I can still remember my first county Farm Bureau meeting like it was yesterday. After becoming frustrated with challenges on my farm, dad encouraged me to get outside my own fencerows. He emphasized that if I wanted to have a true voice in shaping the decisions affecting our farm, I needed to step up and start at the county level. I did just that, and the next thing I knew I was my county’s young farmer chair.

County leaders are the lifeblood of Farm Bureau, embodying the spirit of grassroots advocacy and playing a pivotal role in shaping our organization and American agriculture. They are the driving force behind our policy process and membership programs. Our strength and influence as a national organization starts with our active and engaged local leaders.

From membership growth to giving back to our communities, we see county leaders stepping up and driving agriculture and rural communities forward. These leaders are working to bring positive change and new ideas that strengthen their counties, states and our entire federation.

Each year, we get the chance to celebrate some of these successes at our convention through our County Awards of Excellence, a showcase of the incredible abilities and innovations of our grassroots leaders. And, let me tell you, this past year was full of them. From Wisconsin, we heard about the Winnebago County Farm Bureau’s Community Night where they not only taught the importance of agriculture but also raised money for charity. We also heard about Farm Bureau Day at the Fair in Adams County, Ohio, where they provided attendees access to free health care screenings, food, games and even a tractor show. All 24 of our winners demonstrated their leadership and commitment to quality programming within their counties and I encourage you to check out some more of the incredible stories we heard in Salt Lake City. I am constantly inspired by what our counties are doing in their communities and can’t wait to see what success stories come next.

County leaders are also critical in sharing agriculture’s story at a time when the public is more curious than ever about where their food comes from. Their voices provide firsthand examples in our advocacy efforts and can have a meaningful impact on our policymakers. Our policy experts in Washington do a great job working with Congress to advance Farm Bureau priorities, but we are even more effective when county leaders engage directly with their representatives. Nothing is more powerful than sharing your story.

At Farm Bureau, we continue to recognize this need for engaged county leadership by working with state staff to provide free or low-cost in-person and online learning opportunities for our volunteer leaders at every level. We want to build up farmers and ranchers through leadership development and effective outreach training to help better themselves, their farms and their communities.

One great accessible way we do this is through Farm Bureau University, an online library of leadership development resources free to our members. A farmer’s job isn’t confined to their own fencerows, and your learning and leadership opportunities shouldn’t be either. FB University has numerous on-demand workshops, modules to strengthen your skills in advocacy, and tools to improve the overall health of your county Farm Bureau. You can take these classes on-the-go and at the pace that works for you and your farm.

Our AFBF team is regularly building this library of online courses, so be sure to check back. None of us has graduated from the need to learn, and at Farm Bureau, we want to continue to celebrate, elevate and develop our leaders wherever you are in your journey.

County leaders are crucial to our organization, and if you are currently serving, or have served, I want to say thank you for your dedication and commitment to making our organization better. And to those who are interested in becoming a leader or just looking for a chance to step up, I encourage you to see what you can do at your next county Farm Bureau meeting. Our rural communities and American agriculture need strong leaders, and you never know where that journey beyond your fencerows might lead.

To register for Farm Bureau University, sign in with your state’s specific organization code. For Farm Bureau members in Utah, it is the state initials ut+ fb (ex. utfb).

Also, check out more CAE winners in recent years on Farm Bureau University. It can be found by clicking Resources -> County Activities of Excellence Archives.