Pennsylvania Farmers Union gets second chance
|Pennsylvania Farmers Union leaders Kim Miller and Hannah Smith-Brubaker had their efforts strengthened by a visit from National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, right. Photo by Dieter Krieg|
By DIETER KRIEG
HALIFAX, Pa. -- Last Monday, Feb. 25, Kim Miller was there in person to hear his name nominated for the office of president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union. That wasn't the case the previous year when a handful of supporters of the organization nominated him for the position in absentia. He won the voice-vote both times … unchallenged and unopposed. While that may sound smooth and unanimous, the rest of the story is that PFU meeting attendance has been … and continues to be, sparse. Very sparse.
There was a time when the organization had thousands of members across the state. As of the end of last year, the official count is 446. A mere 2 percent of them showed up for the recent meeting held here at Camp Hebron on a spring-like day. That was the problem, figured Hannah Smith-Brubaker, the organization's interim executive director. Nevertheless, the new-born Pennsylvania Farmers Union is moving ahead to once more become an accredited, effective and recognized organization. The fledgling group has the support of the National Farmers Union and for good measure, NFU President Roger Johnson showed up in person to affirm the commitment.
Johnson briefly reviewed the reasons for Pennsylvania losing its charter and why the NFU now sees potential in reviving the once very active and effective farm group. NFU granted $70,000 to the new PFU last fall to help get it started and more funding could be in the pipeline if the NFU Board of Directors sees a clear strategic plan in place.
"We need to bring leadership to our 400-plus members," declared PFU President Miller in his address. "Hannah (Smith-Brubaker) has done a good job contacting every one of our members," he further stated, hinting that now it’s up to the members themselves to show interest and support. "Things need to change if we're going have a place at the table," he continued, referring to farm issue debates.
From the dozen members seated before him came comments like these:
"We are here to support family farms and the rural communities. We need to broaden our outlook and reach all across the state."
"We need to bring benefits to farmers that they can't get through any other farm organizations."
"We need to elect board members for the year going forward and develop an agenda that's in concert with the national organization."
Executive Director Hannah Smith-Brubaker provided a brief history of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and indicated that the successes of the past have her excited and energized. "That's what really motivates me today," she affirmed.
"I started membership management in January and have written to every single member," she continued. At the same time, she discovered that neglect of the past has resulted in hundreds of names having to be purged from the membership list. Contact information is invalid. Some have died.
The invitation letter for the meeting urged members to not only attend, but to bring their ideas and suggestions.
“We are seeking your knowledge, experience and good faith at this year’s convention as we focus on playing a more active role on the legislative front,” the letter began. “We are aiming to offer a wider range of insurance products and farm-revelant discounts and need your input to ensure that we are responsibly representing your interests.”
Three more paragraphs followed, each filled with hope for the future and an affirmation that the mission is not an easy one.
Problems of the past have prevented the new PFU from becoming certified, but the process is now in motion.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the new PFU is contemplating partnership arrangements with other organizations such as the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). That organization's chief executive, Brian Snyder from Centre Hall, Centre County, is an at-large NFU board member and was a prime presenter at the February 25 meeting. (Please look for his comments in a future issue of Farmshine).
Further, the new emerging farm group is exploring the possibility of inviting "urban farmers" into their organization. Whether rural or urban, farmers are farmers, one member stated, suggesting that the common interests would unite them. President Miller agreed, declaring: "We need a stronger connection between the country and the city. City farmers would support a strong rural economy.”
A program or member benefit that seemed to be of significant importance to those in attendance was insurance. It was made clear by several members that insurance is what they want. President Miller agreed but at the same time pointed out that an organization's integrity is what should be most important, not "phantom discounts and deals."
A Susquehanna County farmer suggested that PFU help members find markets for their products. "That's key," he affirmed.
Delivering her financial update, Smith-Brubaker said she took charge of the books last October. Of the $70,000 granted to PFU by NFU, $2699.50 remain. The money was used to wipe out old debts of the former organization and also to cover expenses of the new PFU. The operating budget for 2013 is estimated to be $90,485, which includes the expense of opening an office in Harrisburg.
The Pennsylvania Farmers Union, with a mission of serving family farms, invites your interest. Executive Director Hannah Smith-Brubaker can be reached at 717-576-0794 or email@example.com