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The Great Growth of One Idea

1919 Program of Work
1919 Montana Farm Bureau Program of Work, Forward by F.S. Cooley

They gathered as a state to give power to the grassroots. 

The Weekly Courier, Feb. 1919

The Weekly Courier (Bozeman), Feb. 12, 1919, front page

This foundational gathering in early 1919 perfected the power of the 23 established county farm bureaus in Montana. Born by government urging in war-time necessity, these leaders were now tasked with growing the farm bureau on their own to serve the home front. 

“We wish to assure your honorable body that the farm bureaus of the state stand ready to render the same unselfish service in building up Montana agriculture in the coming days of reconstruction, as has been rendered by them under the great stress of war.”– first convention assembly's resolution to the Montana State Legislature.

Their resolution to the 17th session of the Montana Legislature resulted in the passage of Senate Bill 30 later that month. Its companion, Senate Bill 29, made way to allow the county commissioners of Montana to contribute a larger sum of funding to their county agricultural agent as the federal emergency funding dissipated. 

If the work of the county agents were to continue, it would require a greater investment at the local level. More importantly, it would require a greater investment of the grassroots.      

“… unless there is organization among the farmers to apply this information to local conditions, its value is largely lost. That's where the farm bureau comes in. … they are in effect asking the farmers to get together in an organization that shall in the future outline what the farmers want done in their particular county.” 

The first state Program of Work was approved at the February gathering, culminating the efforts and ideals established in more advanced counties, and providing a roadmap for new ones to strive toward. 

The 40-page Program of Work presented at this first gathering might sound daunting in our digital age of 140-characters or less, but this was an organization dedicated to doing work. It wasn’t a list of hopeful dreams; it was a report of tasks already ticked off the list and specific, measurable ambitions ahead. 

1919 Agronomy Committee Report

The front page of the Great Falls Daily Tribune in January 1919 summarized it well:

"During the past year the farm bureaus of Montana have covered a wide field. It would take a volume to enumerate ail they have done, but a glimpse at the following lines of work will give an accurate idea of the scope of the bureau's operations:
"Securing of drought aid and administering the same; saving of bad hail-damaged crops; introduction and trial of new crops; carrying on of organized campaigns for the destruction of gophers and prairie dogs; control of grasshopper invasion; organization of livestock and breeding associations and shipping associations, where necessary; farm loan associations; standardization of crops; exchange of farm products from farmer to farmer; saving of pure-bred sires; arrangement of patriotic picnics, campaigns and community fairs; irrigation demonstrations, short, courses, tractor schools, seed surveys, silo demonstrations and improved crop demonstrations; organization for livestock disease control and management of a camp for boys' and girls’ club contestants—these are some of the things successfully done by the farm bureaus of the state and their agents, during the past year.” 

Great Falls Daily Tribute, Jan. 19, 1919The new state organization categorized these efforts into 24 committees, but even that didn’t cover all the local farm bureaus had set out to accomplish.

Richland County reports that for every soldier from the county in the army overseas or in camps, they produced 100 extra bushels of wheat. The first thing they did after organization was to send a letter to every member asking him what he thought the most important work for the bureau to undertake. The most important things according to the replies are, good roads, crop improvement, livestock improvement, and home improvement. Local committeemen have been appointed. 

It was a simple concept: identify the needs of local farmers. Identify solutions to those needs. Do the work. Survey. Solutions. Serve. Repeat. 

Simple, but certainly not simplistic. 

Not all problems of a county or a community can be solved in one year, not in two or three. So the chairman of all the community committees meet with the county executive committee once each year, and select the problems they will work on that year. What then? Then they work on these problems! You begin to see, now, that it takes live, willing, public-spirited men to be farm bureau members and farm bureau leaders. It is not a popular organization with talkers and kickers; they soon find that constructive work and not noise is the thing that is wanted. 
How is the committee going to solve his particular problem? Well, as the farm bureau is so closely connected up with the agricultural college forces of the state and nation, he calls on them for all the help he needs, and he gets it. The information he may need is gathered for him. The county agent helps. He calls his neighbors for help. There is no snap judgement. Then he finally solves the problem, he knows he is right. Then, and not until then, he presents his findings to the community. They agree with him and the thing is done. — The Montana Farmer, 1919

The Program of Work said it more simply: “The success of the work depends upon the local committees.” 

Plant a seed and if that seed be wheat, you know what to expect. You can tell the kind of growth, and limit of growth: If the seed be bluegrass, you can tell that it will not grow as tall as the wheat; if you plant tomato seed you know what the fruit will be like; but plant an idea and no man living can tell what the growth will be, nor how much fruit it will bear. It was so with the farm bureau idea. — The Montana Farmer, 1919.

Subscribe below for weekly updates and more Montana Farm Bureau history notes, leading up to our Centennial Celebration in 2019. Interested in helping research and write your county Farm Bureau's history? Contact lauran@mfbf.org.  

RESOURCES:

  • The Weekly Courier (Bozeman, Montana), Feb. 12, 1919, page 1: "State Farm Bureau is Formed Here at Meeting of Leaders from 23 Counties."
  • Cooley, F.S., A Program of Work for Montana Farm Bureaus, Montana State College of Agriculture, Bozeman, Montana. Jan. 1, 1919.  
  • Davis, C.C., Great Falls Daily Tribune (Great Falls, Montana) Jan. 19, 1919, part II, pg 1: "Farm Bureau Proves Helpful Force to put Farming on a Business Basis." 
  • The Montana Farmer (Great Falls, Montana), Feb. 19, 1919, page 10: “The Great Growth of One Idea.” 
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