Looking Back on 100 Years of New Hampshire Farm Bureau

Over 100 years ago, in March 1913, a handful of folks met in Newport, New Hampshire, to form the state’s first County Farm Bureau.

Over 100 years ago, in March 1913, a handful of folks met in Newport, New Hampshire, to form the state’s first County Farm Bureau. Within the next three years, every other county in the Granite State had followed suit and in December 1916 the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation was founded.

Dedicated to analyzing the problems of farmers and rural families and formulating action to improve them, Farm Bureau has been advocating for agriculture ever since. We have seen many changes in agriculture and at Farm Bureau over the past century. From the horse-and-buggy days to the beginning of the computer age, Farm Bureau has always been involved, constantly meeting the challenges.

What that really means is that the agricultural community in New Hampshire – our membership – has been dedicated and passionate about bettering their lives and the lives of those around them through championing agriculture and the rural way of life. From Farm Bureau’s inception, through their support and involvement at the county and state level, our members have built an organization that has affected real change on the landscape of New Hampshire. Supporting and cooperating with like-minded organizations, building a reputation as the voice of agriculture to our legislators and continually fostering the next generation of leaders has buoyed New Hampshire Farm Bureau’s success. In a rapidly changing world, the same principles will lead us to new successes in the future.

As a grassroots organization, N.H. Farm Bureau has always faced challenges from the ground up. From county meetings to our policy development process, everything starts with our members. That is why it was so special to celebrate 100 years of N.H. Farm Bureau with them in 2016. Over the course of the year, each county held a special event to mark the occasion. The celebrations started in January with a bonfire in Cos County and culminated in November with the 100th annual meeting of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith.

The year 2016 also saw the Associated Women of New Hampshire Farm Bureau publish “Our Farming Heritage Lives On,” a 250-page book featuring stories and photos of New Hampshire’s longest-running farm families. Years of hard work compiling and editing the contents of this book have paid off in a volume that is a must-have for any library, historical society or history buff. The year-long celebration was the perfect opportunity to reflect on the long history of Farm Bureau and some of the more memorable moments and people.

N.H. Farm Bureau’s second president, “Uncle George” Putnam, served from 1917 through 1950. His philosophy of cooperation spurred Farm Bureau to take part in the organization or sponsorship of groups like the Merrimack Farmers’ Exchange, Manchester Dairy Co-op, New Hampshire Cooperative Marketing Association and more. It was also Farm Bureau policy that instigated the formation of the New England Milk Producers Association. That philosophy still holds true today. Farm Bureau support of New Hampshire Agriculture in the Classroom and the New Hampshire Plant Growers Association are just two examples. Farm Bureau is proud to work closely with those who offer valuable resources to the farming community, like the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Expanding access to electricity and telephone services to rural areas was a priority in the 1930s and ’40s. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same as, today, American Farm Bureau is pushing a similar expansion for broadband internet. Farmers need to have access to the most effective tools at their disposal in order to succeed, whether that be in production or marketing. N.H. Farm Bureau helped address one aspect of marketing in 2016 through legislation defining “agritourism” within the state definition of agriculture. Working closely with legislators, the Municipal Association and others, Farm Bureau was central in making sure this legislation protected the creativity of farmers without abandoning the responsibility to be good neighbors.

With the resurgence of local food initiatives and more informed consumers, agriculture in New Hampshire has seen an increase in farms operating within the state. That trend runs opposite of the country as a whole, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture. The growth here could be due in large part to New Hampshire’s women and young farmers.

The percentage of farms with female principal operators in the United States is reported at 14 percent in the most recent Census while in New Hampshire that figure is just over 30 percent. While statistics show that the average age of a farmer is rising, N.H. Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Committee continues to see ambitious and talented farmers under 35 who are committed to agriculture and their community. In 2016 alone, the group organized the collection and donation of over 8,000 pounds of meat and produce to local food pantries from member farms across the state. Young Farmers are also taking leadership roles in organizations like the New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association and the Northeast Pork Association.

Looking back, there are many programs, actions and people who highlight the importance of Farm Bureau. Looking forward, there is work to be done. Farming isn’t easy and increased regulation and scrutiny continue to make it harder. Connecting farmers with the resources available to help them, sharing their story with the public and providing a voice for agriculture in the legislature all have been the foundation of Farm Bureau for the past 100 years. The philosophy that has guided the organization since its formation remains today and will continue throughout Farm Bureau’s next century of service to the agricultural community.