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As fewer Minnesotans worked the land, Farm Bureaus helped give farmers a voice

Minnesota’s first Farm Bureau formed in Traverse County in 1913.

Photograph of a parade float decorated with produce. The float was used in a Farm Bureau picnic parade to promote farming in St. Louis County, c. 1930.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

When the farmers of Traverse County founded Minnesota’s first Farm Bureau, it signaled a new movement in Minnesota agriculture. In the century since its founding, the Farm Bureau has worked on the local, state, and national levels to support farmers and act as the “voice of agriculture” in America.

The first Farm Bureau in the United States was founded in New York in 1911. Other states soon had bureaus of their own. These early groups formed in response to the growth of cities and industry in the early twentieth century. They offered education in agricultural science, sponsored community-building activities, and worked to improve rural Americans’ quality of life. Their goal was to preserve the American farm and the farm family.

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Minnesota’s first Farm Bureau formed in Traverse County in 1913. Over the next few years, more counties, most in southwestern Minnesota, established their own Bureaus. By 1917, there were over a dozen county Bureaus in Minnesota.

Soon, the county Bureaus chose to form a statewide group. In the autumn of 1919, farmers from across the state wrote an organizational charter. In November, Minnesota’s county Farm Bureaus united to form the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF).

The original MFBF included twenty-four counties and had a membership of over sixteen thousand. Four months after its founding, the MFBF joined the new American Farm Bureau Federation. These new groups allowed the organization to act on both local and national levels.

The Farm Bureau quickly became a significant political force. Though its goals were dependent on the needs of local communities, the bureau worked to influence national agricultural policy. It supported rural electrification initiatives and improved roads and freight transportation. It helped farmers vaccinate livestock against disease. It also supported the Capper-Volstead Act, which allowed Minnesota farmers to form co-operatives (like Land-O-Lakes and the Wool Pool) without breaking anti-trust laws. County Farm Bureaus hosted dances, movies, and other social events for their communities.

MFBF bylaws stated that at least one seat on its state board of directors should be held by a woman. They also encouraged local boards to include women in leadership roles. Because their mission supported farms and farm life, the MFBF were quick to acknowledge the social, economic, and political importance of women. They offered classes for women in home economics, nutrition, and other domestic sciences, though rarely in agriculture.

The expanding power of the Farm Bureau was not always viewed in a positive light. As the organization grew more powerful, critics claimed that it spoke for large corporate interests instead of farmers. The Farm Bureau’s opposition to minimum wage and anti-poverty legislation made it unpopular. The group also worked to discourage farm workers from unionizing. It was often in conflict with other farm organizations, including the Farmer’s Union and Farmers’ Holiday Association. Even its supporters acknowledged that it might not necessarily represent the interests of small farms.

In spite of this criticism, the MFBF remained active during the second half of the twentieth century. Members of the women’s committee were ardent supporters of the Sister Kenny Institute. The MFBF supported the addition of ethanol into fuel blends. The Farm Bureau also gave Minnesotans, including former governor Al Quie, leadership experience within their communities and beyond.

In the early twenty-first century, MFBF has almost thirty thousand members. Seventy-eight of Minnesota’s counties have a county Farm Bureau. The MFBF partners with the Minnesota State Fair to recognize Minnesota’s Century and Sesquicentennial Farms-those that have been owned and operated by a family for a hundred or 150 years. The title of the Farm Bureau newspaper, the Voice of Agriculture, represents the role that the organization has played and continues to play in the lives of farm families across the nation.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.