buying a lottery ticket — and we all know that’s the truth! Between the weather, erratic commodity prices and the constant pressure of maintaining a multi-generational legacy, farmers carry a lot of stress and anxiety with them every day. Add to that the common “go it alone” mentality many have come to work under as the problem solvers and entrepreneurs all farmers are.

Before the panel opened up for questions, each panelist shared some powerful takeaways from their conversation.

Roecker, who overcame a battle with depression following the dairy crash of the 1980s, shared that farmers need to support each other, if only because we all understand the uniqueness of agriculture. It takes proactively checking in with one another regularly, even your strong friends.

Bernard lost a friend by suicide and reminded her virtual audience that none of us are ever really alone: we are worthy, our lives matter, our stories matter, and that no one should suffer in silence. Seek a friend!

Sewell reflected on what he would have said to his dad the last time he saw him alive, prior to taking his own life, and how he would strive to find the good things in the day and the value we all add: the world may be crammed with people, but it still needs YOU.

Kinney stressed the importance of a mental wellness check being part of a normal, physical health check. We check the oil in our tractors and address routine equipment maintenance, so don’t forget to do the same with ourselves.

Not sure where to start? Uncomfortable with the topic of farm stress and mental health? Rural Resilience Training provides a comprehensive understanding and is a great place to start. This program is a partnership with American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union, and facilitated by Michigan State University Extension.

Meredith said it best: “When people feel seen, they get help.” So let’s not be blinded by everything that’s going wrong in our world. Let’s check in with each other — even our strong friends.

Rebecca Gulliver is MFB’s Regional Manager in the Saginaw Valley (District 8) and a member of our Farm Stress & Mental Health team.


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
  • Avera Health Farm and Rural Stress Hotline: 800-691-4336
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 800-662-HELP
  • Crisis text line: text HOME to 741741
Last year was tough and we’re all eager for 2021. Even if the New Year isn’t magical it still gives us a sense of light at the end of the tunnel and a new beginning. With that new beginning, one thing remains the same: We’re still all in this togethe

The 2020 #SpeakAgMichigan Challenge supported by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture recognized the top ten high school FFA chapters and top three Collegiate Farm Bureau members with $7,000 in cash prizes.

This year’s challenge was a twist on the traditional award program, which recognizes FFA chapters and collegiate members for ag-literacy efforts in their communities, sharing a basic understanding of producing food, fuel and fiber. With schools closed last spring, limiting the ability to provide programming in person, #SpeakAgMichigan turned to social media, challenging high school students and Collegiate Farm Bureau members to engage with consumers, develop advocacy skills and earn some funds for their chapter! 

The purpose of the #SpeakAgMichigan Challenge was to develop and implement a four-month social media challenge highlighting designated commodities — the ones focused on in our Fall Teacher FARM Crate subscription boxes: apples (September), pumpkins (October), turkeys (November) and Christmas Trees (December).

From demonstrating a piece of equipment related to the commodity to visiting a farm to offering a recipe or growing tip, our top-10 high school FFA chapter winners and their competitors together laid out a thorough plan to accurately and effectively connect with consumers.

“My students learned a TON through these challenges,” said Ashley FFA Advisor Amber McAllister. “They’re collaborating online to collect information and debating which is best to share with our community, as well as growing leaps and bounds in technology!

“This has been a fantastic learning experience for us.”

Help us congratulate our winners and participants in both divisions by liking their pages and supporting their efforts:

FFA Chapters

Collegiate Farm Bureaus

  • First Place ($500): Madelyn Cary, Gratiot County; MSU Main Campus
  • Second ($300): Michael Ceja, Gratiot County; Delta Collegiate
  • Third ($200): Jewel Lantis, Livingston County; MSU Main Campus Collegiate

In the collegiate division, cash awards were awarded to the top three Collegiate members and their respective Collegiate Farm Bureau chapters.

The Michigan Foundation for Agriculture, is a 501(c)3 governed by Michigan Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors, positively contributes to the future of Michigan agriculture through leadership and educational programming.

For more information, contact MFB High School and Collegiate Programs Specialist Katie Eisenberger.

The 2020 #SpeakAgMichigan Challenge supported by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture recognized the top ten high school FFA chapters and top three Collegiate Farm Bureau members with $7,000 in cash prizes.
By Jeremy C. Nagel

From top to bottom:
Mike Sell
Mitch Bigelow 
Amanda Sollman
Jeff VanderWerff
Chris Creuger 

Normally the phrase “phoning it in” refers to someone doing the bare minimum to get the job done. But Farm Bureau members taking part in MFB’s Dec. 2 Annual Meeting didn’t get that memo, and didn’t let the challenges of a remote format get in the way of expressing their stances on the 2020-21 policy docket.

One of the big unknowns heading into the event was the toll an all-virtual format might take on the policy deliberations at the heart of the event. With hundreds of members participating remotely — calling in through computers and voting via smartphone — it was easy to imagine some feeling silenced by the distance.

