Georgia Farm Bureau is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The organization began when a group of farmers from seven counties in northwest Georgia met at the Bartow County courthouse on June 17, 1937.
Farmers from Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Gordon, Floyd, Polk and Paulding counties attended the meeting organized by Robert M. Stiles, a Bartow County farmer, because they needed a farmer-led organization to represent them. A second meeting, attended by 50 farmers from 25 counties, was held in Atlanta on July 31, 1937. During this meeting, the farmers formed the United Georgia Farmers and elected Stiles president of the organization.
In 1939, the United Georgia Farmers affiliated with the American Farm Bureau Federation and two years later changed their name to the Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) Federation.
"Through the years, Georgia Farm Bureau has grown as it began offering member services requested by its members, such as insurance, but its core mission — to be the voice of Georgia’s farmers — hasn’t changed," said GFB President Zippy Duvall. "Beginning with those first 50 farmers, Georgia Farm Bureau has been, and will continue to be, a grassroots organization whose actions are determined by its members."
The first issues GFB advocated for on behalf of Georgia’s farmers included expanding electricity across rural Georgia and improving farm-to-market roads. Today, Farm Bureau continues to advocate for farmers on the county, state and national levels on issues including zoning, water, environmental regulations, labor, taxation and transportation.
"Georgia Farm Bureau started because a group of farmers saw the need to band together to advocate for things people in rural Georgia needed," said Stuart Exley, Effingham County Farm Bureau president. "Many people think Georgia Farm Bureau is just an insurance company and don’t realize we started as an organization to advocate for farmers and rural Georgia, which we continue to do. Insurance is just a part of what we do."
After being housed in four different buildings in Macon between 1944 and 1988, GFB dedicated its current 170,600 sq. ft home office in Bibb County in 1988.
In July 1941 the organization moved its state headquarters from its original home in Cartersville to Mitchell County. As additional county chapters were organized throughout the state, a decision was made to move the headquarters to a more central location. In 1944, the GFB home office moved to Macon.
As the organization continued to grow, GFB hired its first two field representatives in 1947. These employees assisted in organizing more county chapters and served as liaisons between the county chapters and the state organization. Today, GFB has a field representative for each of its 10 districts.
Every position that GFB takes on any issue is based on policy approved by Farm Bureau members during the organization’s annual policy development process.
The Cooperative Extension Service played an important role in the early organization of GFB. The county extension office often kept the county Farm Bureau’s records, and at times, the extension secretary served as the county Farm Bureau secretary.
The Effingham County Farm Bureau was established in 1941. Leon G. Exley served as the first president and J. Bruce Hinely was the Secretary-Treasurer.
In 1958, insurance services were not readily available to rural Georgians, so GFB members voted to establish their own insurance company.
County Farm Bureau offices began opening at this time with two paid employees — a secretary and insurance agent.
Today, GFB has 158 county offices. Each county office is affiliated with GFB but operates under its own autonomy and is governed by a local board of directors.
The county Farm Bureau office is located at 402 Zoller Dr. in Springfield.
In the late 1940s rural Georgians couldn’t get hospitalization insurance and so Georgia Farm Bureau worked to change this. Once the Georgia legislature changed the state law, rural Georgians needed a company to provide insurance, and so Georgia Farm Bureau started its own company and began providing insurance as a member service.
"Effingham Farm Bureau truly is a local organization. Our county staff live here, so they know the residents of Effingham and can serve our members well because they care about our community," said Exley. "Some people join our organization because they want to support the work we do on behalf of farmers and rural Georgia. Others join Farm Bureau because they want to gain access to our many member benefits. You don’t have to be a farmer to purchase Farm Bureau insurance, and you don’t have to purchase insurance to be a Farm Bureau member."
Through the years, Farm Bureau has implemented numerous programs for Georgia’s farmers. These include commodity programs that help farmers sell their crops and buy ag products and address issues pertinent to their commodities. GFB also operates a Certified Farm Market program, which promotes farmers who grow produce and sell their products directly to consumers or who offer agritourism activities to the public.
Member programs such as the GFB Women’s Leadership Committee, started in 1944, and the GFB Young Farmer Program, begun in 1972, offer leadership development opportunities and ways for all members of the family to get involved with the organization. Both committees consist of a representative from each of GFB’s 10 districts and coordinate statewide activities for its respective programs. These committees coordinate numerous statewide activities designed to help county Women’s Committees and Young Farmers Committees promote agriculture in their local communities.
Throughout its history, GFB has worked to keep farmers informed of the latest ag news. Since 1937, GFB has published The Georgia Farm Bureau News, has produced daily radio programs since 1951 and since 1966 has produced a weekly television show, "The Georgia Farm Monitor," which airs on 11 Georgia stations and nationally on RFD-TV. GFB also publishes the Georgia Neighbors magazine and maintains a website, Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel.
"Through the years, Georgia Farm Bureau has grown as it began offering member services requested by its members, such as insurance, but its core mission — to be the Voice of Georgia’s farmers — hasn’t changed. Beginning with those first 50 farmers, Georgia Farm Bureau has been, and will continue to be, a grassroots organization whose actions are determined by its members," Duvall said.
Today Farm Bureau member benefits have expanded to include health services, banking services, identity theft restoration, $500 bonus cash savings on eligible Ford vehicles, discounts on hotels, rental cars, amusement park tickets, prescription drugs, hearing supplements, lasik surgery, long-distance telephone service, purchases through Grainger and Jiffy Lube.
To learn more about Farm Bureau, contact the Effingham County Farm Bureau office at754-3713 or visit http://www.gfb.org.