By Jeremy C. Nagel
As an adjective used to describe Farm Bureau, grassroots is one word: your grassroots organization. As a noun synonymous with our membership itself, it’s two words: Farm Bureau’s strength comes from its grass roots.
I write it both ways all the time and it’s still confusing. I look it up a lot. But until there comes a word/term better suited for both labeling and describing Farm Bureau members, we will continue to wear…it...out.
This is National Volunteer Appreciation Week and its Farm Bureau half-sibling, County Leader Week — as good a time as any to give credit where it’s due, express gratitude and ponder how to improve. To that end Farm Gate phoned some experts: recent state-level Volunteers of the Year.
It’s a busy time of year so we didn’t get through to everyone, but those who could chat shared some very ponder-worthy thoughts on the role and value of Farm Bureau volunteers, including how to ensure their efforts are properly recognized after the fact.
It's an Attitude
Wise beyond her years, 2015 Volunteer of the Year Kristin Kubiszak (blueberries, Van Buren County) knows all outstanding volunteers share a kind of aw-shucks-it’s-nothin’ nonchalance about what they do.
“It’s an attitude,” Kubiszak said. “It’s a mindset that applies to much more than volunteering. My grandpa always told me: ‘There’s doers in this world and there’s people who don’t do, so you might as well be a doer.’”
Her timely example:
“We ordered FARM Crates and had all these deliveries to make and called around to find people to help,” Kubiszak said, but ended up leaning on board members. “We have a really good board.”
Another common quality is that great volunteers rarely expect — and often shun — recognition for their effort. Their real reward is in the work itself.
Back to the FARM Crates:
“So I delivered all these boxes to all these schools and by the end of the day it was just so fun and exciting, talking with all the school secretaries and they were all excited to take them to the classrooms,” she said. “You just felt so nice that you were going out and making a difference, reaching out to all these kids.”
When it comes to thank-yous, she said even first-timers appreciate something tangible over a paper certificate at the county annual, months after the fact.
“We started giving people food vouchers — $10 to eat at fair — and they love it,” she said. “Also we gave people t-shirts and it was like this big deal, they loved it!”
Yeah I'll Help
With first-hand insights as a grassroots member, county staffer and now a county Farm Bureau president, Amanda Kutchey (vegetables, Macomb) has stared down the volunteer experience from every angle. Even so, the 2019 Volunteer of the Year doesn’t have a magic wand and wrestles with all the same challenges as her peers across the state.
“When I was a CAM they had me calling people directly to round them up for activities,” but remembers it being like holding water in her hands. “Even for my county now, as a volunteer and county president, that’s something we can do better at.”
One effective tactic she’s found starts with being realistic about the effort involved in specific tasks, then divvying them up accordingly.
“If you leave the heavy lifting to the board and the county office — so your volunteers just get the fun stuff, so it’s not like a job per se — then it’s easier for people to volunteer.
“It does help get people more responsive to say, “Yeah I’ll help with that.”
When it comes to tangible-token recognition, Kutchey hasn’t found a $10 gift certificate any more or less effective than “the hitch pin or the gloves — although some people do love those things…
“I think truly when you get people who are passionate about the industry, they’re going to do it whether there’s recognition or not: They’re rewarded by the outcome.”
Can't be Afraid to Ask
Yoopers take pride in doing things their own way, but Diane Hanson’s recruiting approach may still surprise you. Last year’s Volunteer of the Year has found success staffing events by looking outside the box.
“Look outside your own Farm Bureau membership,” said the former Hiawathaland president. “I’ve found that for the Miracle of Life exhibit I don’t just get Farm Bureau members, I get people who’re interested in just doing that exhibit.
“They don’t have any ag background, but they’re retired” and enjoy the social component: mingling with the thousands of fair-goers who every year visit Michigan’s premier live-birthing exhibit.
But her wider-net approach isn’t limited just to the biggest event on the calendar.
“When we did the district discussion meet, the people I had helping weren’t Farm Bureau members. One was an MSU Extension person who comes to a lot of Farm Bureau things. Then I asked my neighbor from down the road and they took on the food.
“You can’t be afraid to ask somebody to help.”
Food for Thought
You can’t help but notice some themes here; each is worth a good hard think:
- Each has found success trying things that deviate from what we’d consider Farm Bureau convention or norms. We all love our comfortable ruts, but sometimes leaving them pays off.
- By a landslide, they’re mostly women. The last male Volunteer of the Year was Dave VanDyke in 2012 (dairy, Ottawa), a soft-spoken giant who avoids notice better than a shy owl.
- …because: Not one Farm Bureau rock star is in it for the recognition. Their reward is in the work itself, only it’s not work to them. Appreciation after the fact is important but not motivational; and practical/edible tokens win out here over ceremonial ones.
NOTE: Members’ names above are linked to their original Volunteer of the Year article. Each contains more Yoda-level wisdom illuminating the mysteries of volunteerism. Here are some more:
- 2013 Volunteer of the Year Mandy Teachworth’s nominator tellingly remarked, “She doesn’t think she’s done anything special.”
- 2014: Kathy Walicki launched Oceana County’s industry-spanning Ag Banquet and Taste of Oceana events.
- 2016: Daniela Dryer “jumped in and kept going… I grew up with farming, it’s my life and I want to share it.”
- 2017: Katelyn Packard said: “That’s really what drives me: I really enjoy teaching people about what I do every day.”
- 2018: Stacey Lauwers was vital in developing MFB’s FARM Science Lab mobile classrooms.