Not to worry.

Neither technology nor the abbreviated time frame hindered a free exchange or kept members from taking an active role in this most sacred of Farm Bureau institutions: delegate-floor policy deliberations.

Steeled for the long game 

Regardless of the meeting format, one of the more daunting delegate feats is introducing, supporting and defending a concept that doesn’t go over as well as you’d hoped.

“We thought it would be a slam dunk but it got tossed out,” said Wayne County Farm Bureau President Mike Sell about a proposal to raise the profile of diversity and inclusion language.

“Let’s just say I could’ve been a little more tactful — I kinda shut myself down,” he added. “Here in Wayne County, we talk about it frankly: Farm Bureau needs to clearly state we need to be inclusive of those people who meet the membership requirements.”

Opponents cited the presence of very similar language already included in the company’s Code of Conduct.

“We view the Code of Conduct as an HR (human resources) tool — it’s about staff, not members,” Sell said. “It’s not the policy book.”

The issue’s dismissal, he said, has only energized his membership and steeled them to dig in for the proverbial Long Game.

“You need to keep even, constant pressure on it,” Sell said. “Others will come onboard but it’s going to be a slow process.”

The cause wasn’t without allies; Bay County delegate Mitch Bigelow offered a convincing defense of the proposal.

“I think it’s important having policy not just saying we’re inclusive but actively promoting and searching out diversity,” he said afterwards. “A lack of policy around inclusion is not indicative of how inclusive we are.

“The more times we can put that in the policy book — and not get hung up on where it goes — the better,” Bigelow said. “As a general farm organization, we’re only as strong as how active we are at getting different segments represented and heard in our policy.”

Go to the microphone

The overarching concept of policy as the organization’s enduring definition was also tested by attempts to codify therein some members’ skepticism about the integrity of the 2020 general election.

Saginaw County’s Amanda Sollman wasn’t letting that go without sharing a firm, concise opinion on the matter.

“We already have laws in place,” she said — existing laws guarding against the alleged voter fraud one recommendation alluded to. “Our policy should be timeless.

“I didn’t even phrase it as a motion,” she said afterward, admitting she expected scant support for her position.

“It’s really important for Farm Bureau to speak with a unified voice when we speak with representatives and stakeholders. We’re an organization made of individuals with a wide range of opinions. It’s vital people go to the microphone and make their voice heard — bring those perspectives to the forefront for consideration.

“People have to take into account different angles and different points of view. If they don’t hear them from somebody, they may never hear them,” Sollman said. “It’s hard to go into that group knowing you hold a different perspective. It’s easy to feel alone.”

We're all guilty

Of course she is not alone; Amanda has good company in those members who aren’t the least bit shy about expressing themselves with conviction.

“I struggle a little with what I even said. I’d heard this notion and it hit a nerve with me,” recalls Jeff VanderWerff, the outspoken Ottawa County apple grower who spoke assertively in favor of an ag-labor housing GAAMP.

Beyond the obvious practical benefits, such a move would dramatically elevate the profile of an ongoing, high-priority issue common among specialty crop growers who know providing quality housing for the seasonal workers they rely on is key to attracting those workers in the first place.

But in an arena dominated by highly mechanized row-crop, livestock and dairy farmers, it may sound like pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

“The simple reality is we’re all guilty: We don’t necessarily understand the challenges other producers see every day,” VanderWerff said. “We have to try to keep an open mind and seek to understand the perspective of our fellow growers.

“Michigan is so diverse, not only agriculturally, but culturally as well, with varying political views, cultural views,” VanderWerff said. “And when you have an organization like Farm Bureau that has as big a tent as it does, and which truly wants to represent all sectors, you have to be willing to speak up for your individual commodity and region.”

Death & t*x*s

Sometimes the challenge comes in reminding folks of certain fundamental truths they readily understand but will go to their grave cursing.

“I don’t like paying property taxes any more than anyone else, but Chris had a point,” VanderWerff said about his peer from across the state: Tuscola County Farm Bureau Delegate and Pioneer Seed man Chris Creuger.

“Nobody likes paying taxes, but how will we fund public services we’ve all come to expect?” Creuger said. “Public schools, fire departments, police, road funding, infrastructure… It all has to be paid for somehow. Those things don’t just happen.

“Specifically about taxation, we have to consider policy resolutions holistically.

“Annual meeting is a great place to have an open discussion to present the facts and let the delegates decide for themselves,” Creuger said. “But it’s important to have all  sides represented, and when you see something on the screen that you feel doesn’t meet that criteria, it’s important that you speak up.

“We’re a diverse organization that represents a lot of different commodities and our needs and desires don’t always fall in line, but at the end of day we try and come up with policies that serve everyone.”

Normally the phrase “phoning it in” refers to someone doing the bare minimum to get the job done. But Farm Bureau members taking part in MFB’s Dec. 2 Annual Meeting didn’t get that memo, and didn’t let the challenges of a remote format get in the way

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