Farm Bureau turns 75, and its vitality returns Its younger members resuming activities

October 25, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Farm Bureau celebrates its 75th anniversary Tuesday as one of the oldest in the state. But its future will depend on its youth.

An event planned for next month indicates a new cycle of vitality. The Carroll bureau's Young Farmers Committee, which was inactive just six years ago, has started up again and is sponsoring the statewide Young Farmers Retreat in Westminster from Nov. 20 to 22. More than 100 young farmers are expected to attend.

It hasn't been easy to attract members who have seen the Farm Bureau as an organization belonging more to their parents and grandparents.

"There are other things for young people to do," said Bryan Harris, 23, chairman of the Carroll Young Farmers Committee. "More and more people are not coming back to the farm."

Farm bureaus around the country are linked to state and national counterparts. They are classified as a service-to-member organization. Farmers who join can buy health insurance through the bureau, get discounts on products such as plowshares and tires, and organize a unified voice to speak out on legislative issues.

The very active Women's Committee of the Carroll Farm Bureau organizes public education activities, such as school programs, luncheons and fund-raising events. A cookbook the women compiled during the winter sold out, raising $3,000 for scholarships.

The Young Farmers Committee is designed to prepare those between 18 and 35 for leadership positions in the Farm Bureau.

About two years ago, Harris and a core group of about 10 others started to revive the committee. It had started in 1952, but interest has waned periodically.

"It seems like it goes in cycles," said Glenn Shirley, 38, president of the Carroll County Farm Bureau.

While he and his cohorts had an active Young Farmers committee about 15 years ago, he's heard from older members that a dry period preceded them.

Shirley -- a second-generation dairy farmer in Silver Run -- said he and his fellow young farmers decided a few years ago that they might as well graduate to the regular Farm Bureau activities.

"A lot of us realized we were the only ones going to the Young TTC Farmers meetings, and we were entering our 30s," he said.

"The group was basically inactive two years ago, and we've been trying to rebuild and regrow," said Harris, who lives with his family on a small farm in Westminster off Route 27.

His grandfather and uncle were farmers. His father became an auto body mechanic, but when his uncle died, Harris' father brought the family back to take care of the farm.

Harris works part time raising vegetables and hay but keeps the operation small enough so that he can keep his full-time job as a nutrient-management adviser for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service in Carroll. He works with farmers on fertilizer, manure and compost issues.

Sharon Fritz, secretary-treasurer of the Carroll Farm Bureau, said most of the 1,267 members are older than 50. "The membership swells over 60," she said.

Her son, Jeffrey, 21, is farming alongside his parents and plans to take over the farm when they retire. He belongs to the Farm Bureau, but his primary involvement is with the New Windsor Fire Company, his mother said.

Compared to 75 years ago, or even a generation ago, there are more things off the farm competing for their attention, and other agricultural organizations in their specialties, such as dairy or grain associations, Harris said.

"It was, I guess, maybe a social outlet for the farmers," Fritz said of the origin of the farm bureaus. "But today, there are so many other outlets that consume your time. There are so many other things to do."

The Carroll County Farm Bureau will celebrate its anniversary with a banquet Tuesday at Pleasant Valley Fire Hall. Members will elect a president and board of directors and vote on resolutions that will go on to the Maryland Farm Bureau and to the General Assembly in January.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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